Speech

Ed Vaizey's speech to the Oxford Media Convention 2015

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Minister for the Digital Economy Ed Vaizey's keynote speech at Oxford Media Convention 2015 on the role of government in the multi-media age

Ed Vaizey

Introduction

Good morning. Thank you very much for inviting me to speak to you today.

With an election only weeks away, now seems like a good moment to reflect on what has been achieved in the last five years.

I know that you share my view that I have done an outstanding job as your minister during that period.

Along with my officials, I’ve been at the heart of the DCMS, slogging my guts out on your behalf.

So I am surprised that you’re debating later this afternoon … “What is the point of the DCMS”?

A real vote of confidence in my tenure, I must say.

I won’t play tit-for-tat, no matter how tempting it might be to call this speech “What’s the point of the Oxford Media Convention”?

It’s always fun to play the Whitehall parlour game of how to re-arrange policy responsibilities.

But the real questions worth looking at are: “what is the role of government in this multi-media age?” and “what are the challenges for the next five years?”

What we have achieved

We have the best broadband of the EU5 and the highest level of take up.

Ofcom has just recorded the single biggest rise in average UK broadband speed ever recorded – a fifth.

We have the highest level of e-commerce per head in the world.

The proportion of households that have a tablet has almost doubled in the past two years.

And thanks to many of the people in this room, we have the best television in the world.

Since 2009, the Creative Industries as a whole have been a brilliant success, rising three times faster than the economy as a whole.

TV and advertising revenues are up.

The independent sector has enjoyed an annual growth rate of 6.6 per cent each year since 2009, with revenues over £3bn for the first time in 2014. International sales and commissions have more than doubled in the same period.

And substantial contribution to the health of the TV industry comes from the UK’s commercial broadcasters, with:

  • overall investment in content growing at five per cent a year since 2011;
  • £725m investment in UK production in 2013;
  • investment in first run UK production grew at seven per cent a year from 2011 to 2013; and
  • investment in UK content from external producers grew by almost 10 per cent each year since 2011.

A lot of this success has nothing at all to do with government.

And indeed, some of that success has been down to government leaving well alone – sometimes government not doing something can be as important as government acting.

But where we have seen that government can make a difference, we have acted.

We have invested heavily in our digital infrastructure.

Our rural broadband programme has seen two million homes connected, with 40,000 homes being reached every single week. That’s supported by extensive commercial roll out by BT and Virgin media.

Our successful auction of 4G spectrum has seen the fastest take up of 4G in the world, after successfully completing digital TV switchover on time and under budget.

Sajid Javid has concluded a ground breaking deal with mobile firms to deliver 90 per cent geographic coverage in the UK by 2017.

We have launched local television.

And we are building out the network for digital radio. London has more digital stations than any city on the world, and next year we will have 24 national commercial digital stations.

And we continue to look at future innovation.

To back innovation we have published our strategy for the Internet of Things.

Ofcom is pioneering a framework for white space technology.

And we are leading the way with 5G technologies - the University of Surrey’s 5G innovation centre announced last week that they had tested one a terabit per second connection - many thousands of times faster than current mobile data connections.

There is another great success story it is worth pausing to reflect on – the impact of the screen tax credits introduced by the Chancellor.

The Film Tax Credit helped see film investment increase by nearly a third in the last year alone. It has been responsible for almost £8 billion of film investment in the UK.

In the first full year of the TV tax credit, almost £400 million of investment was made in high-end television supporting our home-grown media and record inward investment.

And the animation, video games and visual effects tax credit will also, I am sure, stimulate significant levels of investment in the UK.

Now we are looking at introducing a tax credit for documentaries and children’s television.

The net result of all this, I would argue, is that the UK’s creative industries have never been healthier. Their profile in political debate has never been higher. They are the UK’s most effective calling card.

The next Government will want to build on this success.

Future challenges

What are the challenges and issues it will face?

The issue at the top of the in-tray will be the review of the BBC’s Charter, which has to be renewed at the end of 2016.

The next government will have, in effect, 18 months to conduct the process.
We made a conscious decision not to start the Charter Review before the general election.

We didn’t want to get the BBC mixed up in partisan point scoring.

There are many reasons why we need the BBC.

Their recent commitment to work with UK-wide arts institutions and to support coding in schools are just two recent examples of this.

Radio 1’s commitment to new music is another.

We want to see a BBC that is fit for the digital age, able to fulfil the many roles that the BBC has done so successfully for many years – not just great content, but education and training, technical innovation, and a huge and irreplaceable contribution to civic society.

But as I say, that debate won’t begin until May 8, and we won’t be expressing any views before then.

Except to confirm that we “heart” the BBC.

The second big - somewhat related - issue will be the next phase of the transformation in media brought about by technology.

These are massive changes, bringing to the fore important issues – privacy, data, content regulation, intellectual property, competition.

The rise of Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon and Netflix have transformed the experience of consumers. They bring huge opportunities, but also challenges to traditional media businesses.

We have always believed in an open internet, as free as possible from regulation, and we have made the case again and again with our allies in international fora. But an open internet doesn’t mean a lawless free for all.

Whenever a politician raises concerns in this area, they are accused of being a technological ignoramus, of stifling innovation.

That’s a crude response to a sophisticated and nuanced landscape.

There is still a role for government and for politicians in this arena. But it has subtly changed, moving from top-down one-size-fits-all regulation to an approach that focuses on flexibility and partnership.

Let me give you an example, the issue of protecting kids online.

Rather than legislate, we chose to work with industry. And as a result, in short order, we achieved parental filters for all the major ISPs; a major education campaign; and deep and meaningful changes to the way Google deals with search in this area. To try and legislate here would have been difficult – controversial, time consuming and inflexible.

So in my view future issues will have to be approached on the basis of cooperation and partnership.

The best approach in my view is not knee-jerk regulation or legislation, but to work with major players to achieve the best outcome.

As I have said before, people need to meet us halfway. Politicians have legitimate concerns that reflect the wider concerns of society. Screaming “internet censorship” every time an issue is raised is utterly self-defeating.

There are other big changes on the way as well.

We will soon have a Europe-wide data protection regime, which is a great prize for those operating across borders provided it is not overly bureaucratic.

And an energetic debate is starting on the opportunities for a digital single market.

Our submission to the Commission is called a non-paper. That’s Euro speak for “think piece”. It contains our vision for what a digital single market could look like.

But we won’t achieve it by imposing it on you – we want to, we have to, take you with us. So rise to the challenge and put forward your ideas and proposals to support further investment.

If we can remove barriers to enable you to reach out to 500 million consumers, that has to be a good thing.

And it has to be a good thing for the UK as well. We are already home to over 500 broadcasters. Major companies like Discovery, Disney and Viacom not only employ thousands of people here, they are major investors in UK content. We want to give them reasons to continue to invest here.

The third challenge is our digital infrastructure and, alongside it, digital inclusion.

As I said earlier we have made huge progress in rolling out Britain’s digital infrastructure in TV and radio - and in terms of mobile and fixed broadband But we need to go further and faster.

We want the whole country to have access to superfast broadband.

We want good mobile coverage everywhere.

And we want to ensure people who live here have the skills to access services and content online.

The point is that building digital infrastructure doesn’t have a start or finish date – the next government will have to look at where to go next.

The final great challenge is diversity. I know you are talking about it later today.

Media remains a powerful force for good in this country. To maintain its role, it has to reflect the society we live in. At the moment, it doesn’t.

I became passionate about the cause two years ago, when I saw Lenny Henry perform in the Comedy of Errors at the National Theatre. I looked around me and saw a completely different audience. And all those abstract words such as outreach and engagement suddenly became real.

I knew Lenny was vocal on the subject so invited him in for a chat, and found someone champing at the bit to effect real change. And the more people I talked to the BAME media community more I discovered the frustration, and yes anger felt by the BAME community who felt that not only had it all just been talk for the last thirty years, we were actually going backwards.

Thanks to Lenny, Oona King and others, we are seeing change. I want to pay tribute to what has been achieved.

Thank you too to all the major broadcasters now have clear diversity policies with real targets.

We have uniform industry-wide monitoring for the first time which will make a real difference.

The Creative Diversity Network has been put on a permanent footing. But we have only just started.

The building blocks are in place and now we need to get on and do it.

The people in this room can make that change.

Conclusion

I am as ambitious as ever for the future of our country, and so is the Government I’m lucky enough to be a member of.

I am really proud that the Creative industries sit at the heart of this country’s success.

We will continue to support you.

We will intervene where we need to – but we will always work with you.

We will build the infrastructure for the future that we all need.

We will support investment in content and strong IP rights.

And we will build an environment in which you can all succeed.

It has been a great pleasure to have been your Minister.

Published 4 March 2015