Ofcom: Proposed BBC Scotland TV Channel Could Crowd Out Scottish News Providers

Ofcom has today announced that it will carry out a Competition Assessment examining the BBC’s proposal to launch a new television channel for audiences in Scotland.

In a published letter from Kevin Bakhurst, Ofcom content group director, to Chris Rowsell, BBC head of regulation and economics, it noted that “the BBC’s proposal has the potential to harm fair and effective competition” and that the new service had the potential to “crowd out Scottish online news providers and Scottish newspapers.”

The BBC set out plans for additional services in Scotland in February 2017, which included a proposal to launch a new BBC Scotland TV channel in autumn this year. The creation of a new channel was classed as “material change” to the BBC’s public services and required a Public Interest Test to be carried out by the BBC.

In November, the BBC Board concluded that the proposal for the BBC Scotland channel satisfied the Public Interest Test criteria, as the channel “contributed to the fulfilment of the BBC’s mission and promotion of its public purposes.”

Ofcom has today stated that further assessment is need “to consider whether the public value offered by a new BBC channel would justify any potential adverse effects which it could cause to fair and effective competition.”

The areas Ofcom highlighted that were of concern included:

  • potential for the new service to crowd out Scottish online news providers and Scottish newspapers
  • potential impact of the creation of 80 journalism roles on access to journalists
  • potential for the new service to crowd out FTA commercial broadcasters (eg STV Group)
  • and – potential impact of the BBC’s investment in Scottish-produced content (positive and/or negative) on access to Scottish content, and on the Scottish production sector more generally.

Ofcom’s Competition Assessment would involve market research and economic analysis and draw on the stakeholders responses they had already received. The letter notes that Ofcom expect to publish and consult on their provisional view in April, with the assessment process concluded by 11 July.