Government Sets Out Vision for Digital Britain
The UK Government has promised a report early next year containing recommendations of potential improvements which could be made in the country’s digital economy. New Media Knowledge asked the industry for its reaction.
The Communications, Technology and Broadcasting Minister, Stephen Carter, will spearhead the Government’s “Digital Britain Report” (DBR) – promised by the spring of 2009 - which will look mainly at closing the digital divide in Britain but also at how content is provided.
Writing in The Times newspaper, Prime Minister Gordon Brown said: “The objectives the DBR will look to deliver are open markets; empowered and informed consumers and citizens; universal access to high-quality content, a responsive, up-to-date regulatory framework and, importantly, a world-leading position for the UK in this critical sector.”
He continued: “We are seeing yet more innovation as networks converge and the services people enjoy and businesses depend on — video, audio, music, news, interaction — are each delivered by many means, rather than one.”
As well as widespread broadband adoption, the report will look at digital radio, content provision, Internet safety, IT and media literacy skills, public service content and ways to promote innovation and job creation in the production sector.
The ICT and broadcasting industries combined make up almost six per cent of the UK’s gross domestic product (GDP), with a turnover of over £52 billion a year. Half a million people are employed in these sectors across the country.
The communications watchdog Ofcom has publicly backed the report, but where does this leave players within Public Sector Broadcasting (PSB)? For Michael Ridley, a partner at law firm DLA Piper, PSB is now at a crossroads.
“PSB is like an endangered species in that it is rare, exists in a fragile environment and it won’t take much to destroy its habitat. Once it is gone, it will be extinct,” he told NMK. “Similarly, if Channel 4 is sold-off, its privatisation means it will never be able to retain its unique remit and role in the PSB ecosystem. Ofcom has already spent a huge amount of time on the issue of PSB and it will be interesting to see if or how these conclusions are factored into this new report.”
Ridley believes that the debate itself raises very interesting questions over the role of regulators, and Ofcom specifically, in the industry.
“The worry with any regulator is the extent of its domain of control and influence. There are already signs of Ofcom seeking to extend its remit on Internet regulation,” he said. “Clearly, with the Internet there are obvious areas that need protection – for example, children - but they are arguably pretty well addressed now. Equally, there are also huge challenges to maintaining PSB in a truly digital age, but we must try. And we must try to ensure we get it right and strike the right balance between self-regulation and regulator rule”
Xavier Adam, Managing Director of digital marketing agency, AMC Network, does not believe the Digital Britain Report will have a major impact on the UK’s digital economy.
“The UK has been a hotbed of innovation throughout history. Therefore it is no surprise that it continues to be so, regardless of government intervention and 'mollycoddling',” he said. “There is a lack of Government support for people starting out and the digital sector, but plenty of accolades when it goes the right way. Other countries have been far more successful at harnessing innovation, when by comparison they have a limited history in this area.”
Into The Great Wide Open
So what would Public Sector Broadcasters like to see from Carter’s report? Richard Titus, Controller of User Experience and Design at BBC Future Media and Technology, wants greater openness and the right infrastructure to deliver content.
“The biggest challenge we see today centre around how to promote greater openness, transparency and inter-connectedness,” he told NMK. “We would like to see a discussion of ways to incentivise and encourage greater investment in infrastructure and capacity in all Internet Protocol (IP) networks, particularly in the broadband backhaul.”
Titus added that he wants all audiences to have the opportunity to consume rich, personal and relevant content on whatever device they desire, without limitation of personal and public choice. He also said it was vital to encourage greater digital literacy, through an expansion of digital public services to reach all of Britain, but particularly the underserved.
Freedom of Information
So how does the UK’s digital industry currently stand up, especially given the worsening economic situation? Titus believes we have many reasons to be optimistic.
“In this time of economic challenge I believe the usage of digital media devices - including the Internet, mobile phones and red button interactive television, as well as new digital media services - will provide a real opportunity for us to help inform, educate and entertain our audiences across all platforms,” he said. “The Government can facilitate this by encouraging openness, investment and digital literacy. In addition, increasing entrepreneurialism, particularly in the digital space, in parallel to strengthening public services can only further the goal of promoting a truly digital Britain.”
DLA Piper’s Ridley believes that for the UK’s digital economy to flourish it needs certain freedoms from government. “Wherever possible, intervention should be by way of reserve powers. Innovation comes about and thrives despite, and not because, of regulators,” he concluded.