How long has Ofcom got?

John Naughton’s column in today’s Observer is, as usual, elegantly constructed and convincing, in this case on the problems facing Ed Richards as he inherits (and it was surely an inheritance) stewardship of the organisation he did so much to create.

John doubts that Ofcom has a future, a point I made in an essay on the future of television published earlier this year in a book commissioned by ids, the advertising arm of Flextech. Speculating about the TV world in 2020 I wrote:

Broadcast was always an historical anomaly, one waiting for a technological fix. Now the broadcast age is over and material of all sorts is published and then made available in ‘the spew’ (the name, used by SF writer Neal Stephenson to describe the flow of data on the world’s networks, finally described a reality in around 2015).   Episodes of the soaps are no longer sent out at a pre-determined time as modulations of analogue radio signals to be picked up by dedicated hardware, and many people prefer to experience Coronation Street as a character in one of the online worlds, where they can pop into a virtual Rovers Return to catch up with the gossip and even chat to Ken or Deidre.

These major changes required significant shifts in the regulatory environment, especially once there were no broadcasters left to be licensed. Ofcom was wound up in 2020 after massive pressure from industry and consumers unhappy at the way it swallowed up money, effort and time and delivered nothing that anyone was happy with.

The Media Services Agency, a self-regulating body modelled on the Financial Services Agency, replaced it, incorporating older bodies including the Advertising Standards Authority, the Press Complaints Commission and the various Ombudsmen around the place. While the MSA is far from perfect it is agile and able to deal with the new media ecosystem far more effectively than a government agency locked into 20th century modes of thinking.   One of its core innovations, the ‘replybot’, automatically pops up a ‘right to reply’ window when content from an offending publisher is displayed on a screen.

Except I doubt it will actually take until 2020 – I’d take bets on the whole thing being gone by the turn of the decade.

You can read the whole essay here.

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