What is the public value of public service broadcasting?

13 January 2022

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Professor Stuart Allan, 

Professor Stuart Allan

Professor and Head of the School of Journalism, Media and Culture at Cardiff University

Professor Stuart Allan is Professor and Head of th...

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Dr Tom Chivers

Dr Tom Chivers

Research Associate

Dr Tom Chivers is a Research Associate with Cardif...

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​What exactly is the ‘value’ of Public Service Broadcasting?

This question has long been a subject of lively debate, bringing together the competing priorities of policymakers, stakeholders and members of the public. Recent changes in media technologies, audience habits and market conditions — not least those driven by the rise of new media giants such as Amazon, Google, Apple and Netflix — have made agreeing a straightforward definition of the value of Public Service Broadcasting (PSB) even more difficult.

With the BBC’s mid-term Charter Review due this year and the government considering a change to Channel 4's public ownership status, understanding the risks and opportunities for PSB is essential to securing a sustainable future for it in the evolving global media landscape. However, in light of conflicting perspectives on what ‘value’ actually entails, voices are calling for a rethink of regulations, structures and criteria to ensure PSBs create sufficient value for the public.

Is ‘public value’ best understood as primarily an economic measure? Or do other PSB priorities — such as promoting cultural excellence, encouraging civic engagement and fostering a sense of national community — warrant a greater recognition?

This Discussion Paper contributes to these debates by examining public value as a strategic concept, and explores how it can be used to identify and evaluate different types of value created by PSB. 

Its authors, Dr Tom Chivers and Professor Stuart Allan, begin by tracing the evolution of the BBC’s public value framework from 2004 to the present day, using this case study to chart how the UK’s principal public broadcaster adopted changing definitions of ‘value’ in its own regulation.

 Building on this assessment, the authors propose a new typology of values — social, cultural, economic, industrial, representational and civic value —  that encompass the range of objectives and obligations the UK’s PSBs seeks to fulfil. They analyse the rules and targets employed by government, regulators and broadcasters to achieve these outcomes, and discuss how emerging challenges may help or hamper the ability of PSBs to create public value in the future.

In advancing a forward-looking agenda, this Discussion Paper aims to inspire wider dialogue and deliberation over the future direction of PSB policymaking in a fast-changing digital media environment.

Please reference this paper as:

Chivers, T. Allan, S. (2022) What is the Public Value of Public Service Broadcasting? Exploring challenges and opportunities in evolving media contexts. Various: Creative Industries Policy and Evidence Centre and Cardiff University. Available from: https://www.pec.ac.uk/discussion-papers/what-is-the-public-value-of-public-service-broadcasting

Image credits - Hero Image by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash and Thumbnail by The Climate Reality Project on Unsplash