Funded through a poll tax (why aren’t people taking to the streets to object about this one – even the blind only get a couple of quid off, and the deaf, who can’t use radio at all get nothing off!) the BBC has a tough job of providing public service broadcasting, and trying to appease the general population, being socially responsible and unbiased, and keeping to a remit of entertaining and informing, within the budget given by the licence fee.
The BBC’s purpose is:
To enrich people's lives with programmes and services that inform, educate and entertain.
Nice and broad and woolly, but succinct and accurate. However – there are a few things that worry me about them. Back in the day, the BBC was quite happy to give us 2 TV channels, and 5 radio stations. They charged us a licence fee, and all was well.
Along comes digital, and the BBC thinks – hey – people can have hundreds of TV channels and radio stations – lets chop up our services and give people more choice. Thus we end up with 7 TV stations, and 9 or more radio stations (I can’t be bothered to count them).
We’ve always had local variations – hundreds of radio stations, and local sections on the core stations too. Very useful for traffic info, and local news is a vital part of any society.
Of course, with digital, they can’t be local any more, so there are 4 (I believe) BBC regions, 1 for each of the countries of the UK.
The wonderful BBC website came along, and became the most trusted news and information service in the country – aided by the BBCs remit not to have adverts. The worldwide brand meant services sprang up around the world, either charging for content by subscription on cable networks, or providing service with adverts. I’m the first to say I don’t want my licence fee paying for some ex-pat to watch eastenders.
Recently the BBC asked for a well above inflation rise in the licence fee, and even threatened that some of the services might be cut if they didn’t receive the extra cash. I’m wondering if the government asked “why did you provide such a lot of extra services? Were you assuming you’d get more money?”
One thing the BBC can do – is take a chance, and make a fortune out of it. The BBC took a dodgy US show and turned it into Robot Wars – selling the format and the shows round the world at enormous profit. Every Attenborough documentary series sells enormously on DVD, and the quality of general programming is the envy of the world – hence their willingness to pay for it themselves.
Yet the BBC still seems to be in a bit of a mess – complaining of a lack of funds, and threatening cuts. Some of the cuts are sensible, moving out of London is a good move – saves them about 10k per employee in staff alone, let alone office space! They’ve stopped paying for movies – except in special occasions, when the public demands them (Christmas, and Ben Hur at Easter I guess).
They don’t bother paying a great deal for football, and on a personal note – I’m glad they have what they do have, as I’m the sort of footy fan who will watch it if its on, but not want to pay a fortune for games of which I have little interest. Some of their staff are on enormous salaries – Jonathon Ross, Chris Moyles, Terry Wogan to name a few – but they’ll be included in my big plans later. Some programmes cost a fortune to import, and much as I love Heroes – I don’t think the BBC should be paying 400k an episode or whatever it was…
How to fix the BBC:
1 – Sell Radio 1 and Radio 2. Both would be viable businesses, and any advertiser would love to get their message across to them, and pay top dollar for the opportunity. In addition – the BBC should use its power and size in this respect to refuse to pay artists for playing their records – it should be the other way round. It would not surprise me to find this already happens – there can be no other reason for Radio 1 playing “the Feeling” 19 times a day.
2 – Bring our correspondents home. The latest News promotions on the BBC are selling the fact that they have about 30 people permanently stationed around the world ready to bring the stories when they happen. Fantastic - but what about the 364 days a year when Indonesia isn’t being bombed? What is this poor girl with the mic and the suit doing there the rest of the time? Not to mention the camera man, director, and goodness knows who else… how about we just pay whoever happens to be out there for a local news company for their report – as and when we need it? Alan Johnson would never have been kidnapped if he’d been standing in front of a TV screen in a Bristol studio, watching Reuters’ footage of men with AK47s telling us about it from the safety of the UK. I’ll agree that a conference call isn’t as good as a face to face meeting, but it is certainly cheaper, easier, and hey – we have the technology.
2a – Shut down news 24. What does this give us that Sky News and ITN’s 24 hour news doesn’t give us. Why do we even need 24 hour news anyway? I’ll admit a lot happens round the world, but why not just repeat the one o’clock news (on the red button) until the 6 o’clock news kicks in and we get an update. If anything massive happens (Royal deaths, war declared, prime minister caught in cupboard with chancellor) they’ll switch off BBC1 and put it on there anyway! Remember when George Best was dying? He took about a week to go, but there wasn’t anything else happening (other than civil war in Africa, gun crime in America, drug running in south America I could go on…) so we had a whole week of “George Best is dying” followed by “George Best is still dying” and “George Best is at death’s door” so when they finally added the second date to his name it was a relief that the tedium was over!
3 – Sell Eastenders. Just palm it off to the highest bidder out of ITV, channel 4 and channel 5. They won’t put it on sky, ‘cos that would be depriving the poor of their fix of people with worse lives than theirs, but there is a fortune to be made, and it isn’t surely in the BBC’s remit to keep top rated shows. Sell it on, and use the cash and the airtime to do something educational or entertaining. Like it says in their “purpose”. It’s worked with Neighbours – no-one misses out, BBC saves cash.
4 – While we are there – sell anything that gets popular. Dr Who, Top Gear, Robin “bloody stick it in the sheriff’s neck and deal with it” Hood, could be made to the high standards of the beeb and by the beeb – then sold at a profit every time. Same with shows like Jonathan Ross. I’ll watch them - adverts or no adverts, or even better – tape them and fast forward through the adverts like everyone else does.
5 – Start charging for non TV/radio output. I love going to the recordings of Radio shows, - I saw (heared?) Arabella Weir interview Paul Whitehouse a while ago. Yes – I’ll be doing them a favour by helping out with their laughter track, but I’ll be the winner, as I’ll get the equivalent of a £10 comedy show for nothing. Charge a fiver a time, and you are sorted. I’ll still go, they’ll make cash. They don’t seem to do competitions any more, so why not sell tickets to the intimate Red Hot Chilli Peppers gig in Maida Vaile? Oh – because I already privatised Radio 1 earlier.
6 – Put adverts on BBC3 and BBC4. They’ve given us these channels out of the goodness of their hearts have they? They must be mad. Get them paid for. Same programmes – same proofing ground for new talent and ideas, and more money for paying for those ideas.
So there you have it. A simple solution – and I didn’t even have to cut jobs, relocate families (except the ones living in Columbia, who might appreciate it), or prevent any of the fine programming being unavailable to anyone with a TV set and a radio, for nothing.