Whether it’s with public broadcasters, private broadcasters or audiences, collaborations and co-productions are increasingly becoming a key strategy to ensure the survival of public media.

Collaboration was a recurring theme in this year’s Public Broadcasters International (PBI) conference, not only because of the aptly named session, ‘Collaborate or die?’ but because public service media (PSM) organisations are facing increasingly similar challenges. These include funding pressures and competition from SVOD (streaming video-on-demand) services as well as decreasing audience reach and maintaining relevance in the digital age. 

But collaboration isn’t only a means of tackling competitive pressures; as it also offers a solution driven approach to pooling journalistic resources to better report on complex issues such as climate change, or shared editorial guidelines at times of national crisis. 

Here, we explore a few examples of how PSM have successfully collaborated with like-minded organisations and the public to both benefit their audiences as well as their long term survival.

PSM + PSM

A leading example of public broadcaster to public broadcaster collaboration is the production partnership between France Télévisions, Italy’s Rai and Germany’s ZDF.  Known as The Alliance, it was formed last year in response to the growth of Netflix and other SVOD services, a move which the French public broadcaster had heavily debated for some time due to its own operational changes. The aim is to pool resources and budgets to co-produce and develop several dramas that will appeal to an international audience. 

Canada’s public broadcaster, CBC/Radio-Canada has also been active in signing partnerships, both with the BBC as well as the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC). 

The BBC and CBC/Radio-Canada have previously collaborated to co-produce projects but this new co-production deal marks a renewed push to tackle the rise of global SVOD platforms. 

In a joint statement, the BBC’s Director General, Tony Hall, and CBC/Radio Canada’s President & CEO, Catherine Tait, said: “As we reinvent how we deliver our services for new generations, we are coming together to share ideas, and our teams are exploring new ways to work together: amplifying our public service missions, bringing our audiences the best ideas, and investing in our local creative industries.” 

Read more: TV industry entering ‘second wave of disruption’, claims BBC chief

The deal with ABC includes a three-year Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to provide opportunities for co-developing and co-financing English-language drama, factual and children’s content to ‘enhance the reach and impact of their content across both countries’ according to a CBC press release.

David Anderson, Managing Director of ABC, was quoted saying, “In a world of global media giants, the outstanding and accessible content produced by like-minded public broadcasters is more important than ever…This collaboration between the ABC and CBC will drive our limited resources further, leveraging our strengths to create and share distinctive local content that connects with audiences at home and overseas.”

An audio content exchange already exists between the ABC and CBC/Radio-Canada for podcasts. This is not unlike the exchange between Radio New Zealand (RNZ) and America’s National Public Radio (NPR), who also share content across their platforms.

Meanwhile, Nordic countries appear to be at the forefront of international collaborations, co-productions and exchanges. Nordvision, a cooperative consisting of five core Nordic PSM partners – namely Denmark’s DR, Finland’s YLE, Iceland’s RUV, Norway’s NRK and Sweden’s SVT, and associate partners – was set up in 1959 with the vision to be the ‘best and most cooperative regional partnership for public service media in the world’ with a particular interest in technological innovation and development.

In 2018, Nordvision co-produced 796 hours worth of programming and continues to push boundaries for producing volumes of high-quality content with new initiatives such as Nordic Twelve (N12), a yearly streaming package consisting of 12 co-produced Nordic drama series.

PSM + Private media

Yet PSM often lack the financial resources, or indeed the remit, to effectively collaborate with other public media organisations, leading many to partner with private platforms and broadcasters. 

Alongside The Alliance, France Télévisions also recently announced a joint streaming and  subscription service, Salto, which will be launched early next year with commercial rivals M6 and TF1, having received the green light by the country’s competition watchdog. In an interview, Delphine Ernotte, CEO of France Télévisions said, “The launch of the platform will very soon give us what we need to compete against international players on our own territory.” 

This is mirrored by a joint venture between public broadcaster BBC and commercial broadcaster, ITV, who were also given the greenlight to launch a similar streaming service, Britbox, to provide the “best of British” in the UK. The service already exists in North America, with approximately 500,000 subscribers. However, concerns still remain over whether the streaming service, which will cost £5.99 a month -and not offer any exclusive programmes – will be able to effectively rival Netflix and other SVOD services.

In an attempt to increase audience reach, Public Broadcasting Service, signed a deal with YouTube TV, which will allow its 333 public broadcasting members to livestream their coverage across YouTube TV by November 2019. However, smaller broadcasters are concerned about the possible costs involved, not least concerns over the privacy of PBS’s viewer data, particularly for children.

Editorial values

But collaboration goes beyond reach, co-productions and commercial incentives. In the wake of the Christchurch attacks of 15 March this year, editorial guidelines were collectively agreed and developed by New Zealand’s Media Freedom Committee representing major outlets including RNZ, TV New Zealand (TVNZ) and Stuff for reporting the trial of Brenton Tarrant, the man charged with committing the terrorist attacks.

The guidelines sought to address the challenges posed by what RNZ Chairman Jim Mather described as a “mass media attack”, where the killer intended to use the murder of innocents to spread his propaganda. Speaking at PBI, Jim described the guidelines as inspiring “communication, collaboration and caution” in media coverage, to inspire “clear, constant and constructive journalism”, with national media uniting to tackle unforeseen events. 

Furthermore, in a climate of disinformation, news and technology organisations have also pledged to work together. The likes of the BBC, CBC/Radio-Canada and the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) as well as Facebook, Google and Reuters -among others – are part of a news industry collaboration to pool resources in an attempt to combat disinformation and so-called ‘fake news’.

PSM and audiences

Ultimately, collaboration should be for the benefit of the public – those who PSM are fundamentally accountable to – an ethos that has led many PSMs to collaborate directly with their audiences. 

Many public media organisations have been slow to get effective collaborations off the ground, but this year’s PBI saw many PSMs putting it at the forefront of their future plans. 

Both Swedish Television (SVT) and Finland’s Yle emphasised the need for better dialogue with their audiences, to “know them better” and put them at the heart of what they do, with Yle working directly with older audiences to combat digital alienation. 

But collaborating with audiences also offers an opportunity for PSMs to improve representation, especially on a local scale and in more remote regions. In 2007 Taiwan’s PTS launched PeoPo, a citizen journalism portal allowing the public to submit reports about local news, proving an essential resource during typhoons and other natural disasters. Thai PBS recently launched C-Site, an app and portal that allows citizens to report and map issues of local concern as well as an initiative to empower users with reporting skills via a partnership with Thai universities.  

Find out more: C-Site, PeoPo and other initiatives to collaborate with audiences

As audiences fragment and competitive pressures mount, collaborations are one way to ensure the ongoing relevance of public media in the digital age. However, it is paramount that collaboration does not come at the expense of core public media values such as accuracy, editorial independence, impartiality, transparency and accountability to the public. 

In the spirit of collaboration, the Public Media Alliance recently announced a Global Call Out to advocate specifically and internationally for the positive role of public media and its value to citizens. As part of this we will be launching a Global Task Force with public media leaders and like-minded organisations to develop a single strong voice around the values of public media, particularly at times of crisis. 

Read more: Global Call Out and Global Task Force.

Header Image: Thai PBS Deputy Director General, Sudarat Disayawattana Chantrawatanakul, speaking about C-Site at PBI 2019. Credit: Public Media Alliance