Media Convergence and Public Policy: Call for Evidence

August 13, 2012

The House of Lords Select Committee on Communications, chaired by Lord Inglewood, has announced an inquiry into media convergence and its public policy impact. The Committee has invited interested organisations and individuals to submit written evidence as part of the inquiry.

Written evidence is sought by Monday 24 September 2012. Public hearings are expected to be held in October, November and December. The Committee aims to report to the House, with recommendations, early in the New Year. The report will receive a response from the Government and may be debated in the House.

The Committee has outlined its areas of interest and the nature of the inquiry in some detail, most of which is reproduced below. Full details can be accessed here.

Media convergence refers to the phenomenon of traditionally distinct media activities coming to overlap, and therefore to a process which is dissolving the frontiers between previously separate industries. It has been under discussion for over 10 years – Ofcom itself was a child of convergence, established by the Office of Communications Act in 2002. Yet, only in the last few years have converged devices become a mass market reality, giving a great number of people access to types of content – which were conventionally distributed over different platforms – on one single platform, be it on their desk, table-top or in the palm of their hands. The possibilities have naturally stimulated media providers of all types into a search for and to experiments with new ways of providing their content, many of which have been straightforwardly borrowed from industries they each used to consider neighbours. They have, as such, led to textbook examples of convergence at work.

Newspapers are not just printed but are online and they carry video packages with the look and feel of traditional TV; broadcasters publish websites including text-based articles similar to online print; scheduled programmes are broadcast but also available on-demand, both on digital channels and a variety of websites; network operators are participants in the market for original content; user-generated material vies for online audiences alongside professionally produced content; professional and amateur bloggers share the same debates.

In many ways convergence is an exciting process to watch, shifting the tectonic contours of the media world, establishing opportunities for new businesses, new services, revenue models and so on. It is also, however, creating some pressing issues for public policy. To date, through a mix of regulation and public funding, we have created a highly successful broadcast ecology in the UK, which brings together the best of commercial enterprise and public service values for both consumers and citizens. It is an ecology in which, by and large, publicly accepted standards are understood and upheld, and a high level of quality and public trust has been secured. Can we (and indeed should we) be thinking of how to create similar outcomes for a potentially much more anarchic converged world, in which the regulatory levers may be weaker, economic models threatened, and the main participants much less attuned to UK sensibilities and interests? The Internet has opened up access to lots of innovative and exciting content, but also poses some real threats to quality, social values, trust, privacy etc, and is often dominated by intermediaries and suppliers from outside the UK. While some can navigate its highways with confidence, other more vulnerable people may need help, guidance and protection. How do we help encourage the good things to develop, while addressing the risks?

The Committee would welcome written submissions on the main impacts of convergence and the key areas of legitimate public policy interest which arise. The Committee will draw on this evidence to make forward-looking but concrete recommendations. To assist those making written submissions, what follows are a number of the broad themes on which the Committee would be interested to receive evidence and opinion, as well as a number of the specific questions which might arise from considering them. You need not address all these areas or questions. The Committee would also welcome any other views, and practical proposals, of which stakeholders think the Committee should be aware. Equally, should the Committee need to follow up on a particularly helpful piece of evidence or one that touches on a pivotal area, they may invite individual witnesses to submit supplementary evidence on specific points of interest.

Key, overarching issues

                    Setting the scene for the inquiry, what is the best definition of convergence?

                    To what extent has convergence already happened, or is it a process that is still underway? Has the ‘dust settled’?

                    What are the key changes which have occurred and are likely to occur in its wake (in production, distribution and consumption of content)?

                    What are the major themes which emerge with important and legitimate public interest? What are the potential points of focus for the inquiry?

                    Which roles (e.g. editorial, commissioning) are being performed by software or by people other than those who would have traditionally carried them out? In each case, what effect does this have on the output of the role, and the extent to which it falls under appropriate legal or regulatory oversight?

                    How effective a response is the current legal/regulatory regime to the new converged world? How, if at all, do the purposes and objectives of this regime have to change in light of convergence?

                    How much do different media industries still exist? What are the important differences between them which have implications for any potential need for different legal/regulatory systems?

                    Is it still possible/desirable to have different approaches for e.g. broadcasting and the internet?

                    Can there be an overarching framework of the type suggested by some? How could this work? Would it need to take a more or less active approach than we are currently used to?

                    Could a regulator set some broad principles but then allow different parts of the content sector to develop their own approaches, consistent with public expectations for different media and platforms?

                    How are the tools and mechanisms of leverage affected by convergence? Are the current tools decreasingly relevant? Do they need to be re-thought? What are the practical options available if we think more needs to be done?

                    To what extent can a national framework function in an increasingly digital world? What role should Internet providers and other intermediaries, aggregators and so on be asked to play, and can they be brought within a UK based regulatory framework? Do jurisdictional boundaries put these participants in the media world beyond our reach and can nothing, therefore, be done?

                    Should there be an overall goal/approach to policy on convergence – a guiding principle?


Convergence and content standards regulation

                    How much are consumers aware that the content they engage with over the same platform may have a legacy separate from its competitors, leaving it subject to different regulation?

                    To what extent are consumers satisfied with the different approaches? What do consumers expect and need in the way of content standards and protection in a converged world?

                    What are content suppliers themselves doing in response to the mixed bag of standards they have to adhere to, and how transparent and accountable are their varying approaches?

                    What impact does convergence have on increasingly important issues such as privacy and data protection?

                    Where should such powers to intervene be located? Should there be one regulator for all content? Should this be separated from the regulation of competition?


Convergence and competition

                    What and who are the emerging holders of power in the new converged world? How do they relate to and alter the traditional holders of power? What is their effect on plurality, and how should plurality in the context of these new players be ensured; is it better that they are diverse enough to provide external plurality, or that they are committed to providing access to diverse sources, offering a form of internal plurality? How should such ends be achieved?

                    How much does convergence call for a different approach to thinking about the definition of communications markets and competition? How should the relevant markets and market power be defined in a rapidly changing world?

                    To what extent does the packaging of services (e.g. triple play bundles) and in particular the packaging of delivery services with content services raise to competition?

                    What are the effects of vertical integration on the plurality of voices, and diversity of tastes represented in content?

                    What is the right regulatory structure/framework for competition in the light of convergence? Should responsibilities continue to be shared by a number of separate authorities or swept up into one? How effective / relevant is this shared responsibility now?

                    • In sum, how can we secure effective competition which will deliver great value to consumers and encourage innovation and investment in the UK?


Convergence and content creation

                    Separately from any impact it may have on the industry as a whole, what impact, if any, does convergence have on responsibilities for the public provision of high quality and diverse content made in and about the UK? What, if any, impact does it have on public provision for access to such content?

                    How should such public provision be secured? How, if at all, are the purposes of the licence fee affected by media convergence? What incremental changes to public funding or other forms of support might be of value?

                    Can the UK continue to play a key role globally as a content creator? What is the impact of globalisation on the nature and economics of content? How are the economics of production changing in light of convergence?

                    What is the impact on the industry of the need to provide ‘hybrid products’? How are the skills and practices of production changing? To what extent is suitable training in place to equip students with all of the skills they may require?

                    In sum, how best can we ensure the UK continues to produce and consume high quality content which meets not only consumer demand but key social and cultural goals, against a background of economic pressures, changing consumer tastes, and globalisation of the content industry?

Written submissions should be provided to the Committee as a Microsoft Word document and sent by e-mail to