I noticed that The Register had picked up that "Ofcom notes that viewing for the five main TV channels has declined by 17 per cent since 2003
". This is meant to be the the most contentious part of Ofcom's review, the idea of throwing public money after a disappearing audience. Digital TV has increased in popularity over the years, especially now that digital set top boxes are a lot more stable (early ones used to crash) and there's a wider selection of freeview channels (compared to when digital first launched). Increasing numbers are switching over to digital TV (and discovering the joy of Dave... I mean other TV channels) because we're being forced to switch (television services in the UK will go completely digital by 2012; starting with Whitehaven in Cumbria which became the first place to switch in October 2007). And now that we've got around 70 digital channels (and even more if you've got Sky).
I'm actually surprised there's only a 17% decline in viewing figures for the five main TV channels. Why watch BBC One* when you've got BBC Three (better comedy, and big shows are a week ahead), Sky One (for all the American shows, only a few days behind American TV), or even BBC HD (for those with HD televisions)? With the BBC beta testing and officially launching their iPlayer (and possibly for the Wii too?), more people are going to watch it in their own time online. Channel 4 have been making their shows available for years (WMV files of The IT Crowd), and more recently using 4oD. And then there's the other big reason: TV is pretty rubbish nowadays. Panorama has sold out (shorter, more mainstream) and Dispatches mostly covers topical items (Iraq, immigration) rather than provide anything new and interesting. Low quality reality TV has taken over Channel 4 (including E4), mostly related to the now farcical Big Brother, but also including such shit as Wife Swap (4 series?!). It's bad enough that I pay such a high amount to the BBC (although I subscribe to the RSS feeds for BBC News and do enjoy some of their bigger shows; but I tend to buy them on DVD anyway).
If the current business model doesn't work for the commercial broadcasters, they need to fix their own model, not beg for license-payers' money. Which is probably why I agree with ITV that the public service broadcasting obligations should be lifted altogether, so they can compete with BSkyB. Although looking at the rubbish churned out by ITV, I'm not sure they can ever compete with BSkyB. The license fee goes up, the viewing figures go down (although it'd be interesting to see what % drop the BBC have seen, separate from the other 4 rivals). It'll probably become academic once the global online distribution of TV shows, music and movies finally arrives.
Some might claim it's already happening, although in a totally illegal fashion. Which brings us back to the whole argument of why bother downloading a DRM infected low quality video (often a day or more after it's been broadcasted) when you can obtain higher resolution versions that'll play on a wider range of devices (for an infinitely longer period of time) that usually appears on sites within a few hours. The only reason not to illegally download TV shows is the fact it's illegal. And in the UK it's only a civil infringement. Perhaps if they stopped hitting us with a stick and dangled a nicer carrot (hint: 1080p/720p versions of BBC TV shows), fewer people would break the law. But I suppose something like that would impact their DVD sales (hint: sell the BluRay/DVD box sets with something physical, like a cuddly stuffed whale to go with your Blue Planet
* Okay, so Doctor Who and Top Gear are on BBC One, plus the season finales of shows like Torchwood and Spooks air first on BBC One