It’s Time to End the BBC’s Broadcasting Monopoly and Give Consumers Free Choice at Last | Serena Lit

Defund The BBC is a grassroots campaign launched last month with the ambition of decriminalising failure to pay the TV licence fee and limiting its scope to cover BBC content only, rather than all live channels. Should they succeed, it would be a fantastic victory for those in the radio and broadcasting industry.

While commercial organisations must generate income from advertising in order to cover their operational costs, the BBC’s ten television channels, ten national radio stations and 40 local stations are all funded by the licence fee. The sheer size of the BBC is one of its most poignant advantages, especially given that it only advertises its own projects across the entire network. Additionally, the BBC has demonstrably used its apparatus to squash what would have otherwise been very competitive commercial ventures. With the TV licence scrapped, the Corporation would be unable to maintain its current stranglehold on the industry.

For decades, the BBC has been failing to uphold its charter obligation to provide original services by choosing to create outlets and produce content remarkably similar to what is already being provided by the commercial sector. Though a nationally beloved show, EastEnders is the first example of this, having first aired in 1985 – a whopping 25 years after ITV’s Coronation Street. Similarly, five of the BBC’s radio stations are geared toward audiences that are already well-catered for, these are: BBC Radio 1, BBC Radio 2, BBC Radio 3, BBC Radio 5 Live and BBC Asian Network. Radio 1 and 5 Live may have been founded first; however, their respective similarities to Capital Radio and talkSPORT mean these stations no longer serve a public purpose worthy of licence fee funding.

On the other hand, Radio 2, Radio 3 and the Asian Network have never been unique. Around the turn of the century, the branding of both Radio 2 and Radio 3 were changed to capture audiences tuning into new commercial AC (adult contemporary) and gold formats. Radio 2 used to provide content for the older generation and largely abandoned this listenership to pursue a younger audience. Meanwhile, Radio 3 began to compete with Classic FM.  As recently as 2015, the BBC’s own watchdog declared there were too many similarities between Radio 3 and Classic FM in ‘some parts of the schedule’, and concluded that the broadcaster’s bosses must work to change this. Less addressed is the Asian Network, which has provided  identical services for the exact same audience as Sunrise Radio, despite the latter having been established 7 years prior.

With the means of financing the BBC changed, it would be interesting to see how commercially viable some of its radio stations would really be. It would be equally interesting to know if top-rated BBC shows like Killing Eve and I May Destroy You would have proven able to compete with Netflix’s House of Cards or Apple TV’s Defending Jacob without help from the licence fee and the BBC’s free in-house advertising. As it stands, one could argue the bulk of BBC iPlayer’s traffic is a direct result of the licence fee. Given we are all obligated to fork out £157.50 a year for it, many feel (understandably) compelled to get their money’s worth. Consequently, we have no meaningful indication of how popular the BBC and its content actually are with the British public.

It is time for the BBC to start thinking about new ways to fund its activities, whether this be through welcoming external advertisers or creating a subscription-based service to its channels, much in the same way as a Now TV pass or Amazon Prime add-on subscription. We as consumers should be allowed to pay only for the content we want, rather than fund ‘services’ which we do not need.

Photo by Jess C on Flickr.

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