back to article A BBC-by-subscription 'would be richer', MPs told

Could the BBC be better off if it raised money through subscriptions? Last week Westminster heard that the BBC had modelled precisely this scenario and found that it would be richer than it is today. It just didn't want to tell you. And in a strange alignment of interests, the BBC's pay-for rivals don't want you to know either …


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  1. Robert E A Harvey


    Do they assume that everyone currently compelled would suddenly subsribe?

    1. jai

      Re: Oh?

      It's right there in the article, you just need to take a minute to read it before commenting:

      "Roughly 80 per cent of people say they would keep paying for the BBC if the cost was no different to the licence fee," said Elstein. Around 40 per cent would pay double and 10 per cent of licence fee payers would pay treble.

      1. Fogcat

        Re: Oh?

        "If as Elstein posits, 20 per cent gave up paying altogether, 40 per cent paid double and 10 per cent paid treble, then it would have over £5.1bn a year."

        Do they really believe that if 30% were to pay the same as the current licence fee (simple arithmetic on the above) that 50% of people would voluntarily and happily pay more3?

        I really can't see that happening.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: "people say they would keep paying for the BBC"

        Well, they say that, but would they actually do so when it came to it? And all those "would pay double/triple" people could do so already - if they really wanted to - by buying redundant licenses, or generously paying the license of someone too poor to pay. Do they ever do this?

      3. Mage Silver badge

        Re: Oh?

        Except those figures are fantasy.

      4. Adrian 4 Silver badge

        Re: Oh?

        If the BBC made more money out of it, then presumably it would cost the country more to do it that way. Imagining that being paid by a different method would result in more total money than before is the domain of those stellar minds in the City.

        1. Tom 13

          @Adrian 4

          Oh they might be able to make more money, then again they might not. A lot would depend on how they did it. If they think their survey numbers are rational, they are stark raving bonkers. If they expand they subscription beyond GB, I think they could wind up with a fair chunk more money. I think they'd certainly wind up with programming better targeted at their audience.

      5. Scorchio!!

        Re: Oh?

        You said "It's right there in the article, you just need to take a minute to read it before commenting:"

        Quote snipped.

        Say != do.

      6. Tom 13

        Re: Oh?

        People say one thing in surveys. What they do when the rubber meets the road is frequently different. I read the statement and took it with a shaker full of salt.

    2. codejunky Silver badge

      Re: Oh?

      @ Robert E A Harvey

      Given the choice I wouldnt pay the BBC. I dont watch much live stuff and occasionally have a look at IPlayer on the off chance there is something that interests me. I dont expect everyone to be like me but I know a lot of people who dont watch BBC and would love to get out of this TV tax.

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

    3. John Smith 19 Gold badge

      Re: Oh?

      "Do they assume that everyone currently compelled would suddenly subsribe?"


      OTOH if you don't you don't get to watch either.

      Just like other subscription services.

      You don't want it you don't get it.

      1. Tom 13

        @ John Smith 19

        The numbers they gave suggest otherwise. The claim is that based on the survey everyone would keep it if subscription = license fee, but some other lunatics would pay up to treble the cost. That just doesn't pass the smell test.

    4. JeffyPoooh Silver badge

      Re: Oh?

      BBC TV would have a world wide (!) audience if they'd put (all) their TV channels on NetFlix for another 'Whatever is Fair' dollars per month. Netflix is $8 per month, BBC TV might be worth another $10 to some people. I'd be tempted.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: Oh?


        That might have been quite easily doable if the BBC still existed in its original form where most programmes were made in-house but since so much productions has been outsourced, the BBC have far, far less modern or current programme rights. That's one reason why so many "BBC" programmes either don't appear on iPlayer at all, or if they do it's for a limited time of a couple weeks at most.

        The rights holders will want a much bigger wodge of cash for international "broadcast" rights, probably calculated per country, because those rights holders making those "BBC" programmes are already in charge of and making money from selling broadcast rights to foreign broadcasters

        1. JeffyPoooh Silver badge

          Re: Oh?

          @John Brown (no body)

          Good point. Based on what I can see of British TV from here (Canada), I'd rather have British TV than the ~300 channels we have now. My PVR is set to capture what it can of quality TV. I have satellite radio twice over just to have BBC WS on tap (literallly FM modulated throughout the house). Maybe I should just move to England when I retire. Do you have donairs there?

          1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

            Re: Oh?

            "Maybe I should just move to England when I retire."

            Coincidently, I was thinking of retiring to your wonderful country. If we do, It looks like I'll need a nice fat BB pipe and close contact with friends and relations back here

            For research purposes, I have viewed one or two USA broadcasts of Mythbusters. Continuous animated channel DOG in the bottom right with another promo DOG above it. Yet another promo DOG in top right. Large intermittent promo DOG in top right. Occasional promo DOG of frighteningly large proportions in the bottom left. "ALL NEW MYTHBUSTERS" DOG in top right over Carries face while she does a shot to camera :-( Ad breaks seem rather too frequent although are mercifully not actually present in the file I obtained.

            "Do you have donairs there?"

            Eh? what? (does that answer your question?)

            I just Googled. Recipe available and looks pretty simple. It's now on my "must try" list Meatloaf kebab? LOL Mayber Lester can do a face off between Parmas and Donairs?

    5. SuccessCase

      Re: Oh?

      No, they wouldn't. The report is right and wrong. It is right as a measure of attitudes here and now, but misleading as a longer term prediction. The BBC currently benefits from having a captive audience. Viewers think they offer quality level X because there is a large number of viewers who are offended by advertising and who value highly the PSB/educational output.

      However there is an illusion in these figures (and the BBC know this and so won't act on them). Despite what the article suggests, the BBC would not produce better quality than commercial rivals for less (you only have to be at a sports event and see the difference in work ethic between the grips at commercial production companies and BBC lifers to understand why that is a misinterpretation). The report is in fact suggesting the BBC could earn more because subsets of license fee payers, if able to be targeted through conditional access are prepared to pay more. However what people currently say they are prepared to pay is conditioned by the captive audience effect and lack of exposure to alternatives. This is why the BBC would lose out:

      The BBC PSB/educational programming is its best output and much loved by a highly vocal, highly educated *subset* of audience, whilst being subsidised by the masses much of whom don't really care how good it is. Add conditional access and, unless it is replaced by other artificial rules, that subsidy effect goes away. Cost goes up for those who partake of the content and the perception of value for money rebalances at another level.

      Now for the large majority of BBC output that is not PSB/educational, the captive audience effect will, fairly quickly, be eroded. The reality is, respondents to this survey aren't OTT subscription service users because they are still, comparatively, rare in the UK market. However, where users do have choice between, say BBC iPlayer and Netflix, when it comes to drama they are swinging very heavily to Netflix (and to watching a greater proportion of drama in general). The simple fact is BBC drama has not been competitive with US drama for ages, but due to having a captive audience and, high levels of inertia, thinking based on TV tropes, and lastly due to high levels of aversion to adverts, the captive audience often don't yet realise how comparatively bad it is. But as Netflix is so ably demonstrating, commercial sector drama doesn't need ads to be viable. Once viewers get to compare Breaking Bad, House of Cards, The Good Wife, Dexter, Sons of Anarchy etc. with UK drama (the original BBC House of Cards, whilst good in it's day, is a good example for the purpose of comparison) and develop the habit of finding new content in new places that are not the BBC, they vote with their feet and quickly abandon the pappyfied, excessively PC, low production value BBC shows. Only Sherlock and Dr Who stand out commercially and there are question marks on them (for reasons I don't have time to go into here).

      If the BBC were to survey students, (which I'm sure they are doing) they will be horrified at the results. Since I have an interest in the TV industry, I have been conducting my own informal checking on what students are watching (my daughter is at university and my partners daughter before that). So, yes the sample size is small, yes the questions asked have not been formalised and are limited to students at two universities but also yes, I have been diligently asking and have now sampled across a diverse number of students checking TV viewing habits.

      What I am seeing does not look good for the BBC. From what I am seeing, almost all students have iPlayer and most watch TV content via their laptops, but the word is out, and there is an ongoing and rapid switch to Netflix and Love Film. Neither have adverts and amongst student subscribers (where account sharing is rife) time spent watching BBC output is all but wiped out. The level of recommendation to other students is off the scale (the captured audience damn is bursting with a devastating effect). As far as I can see, the BBC is in the process of being wiped out amongst the student population; the next generation of TV viewer. They should be worried. Extremely worried.

      1. Scorchio!!

        Re: Oh?

        " there is an ongoing and rapid switch to Netflix and Love Film. Neither have adverts and amongst student subscribers (where account sharing is rife) time spent watching BBC output is all but wiped out."

        Account sharing is the modern analogue to newspaper and magazine sharing. Publishers frequently say that their readership is wider than their subscribership. For the BBC this is a significant danger. They've sat back on their laurels, sucking the licence fee cash cow pipe for too long and have become complacent. This will change and soon. It probably won't change in the way that any of us think, and may even involve an admixture of income sources. Whatever happens I both want to see us freed of the shackle of viewer taxation and dread the thought of the mess that might follow. I think the BBC are reliant on responses like mine. Certainly there is a strong chance that a drop in quality might follow.

        1. MJI Silver badge

          Re: Student TV

          I thought they just watched the Teletubbies.

    6. Naughtyhorse

      Re: Oh?

      Maybe you would look such a tit if you actually read the article, that answers exactly that question 2wice.


  2. ElectricFox


    Interesting that this article doesn't bring up the thorny issue of advertising. I never took out a Sky subscription after sharing one in a student flat. You're paying extortionate fees for advert-riddled television. Many parents will only put BBC children's TV on for their kids, because they're all too aware of the power that adverts wield over young impressionable kids. Whatever the BBC decides to do; please, for goodness sake, don't introduce adverts and kill the golden goose.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Adverts

      Interesting that this article doesn't bring up the thorny issue of advertising.....

      Already exists.....It's called Channel 4.

    2. Boothy

      Re: Adverts

      Personally I've always thought that there aught be rules around subscriptions and advertising.


      If you have adverts on your channel, it MUST be free to air.

      If you charge a subscription fee, you are not allowed to have adverts (or sponsorship) on that channel.

      So you pick one, or the other, revenue stream. Not both.

    3. John 156

      Re: Adverts

      Parents should be aware that the BBC childrens' output is mainly concerned with the Cultural Marxist grooming of their children; they may not pester to be poisoned by unwholesome food substitutes, but their tiny minds are being poisoned by toxic propaganda which is in many ways far worse.

      1. Gordon 10 Silver badge

        Re: Adverts @john 156

        Really o wise one care to give us an example of that? Or just trolling? Having Kids of 4 & 3 I can assure you that the BBC's output is by far the most harmless and educational of any other broadcaster.

      2. Naughtyhorse

        Re: Adverts

        you, sir, would appear to have a wit composed entirely of industrial grade fuck.

      3. mrweekender

        Re: Adverts

        "Their tiny minds are being poisoned by toxic propaganda" = absolute horseshit.

      4. Lamont Cranston

        Re: "Cultural Marxist grooming"

        Sarcasm doesn't work on internet forums; please use the joke icon in future.

  3. Mage Silver badge


    PSB isn't about money.

    Sky makes most from Subscription TV, yet 92% of what Sky Subscribers watch is Free To Air.

    Sky 1 and Sky Sport (all added) each had about 1.5% viewing each.

    In reality most people wouldn't pay for an extra platforms. Surveys can be misleading. Sky & UPC (formerly Virgin) dominate pay TV. BBC would become the equivalent of Disney and Nickleodeon and content would deteriorate further to a lower common denominator.

    1. Gav

      Re: Stupidity

      Precisely. This study is looking at the wrong question. It's not whether the BBC would be richer under subscriptions, it is; would the programming be better or worse? I don't care if the BBC could be loaded with cash, if it means the programmes are crap.

      The TV quality, of course, is a matter of opinion. But from my viewpoint subscription means that the BBC just becomes another TV company producing lowest-common-denominator TV in search of the largest possible number of subscribers. It also means that the UK market becomes entirely a fight for maximum viewers. Essentially a race to the bottom. Whether you like the BBC or not, I believe its presence in the market sets a benchmark. Other TV companies can't just pump out rubbish and adverts, because the BBC is always there as an alternative to the viewers.

  4. Oli 1

    Give me the option and i'll detune immeadiately, oh and i'll block iplayer locally for you as well.

    Now for a reduction in the bbc's monopoly on the FM band.

    1. Mage Silver badge

      BBC's monopoly on FM Band.


      But DAB should be scrapped. That unfairly benefits National over local Broadcasters and INHERENTLY all Digital Radio is more user Power Consumption, worse coverage EXPERIENCE and worse radio use Experience. (Tuning / selecting / channel change delay).

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: BBC's monopoly on FM Band.

        They own more of the spectrum than anyone else, and also don't release unused spectrum.

        DAB does have to go, but so does BBC R1-4

        1. Lamont Cranston

          Re: BBC's monopoly on FM Band.

          You can have Radio 4, when you TAKE IT FROM MY COLD, DEAD, EARS!

          Hmm, that doesn't really work, but you get the gist.

  5. JP19


    "Roughly 80% of people say they would keep paying for the BBC if the cost was no different to the licence fee"

    With only 80% paying they equivalent of the license fee they would have 80% of their income so the cost would have to be different or have to be less or lower quality output. Less than 80% would keep paying for a worse service and it just spirals down.

    Also what people say they will do and what they will actually do are different especially when it comes to spending money.

    I don't think there is a snowball in hell's chance the BBC would take more money as a subscription service.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Bollocks

      Well named comment - read the article!

    2. Fuzz

      Re: Bollocks

      I agree, I just can't see this working. The technical side alone is full of holes. Currently you pay for 1 license per household, it doesn't matter if you have 1 TV or 10 TVs, or any mixture of TVs set top boxes, USB dongles, PVRs etc.

      In a subscription model every one of these devices is going to need a card. Lets say I have Sky, I have a single sky box but also I have 3 TVs in bedrooms upstairs that don't have Sky subs and are currently viewing free to air BBC. Under the new system do I pay my BBC sub to Sky? Do I then have to pay a second sub for my upstairs TVs? Is that per TV or am I covered for the whole house? If I'm covered for the whole house how many cards am I allowed? What stops me from asking for more cards than I need and giving them away or selling them on the black market?

      What about all the devices that don't have card slots? My TV has one but my media PC just has USB tuners, will my subscription cover the cost of new tuners for my PC or can I only use a BBC approved PVR?

    3. Naughtyhorse

      Re: Bollocks

      But isn't the point that the beeb could up it's charges by 300% and still compete with VM and murdochvision on cost alone.

      or to put it another way

      charge 200% of current fees and kick the competitions ass, and on that measure see a 60% increase in income. (if you accept the unsubstantiated numbers as quoted)

      Loads of people bitch about the licence fee, hurumphing about it being a tax and all that bollocks, when push came to shove and they thought (a novel experience for many of them) about what they were actually buying for the money. they'd pay up. Though unfortunately for us they would be unlikely to STFU about it.

  6. MrXavia

    Would I pay the fee? yes...

    But I hate these 'technological means' they talk of, right now my TV's don't need anything else to receive the broadcast, I assume if I pay a fee I get access cards for every TV in my home and a code to access the entire back catalogue online?

    1. Tom 38 Silver badge

      What would be nice would be to get to the situation they are in in Germany _most of the EU (I think) where the CAM Common Interface is well defined, and decoder cards can be easily used in any solution.

      They could even legislate to force the dirty digger to provide an interoperable CAM/CI card for his services.

  7. MJI Silver badge

    Multiple tuners - what then?

    That said licence fee amount is enough for me.

  8. jason 7

    The quality would improve greatly....

    ....if they cut back to three channels instead of watering down the quality to fill the 8 or so they currently try to make us think they can fill.

    How many channels for kids now? Why not get rid of them and let mum and dad take responsibility for entertaining the kid for a while? They might even be able to talk properly by the time they are 4 as well!

    Good chance by this time next year we'll have dropped the license and just switch to Netflix for our occasional entertainment needs.

    1. Martin Gregorie Silver badge

      Re: The quality would improve greatly....

      The quality would improve greatly....if they cut back to three channels instead of watering down the quality to fill the 8 or so they currently try to make us think they can fill.

      Absolutely, and its been that way for decades. There's about enough talent in the UK to fill 4 TV channels. Add a sports channel. Add another to deal with imported programs: by the time all the dross is filtered out there'd be just about enough good material to fill another channel . An all-news channel isn't needed as has been amply proved by any of the the current 24 hour news channels, so all the UK really needs is 6 TV channels in total.

      Doing this would mean that the existing FM radio channels can be left as they are and DAB can be killed off. The bandwidth occupied by DAB and the un-needed terrestrial TV channels can now be sold off to the highest bidder.

      There you go: fixed it for you. TV quality and the bandwidth shortage sorted out with a single swipe of the pen.

      1. Lamont Cranston

        Re: The quality would improve greatly....

        Thanks, Martin. What about all the people who don't want to watch the same things that you do?

    2. Tom 13

      Re: The quality would improve greatly....

      You've only got 8? Wait until you get 300. Then you'll really know how bad it can get.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Follow what money?

    As an outsider to Britain I'm puzzled by this:

    "Yet the political will was lacking. The BBC won't dare raise the subject in public - and Ministers have become almost as dependent on the guaranteed firehose of cash as the BBC itself, Elstein claimed."

    Apparently the Ministers are enrichifying from the current system and want to keep it that way, but exactly how are those monies getting to the Ministers? Is it built into the system or are they skimming somehow?

    1. Ian Yates

      Re: Follow what money?

      As in insider to Britan, I'm puzzled by this: "enrichifying"

      To answer your question: I don't believe Ministers are benefiting from the licence fee directly, they just don't have to fork any public cash out because it exists.

      1. 2+2=5 Silver badge

        Re: Follow what money?

        > To answer your question: I don't believe Ministers are benefiting from the licence fee directly, they just don't have to fork any public cash out because it exists.

        That and the money raised from the fines levied on non-payers.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Follow what money?

          Ministers benefit from the current system because they get to hold the BBC's leash and ensure the right propaganda reaches the masses. British society might change quite a bit if the place where 90 odd percent of of Brits get their daily news had true independence.


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