Thinking about a future BBC
I don’t think there are many people who actually believe the BBC will continue to be primarily funded by the licence fee forever – there are many reasons why this won’t happen and I can’t be arsed to go into them now.
What I will go into is what I think would work as a future funding model – I don’t think for a second advertising is a good idea and equally I don’t want to see the BBC sold off to the highest bidder (as a whole or in parts).
I think a post licence fee (or at least primarily funded by the licence fee) BBC should be owned by the BBC Trust and should remain a public entity without any corporate shareholders.
I think the corporation should have commercial activities (BBC Worldwide, making use of IP rights) as it’s primary funding mechanism.
So selling DVDs, downloads, international rights etc of old shows, of the archive and of new shows made to fund those new big hitters.
Second I agree completely with Armando Iannuci when he says that the BBC should have a subscription based first run network along the lines of HBO.
In a post licence fee world people subscribing to that channel (and its HD version) would pay for the rights to see a new show (like Doctor Who, Torchwood etc) a few months before people get to see it on one of the public service networks.
These would basically be the same as they are now – One, Two, Three and Four and would still not have advertising but would also not have first run rights to the big shows and would carry promotional material for the BBCs commercial products only (a bit like Disney Channel does already).
Things like iPlayer could become commercial – charging a small fee per download but allowing streaming for free – maybe with pre-roll advertising for the DVD?
But there is more to the BBC than TV – it also plays host to some VERY important radio content, web content and a local radio network that serves communities up and down the country with original journalism for their area.
These things could still be funded by a heavily reduced licence fee – BBC Radio 4, BBC Radio 3, The Local Radio Network (with restrictions on content type), BBC News, BBC Sport (with a condition that it focuses on minority sports) and BBC Childrens TV/Radio.
These are parts of the BBC that could never stand on their own commercially so would need additional funding.
The BBC currently spends around £218 million on radio stations – as national stations get around 90% of this we will drop it to £195 million to get a rough figure for national radio.
Then. although this isn’t correct will split that equally between the five national networks to get a figure for 3 & 4 (about £40 million each).
I also think you could argue that BBC Radio 1 should get public service funding as well – it IS different to commercial stations in a big way, especially after 6/7pm – but for now we’ll leave it out.
But I am going to include BBC 7 which costs around £8 million (of course these numbers are all rough estimates/guesses based on figures I’ve found online so far).
Aunty spends about £370 million on the local radio and regional tv network – both essential and needing to be funded by licence fee.
So if we take the £80 million for radio 3 & 4, £8 million for 7, a £5 million for things like The Proms and the various orchestras + building maintenance and £400 million for local you get £573 million.
To fund the BBC as it currently stands (with a budget of about £3 billion) every household in the UK has to pay a licence fee of £139.50 per year.
The BBC then gets an additional £200 million or so from BBC Worldwide. My idea would spin that around and see more made of BBC Worldwide (including here in the UK) with a smaller licence fee for public service essentials.
The new plan would see the BBC cost every household about £16 per year – and if you think the government would just scrap the licence fee you’ve got another thing coming – without the BBC they would just re-name it and use the money on their own little projects.
So if the government will want it anyway – lets keep it as is for the BBC but only use it on strictly controlled things and let the BBC fund other things commercially – through special high quality subscription channels, through more magazines, merchandising, DVDs etc.
You save money by not having the BBC bid for big shows like Heroes, by not bidding for sporting rights – restrict it to minority sports funded by the licence fee.
So just a few ideas from me. Oh and I expect the first phase of this has already started but we’ll start to see it in a big way come 2016.
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