The transformation of broadcasting: public service broadcasting, the BBC and the distortion of new media markets


  • Michael Harker UEA Law School and ESRC Centre for Competition Policy, University of East Anglia


Broadcasting markets in Europe have traditionally been highly regulated, with large public subsidies seen as necessary to ensure that cultural and citizenship goals can be realised. While being outside of Polanyi’s purview when he wrote his seminal work The Great Transformation, these 'markets' exist alongside other public interest norms; in his words, they are embedded in society.1 In the last 20 years, broadcasting markets in Europe have undergone something of a 'transformation', in the sense that technological advances have facilitated a shift away from public provision towards a market-based model. The removal of spectrum constraints has led to new platforms and a proliferation of channels. More importantly, with the emergence of conditional access systems has come the growth of subscription and pay-per-view television, offering significant new revenue streams and the development of new markets in premium content. Latterly, non-linear television services have seen a shift in audience viewing behaviour, and the convergence between television and the internet heralds new, innovative modes of delivery of, and changing pricing mechanisms for, broadcasting services. So, as a consequence of technological developments, we see the rise of a new type of commodity in broadcasting services. Whereas once, such goods were universally available partly because their consumption was physically non-excludable, now technology facilitates charging and the emergence of a market based on willingness and ability to pay.





Part III: Competition law as a form of embedding economic relationships