A modest proposal (to abandon public service broadcasting

When some propose a massive change in the way the BBC is structured and run, you have to ask ‘what problem are they trying to solve’? This advocacy piece on Political Betting betrays a profound thoughtlessness behind scrapping the licence fee for a subscription service:

In the beginning, the licence fee was entirely justifiable. It was only the rich who could afford first radio and then television, and even once the ownership of both became widespread, the BBC remained dominant in radio and the senior partner of a duopoly in TV, meaning that the Corporation was still funded by its viewers – because every TV owner was a viewer. The coming of multi-channel TV might have undermined that argument but the licence fee remained a practical necessity while signals were analogue.

That’s no longer the case and the digital TV revolution, apart from opening up choice far further, also makes real the possibility of switching to a subscription service. It’s a move that should be made as soon as possible because it would end the false debate about purpose.

Can you spot the ‘deliberate’ flaw? It’s a proposal to abandon public ownership, and then no doubt the public service model of broadcasting. That’s a big change for such a ‘modest proposal’!

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  • chrisjones2

    Even more radical, why not sell the whole BBC operation to a company like Apple?

    TV as we know it will be gone in 10 years. The days of the compulsion to let someone else chose what you watch on channels are numbered. The technology is developing at a frightening pace. Should you pay a licence fee to watch something in your glasses or on your watch?

    Content is everything and the BBC is superb in many areas of content and has a huge back catalogue that is under exploited. . So sell the BBC off and keep the rump that really should be in the public sector – for example the BBC News operation . I suspect a company like Apple would pay billions for the brand and facilities and would run it much more efficiently

    We might then even afford to electrify a few railways and build another runway somewhere and fix part of the housing crisis

    We need to recognise that Auntie is now in her 90s and showing her age. TIme perhaps to let the care home look after her

  • Korhomme

    Conflating two things, here the way the BBC is paid for, and what it does/should do, is an underhand bit of politics; add to this some woffle about ‘digital’, and the questions get very obscured.

    What the BBC is for might well not depend on how it is funded. What the BBC isn’t is being a ‘state’ broadcaster, that is a propaganda channel for the government. And if the Tories think it is infected with left wing bias, and Labour thinks it’s a pillar of the right-wing establishment, then it must be doing something right.

  • Turgon

    There are other public service broadcasters both in the UK and elsewhere. Many are free to view and paid for via various systems mainly advertising. The BBC is different in that it is paid for by a licence fee the failure to pay such is a criminal offence.

    It is not as if the BBC lacks adverts. Between every programme it advertises its own books, magazines etc. This in itself gives is an unfair advantage in its own advertising.

  • chrisjones2

    If it isn’t a state body why is it a criminal offence not to pay the levy? Even if you only want to watch ITV on a PC you have to buy a TV licence. Why?

  • Korhomme

    The BBC isn’t a state body in the way the NHS is; the BBC does get a charter from the state. But that is only indirectly related to the criminal offence of not paying the levy. I imagine this is based on the idea of ‘theft’ of content. Curiously, if you only watch the BBC on catch-up iPlayer, you don’t need a licence.

    Suppose you wanted to watch Sky but didn’t want to pay their subscription, and somehow managed to access their programmes for free. Would that be a criminal offence, like ‘stealing by finding’? And if not, why not?

  • 23×7

    Wrong again and you don’t have to look too far to find out why. Ireland requires a tv license and failure to pay is an offence. As for the BBC moving to an advert based model, this will eat into the advertising revenues and destroy the business models of its competitors. Bring it on if necessary to protect the organisation though I’d prefer if it remained advert free.

    As I’ve said elsewhere the license fee is great value for money and delivers multiple benefits to the arts throughout the UK. The debate over the license fee is being used to attack the BBC by its right wing opponents who have amazingly begun to get concerned about regressive taxes.

  • Turgon

    But why is the BBC allowed to advertise its magazines etc. on its television programmes?

    It may offer great value for money to you but it offers woeful value for money to others.

  • 23×7

    Sorry but this is complete nonsense. The reason BBC content is superb and superior from the muck on itv, c4 (embarrassing bodies) and sly tv is because the BBC is free to take risks away from commercial constraints. A more considered discussion of the BBC is required rather than the frankly embarrassing suggestion of selling it to Apple.

  • 23×7

    It has a commercial services wing whose remit is outlined in its charter.

  • Turgon

    Yet is permitted exclusive advertising rights on television and radio. That on the same channels which loudly proclaim that they are free of advertising.

  • 23×7

    Your value for money argument doesn’t stand up. As I’ve said elsewhere our taxes are spent on plenty of things we don’t like.

  • 23×7

    Can you explain where you see advertising on BBC channels in the UK? Advertising its own products is hardly the same thing as adverts for McDonald’s. They are hardly going to waste license fee payers money advertising their shows on itv.

  • chrisjones2

    Curiously, if you only watch the BBC on catch-up iPlayer, you don’t need a licence.

    My understanding is that that is not true

  • chrisjones2

    Why not if its an open market? The relaty is that its almost a state monoploly

  • chrisjones2

    Why embarrassing? What embarrasses you about it?

    What a strange turn of phrase. It doesn’t have to be Apple. Any content provider would do or it could just be privatised via a share offering – perhaps giving all licence payers shares that they can hold or sell, I suggested Apple because it could afford it, there might be synergy in the brands and they are moving into content in a very big way. They also have the marketing skills to pull it off

    As for taking risks I suggest you have a look at how the BBC really works and watch a few episodes of W1A. ITs one of the most bureaucratic risk averse organisations in the UK

    You miss / ignore the core point though. The TV channel is going the way of the dinosaur, steam engine, fax machine and fixed line telephone. Even the delivery vehicle – the broadcast signal – is next to dead and will be gone in a generation as we need the bandwidth for mobile comms volumes

    If you want to buy high quality content feel free. There will be people to sell it to you. Look at some of the content Amazon now offers for example. Preserving in aspic this dying BBC Channel model courtesy of a compulsory annual bung will die. A model where you can choose to buy cheaply made populist programmes (that you see as ‘muck’ but which are loved by many people) or you can buy quality and pay a little more, will be perfectly viable. Its just like buying a watch. You can get a perfectly serviceable digital watch for £20, pay £250 for a more upmarket one or £40000 for hand made exclusivity. Its the customers choice.

    Why should the consumers of what you see as ‘muck’ TV subsidise your expensive high quality of they don’t want to buy it? Why are you so dismissive of the tastes of millions of your fellow citizens – but then expect them to subsidise you?

    The question is do we engineer a soft landing for this dying beast or just let it eventually implode. I fear the latter.

  • Korhomme
  • Surveyor

    But Sky doesn’t wilfully broadcast it’s signal to be received by non paying subscribers. You could argue that as the BBC transmits it’s signal into your home without your consent then the onus is on them to provide a method whereby payment is only made when the service is actually used

  • Surveyor

    The BBC always gets involved in ratings wars with commercial channels. Strictly Come Dancing, The Voice etc etc and I’d hardly call Homes Under The Hammer, Bargain Hunt and Escape To The Country as superior.

  • Korhomme

    That’s a very fair point, and raises an (almost) unvoiced problem. Why should I pay for a product I don’t use? How many people who pay the BBC licence never watch it? So, if it’s going to be pay-to-view, will the BBC become much more expensive in future?

  • 23×7

    What do you think the BBC should just create unpopular content? Just because you don’t like the programs you mention many others do and they pay their license fee.

  • 23×7

    Again more incoherent nonsense that I see elsewhere in the BBC debate. Spray and prey accusations against the BBC hoping that one of them sticks.

    You do know that bbc has iplayer and a very popular web platform? The idea that they are unprepared for digitisation is farcical. In fact you could argue they are one of the innovators. As for missing your core point. You don’t even seem to understand the point you are making.

    An annual Netflix subscription costs about half of the license fee for a fraction of the content/value. Most of Netflix is crap and old movies. As for sly tv it’s a joke and would sink without a trace without the football. The BBC license fee gives easily the best value for money. The BBC is much more than eastenders and homes under the hammer. Happy Valley, The Trip, The Trip to Italy, Sherlock, Wolf Hall and a huge proportion of their costume drama output. Their Glastonbury coverage. BBC6 music, radio 4. These are only my favourites.

  • 23×7

    That comment makes no sense.

  • chrisjones2

    Why do you feel the need to be abusive? It seems to verge on incoherent hatred. No confidence in your arguments perhaps? Just calm down and open your mind just a fraction

    Again you ignore the point that conventional TV will soon go the way of the DoDo

    What allegations did I make against the BBC anywhere? It has often been great but the question is what should its future shape and PURPOSE be? I didn’t say they don’t have player and arent ready for digitalisation. You made that up and it would be stupid to day that when so much of their output is already digital. But that’s different form the Channel issue.

    It seems that everything you don’t like is crap and you have a pathological hatred of Sky. Thats your right but dont impose it on others. Currently lots of people buy Sky services and are happy with them – why also force them to pay for the BBC i they don’t want it?

    I agree that there is lots to favour on BBC among lots of dross too – bit that applies elsewhere as well. Tonight on cable TV I just watched an excellent programme on the biology of life around geothermal vents on the ocean floor. And one on the Apollo 17 moonshot. Those are my interests and not most peoples cup of tea. I am happy to pay for them and they were done better than BBC could have as they would have had to be dumbed down in case it was seen as elitist!

    Most of the film subscription channels are just like Netflix but so what. If they are rubbish the customers will not pay for them. And the films shown on all the Terrestrial Broadcasters are generally outdated and repeats anyway. The question is, what might Apple do that would actually enhance the BBCs output and make money. The BBC isnt able to do that – it just doesn’t have the skills and is too closely bound to Government

  • chrisjones2

    …yeah and many who don’t are COMPELLED to on pain of imprisonment

    Doesn’t even a little bit of you think that is very very odd?

  • 23×7

    We pay for plenty of things we don’t use. Why should I have to pay for trident if I never use it or want it? I haven’t used the fire service.

  • 23×7

    We are compelled to pay our taxes on pain of imprisonment. No difference.

  • Korhomme

    I pay for insurance, but hope not to have to use it. Fire service and trident are similar. But I have to pay for the BBC just to get something else.

  • 23×7

    Your comments about the decline in traditional broadcast channels are irrelevant to the debate. The BBC is already adapting to this new era.

    No commercial broadcaster could do a better job for the price than the BBC is currently doing. They are forced to chase viewers rather than focus on quality content. As an example Sky revenues are similar to the BBC and it is for the most part rubbish. Sky creates much less original content than the BBC. This is what pisses off Murdoch and the right wing media. The BBC proves that a publicity funded media organisation can be highly successful. It proves that the race to privatise public utilities, of which the BBCis one, are mostly a complete disaster.

    Your last paragraph doesn’t make any sense. As far as I’m aware Apple do not create original content so I’m not sure why you cite them as an example. You may as well have said Tata steel. The BBC isn’t in the business of making money.

  • Surveyor

    Well make your mind up. You said the BBC was free to take risks away from commercial restraints. Why then does it feel the need to engage in ratings wars with commercial tv?

  • 23×7

    Can it not do both? It has to cater for the tastes of all license payers.

  • chrisjones2

    No we are not. We abolished debtors prisons a century ago

  • chrisjones2

    Apple is moving even more heavily to be a distributor of content.

    I disagree on the channel issue. Its fundamental. Most people still see the BBC in Terms of BBC1 or 2 or Radio 1 …in 10 years I doubt that they will

    As for “No commercial broadcaster could do a better job for the price than the BBC is currently doing.” that’s plain nonsense. A significant % of BBC output is commissioned from the Indies anyway

    The BBC is gold plated on every level from the numbers of production staff it employs per hour of output to management overhead and the size of its news and OB operations.At times its like the old KGB joke – but with one person to perform, one to produce and one to watch them in case the break para 1.16.b.iii of some obscure set of regulations – or in the case of the BBC 6 staff to watch the workers including tow to watch the watchers.

    It has been trying half heartedly to cut the overhead and move some operations out of London – but with little real impact. It pays its talent way over the odds in a market where it makes the market because of its quasi monopoly and uses that to justify the stratospheric salaries of senior executives

    You also seem fixated on Sky for some reason? Can you explain why? You castigate its output but the customers (in their droves) keep signing up to buy it. Perhaps they perceive it to be higher quality than endless reruns of Cash in the Attic, Eastenders, Dads Army and anything Victoria Wood did in the 1980s etc etc?

    In any case, they are the customers an they CHOOSE what to pay for and watch

    You still haven’t answered my question. What is the BBC for?

  • chrisjones2

    Yeah …..lets be really risky …… another antiques format where people buy high mark up tat in antique shops and try to sell in the auctions where the dealers buy their stock ……but how can we make it more edgy ….I know ….lets try a VEM presenter who is under 50!!!!

    Focus group anyone?

  • 23×7

    Again more incoherent nonsense. You don’t seem to know the difference between a content creator and a content distributor. Bbc is both.

    As for your channel comments. Give it a break. I’ve clearly shown you to be wrong.

    More tired old accusations about bbc employee salaries and cliches about gold plated something or other. Apply for a job there if it looks so good.

    The reason I use sly tv as an example is they have pretty much the same revenues and produce a fraction of the output of the BBC at much lower quality.

    As for what the BBC stands for. I’ve already given you a list of my favourite content which you’ve ignored.

  • 23×7

    So we don’t have to pay our income tax?

  • chrisjones2

    You seem to remind me of a former poster here who was banned for his inability to listen and his hectoring nonsense. Still never mind. It will be what it will be – hopefully better in the future