Jonathan Thompson, the CEO of the newly rebranded Everyone TV (fka Digital UK), has warned that British public broadcasters must rise to meet the existential threat posed by global streaming services and their “anonymous algorithm”.
Speaking at the Outside The Box 2023 conference in London today, Thompson used his keynote to discuss the “universality” of PSBs, explaining “that is available to everyone, no matter who you are, where you are or what your views on the world happen to be.”
“In simple terms it was universality that allowed us to all share in the euphoria of the Lionesses inspirational victory in the summer, that brought us together during the darkest days of the global pandemic and that saw a nation pause as it shared a million personal and one collective moment of grief at the passing of the queen.
“But does any of this really matter as we happily binge away on the latest series of White Lotus, Succession, The Bear or, in my case, The Masked Singer? When a seemingly infinite supply of lavish shows from around the world can be personalised and streamed direct to my TV, do old-fashioned notions like universality have relevance anymore?”
Thompson said that as the TV sector prepares to step fully into the streaming age, it must “think about how we can assure that the principals of universality endure” in order to maintain these connections between British audiences and the world around them.
We cannot allow the future of what we watch on TV to be left to an anonymous algorithm
“We should, of course, never want to hold technological innovation back, but that innovation should never become the sole or main gateway to British viewers being able to find British content. Nor should it lead to echo chambers of TV viewing, where we’re served up what we already know we like or what we might like.
“Let’s not fall into the trap of allowing the future of how people find and watch TV to be shaped not just partially but entirely by global players whose fundamental responsibilities are not to British viewers nor to the strength of democracy in Britain.”
With the future of public broadcasters the BBC and Channel 4 having both come under question over the past year, Thompson said that there was now “an urgent need” for the government to be clear about the public role that TV will continue to play in Britain and said that once it had set the policy it should then be left for industry to deliver.
“This is a pivotal moment in the story that is British TV, we collectively have the opportunity to shape a broadcasting landscape a decade from now that remains as competitive, creative and inclusive as it today,” said Thompson.
“Universality as we know it is under threat and we cannot allow the future of what we watch on TV to be left to an anonymous algorithm.”
Digital UK rebranding
Everyone TV, which adopted its new name today, is the consortium responsible for running free TV platforms Freeview and Freesat,
Jointly-owned by the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5, the four partners said the change in name reflects “a revised mandate: to lead the evolution of free, universal, high-quality television, in a way that protects and strengthens the social glue provided by Britain’s broadcasting heritage.”
Freeview and Freesat, which together offer 100% coverage of the UK and serve 18 million British homes, will retain their consumer brand identities. But the new name for the overarching company is designed to ‘champion free TV for all’. The company said it will “guide Britain into a new era where audiences can still watch their favourite PSB TV shows without charge whatever platform they choose”.
Digital UK was founded in 2005 to oversee the switchover from analogue to DTT. To mark the next chapter, there will be a new top-tier of directors under Thompson. These include chief commercial officer Deep Halder, formerly head of TV retail & content services at Samsung UK; chief technology office Orf Warr, formerly CTO of Channel 4. The chief product officer role will be shared between Sarah Milton and Carl Pfeiffer.