Five's Chief Executive, Dawn Airey, has responded to Ofcom's ruling by noting its pleasure that its public service role has been mentioned, but admitting it has been left bemused by talk of its regulatory assets.
Airey – who formerly headed up entertainment at Sky – was quick to respond to Ofcom's public service broadcast (PSB) recommendations, insisting that a merger with Channel 4 would not affect the broadcaster delivering 'real and sustainable public service value'.
"It's good to see Ofcom recognising the contribution Five makes and can continue to make in public service broadcasting – whether as an independent commercial player or as a partner in a new body that also includes Channel 4," said Airey.
"In either scenario, we will deliver real and sustainable public service value to viewers.
"Five has a strong track record commissioning fresh perspectives in news and factual programmes, and is the only mainstream commercial channel to continue providing original children's programmes. These are all part of our public service contribution."
He continues: "However, we are bemused by Ofcom's suggestions about Five's regulatory assets and will be discussing these further with the government," concluded Airey.
Ofcom's report talks of the regulatory assets allocated to Channel 5 being 'more limited' than those available to Channel 4 and Channel 3.
"Five is already paying a market related rate for its DTT (digital terrestrial television) capacity, rather than just a share of costs," says the report
"As a commercially owned broadcaster, Five faces the same conflict of incentives as ITV plc between the need to maximise profit and its delivery of public service programming.
Example of a commercial network
"In Ofcom's view, this means that, with its more limited public service broadcasting obligations, Channel 5 in practice already represents an example of a commercial network with public service commitments focused in key areas, along the general principles suggested for Channel 3 going forward.
"We recommend that Channel 5 should retain its public service status and that a similar model of public service delivery should be adopted, consistent with and complementary to the proposed obligations on the Channel 3 licencees."
"Post 2014 the Channel 5 service would retain access to a single universally available DTT video stream at a market rate, together with due prominence on electronic programme guides. Its regulatory obligations would be to:
- Broadcast national and international news, as it does now
- Continue to invest in UK-originated programming
"Ofcom believes that these regulatory obligations would have limited opportunity cost (ie such public service content will not displace more profitable content) and are broadly aligned to the licensee's commercial incentives. Maintaining Channel 5's public service obligations in only these key areas would help to maintain the balance of costs and benefits in the licence."
We've contacted Five to clarify exactly what within Ofcom's rulings has caused the bemusement.