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ITV boss: MPs must act to protect UK broadcasters amid rise of streaming giants

Dame Carolyn McCall called for politicians to make ‘big changes’ to broadcasting regulation.

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The Rovers Return in Coronation Street (ITV)

The Rovers Return in Coronation Street (ITV)

The Rovers Return in Coronation Street (ITV)

MPs must “act now” to secure Britain’s public service broadcasting against competition from global giants like Netflix, ITV’s chief executive has said.

Dame Carolyn McCall cited long-running ITV soap Coronation Street as a gem of public service television, saying it is “unapologetically about our lives”.

She called for politicians to make “big changes” to broadcasting regulation, amid the new,  “shiny world” of the US streaming box set.

“In December, Coronation Street will mark 60 years portraying the lives of a fictional community in urban Manchester,” Dame Carolyn said.

“The stories it tells, and the accent it tells them in, are not much seen or heard on British TV.

“This is not the shiny world of an American streaming box set.

“It is unapologetically about our lives, our culture, our issues and concerns. It tackles important, sometimes controversial, social issues – from childhood vaccinations to money-lending.”

While Netflix show Sex Education is “terrific”, it is “designed to look like a US high school, with American footballs thrown around the playground,” she added, saying the hit is set in a “fictitious nowhere”.

Her comments come after the show, which is filmed in Wales and stars Gillian Anderson alongside Asa Butterfield, has just been renewed for a third season.

Dame Carolyn cited former X-files star Anderson’s comment about Sex Education, that “there is a bit of both worlds, decidedly, in the series, and the aim and the hope is that Americans won’t notice”.

The ITV chief added: “It is an intriguing blend and I make no criticisms of it. But I can proudly say that our offer is very different.

“We don’t try to create a fictitious nowhere to please a global audience. We set out to show a very recognisable picture of life in this country.

ITV Chief Executive Dame Carolyn McCall
ITV chief executive Dame Carolyn McCall (Chris Radburn/PA)

The chief executive said ITV spends £300 million every year on programme-making outside London, sustaining “big operations in Cardiff, Leeds and MediaCityUK in Salford and Trafford”.

Netflix investment has helped “to solidify the existing bias in the UK creative industries to London and the South East,” she said, citing its commitment to open a production base at the famous Shepperton Studios.

She called for policy change, warning that the US giants “will reach such an unassailable position of dominance that UK audiences will lose the choice and diversity of content we today take for granted”.

Gillian Anderson and Asa Butterfield
Gillian Anderson and Asa Butterfield (Ian West/PA)

And she added that, while “all TV channels have lost younger viewers to YouTube and streaming services… young people still watch linear broadcast TV”.

Dame Carolyn cited the contribution of public service broadcasting “to the health of our democracy”.

“In a world of filter bubbles and costly subscription services, a free, universal, accurate and impartial TV news offering is essential,” she said.

“It is a myth that most people get their news online or via subscription services”, she said, adding that “democracy cannot function effectively without citizens who are well-informed”.

She cited the thousands of appearances by MPs on ITV regional news and political programmes last year and the millions who watched the leaders’ debates “off the back of Emmerdale and I’m a Celebrity”.

“Global players… do not invest in news – national or local,” she said.

Dame Carolyn wants public service broadcasting shows to be easy to find on smart TVs and other platforms, and for broadcasters to get “fair value” from TV platforms for the investment they have made in programmes.

Her comments come after Culture Secretary Nicky Morgan mooted the possible end of the TV licence fee, while denying the BBC is under “attack”.

Dame Carolyn spoke to the ITV All-Party Parliamentary Group ahead of Ofcom’s review of public service broadcasting.

PA Media