back to article Save the BBC - by setting it free

Although the BBC has now secured its Charter and Licence for another ten years, the debate about its future rages on. Forcing people's hands into their pockets on an annual basis is going to become more difficult politically in an age where viewers will be able get whatever they want, on any device, wherever they are, at any …

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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    Speak to BBC frontline staff

    "Indeed, a lot of the BBC's content is damn good - something it suggests it couldn't achieve in the market."

    The proof? Well the proof is in your next line where you point out "that most of its best content sells well globally and also tends to dominate DVD sales charts in the UK". The BBC consistently beats the crap out of its commercial rivals in quality and innovative programming. We've seen ITV destroy itself by merging over and over into a single behemoth - each time pleading that it would lead to better programmes - and each time a shocking, colossal failure. All that emerged was additional layers of profit-focused managers, and a miserable tide of 'I'm a Pop Celebrity Idol Knight Get Me On X Factor' tripe.

    When a company is that big it can't afford to take risks. That's why US TV schedules are full of 2-hour blocks of the same cash cow programmes with the exception of the holy 'sweeps'.

    What keeps the BBC innovative is the fact that it can afford to make programmes that don't turn a profit. Thompson's doing his best to undermine and destroy that, but that core idea is exactly what keeps the BBC going... and more importantly keeps a fire under everyone else.

  2. Paul

    If you sell the bbc

    You will just get utter trash. It is a problem that non public broadcasters always play to the lowest. Look at ITV, C5 and Sky 1. Only BBC and C4 do good, cutting edge, intelegent programing, not done for ratings or price, but for artistic and editorial content. Not trew of all programs, but it is not realy true of any on ITV.

  3. Rob
    Thumb Down

    To be totally honest...

    Privatisation of the BBC sounds like an incredibly bad idea.

    As much as it's full of tosh like eastenders and strictly come dancing, I prefer to pay a licence fee and not have commercial advertisements, than to pay a monthly subscription and STILL be bombarded with crass marketing messages (I'm looking at you, unnamed satellite provider that rhymes with 'pie')

    ITV/Channel 4 aren't any better really. I still flick to the Beeb when the adverts are on - if there's something more interesting on (which there usually is) then the beeb stays on.

    The commercial channels are losing out by having attention breaking gaps in programmes that only require half a brain cell to watch, thus making it really easy to realise just what you've been doing. ("Oh Noes! I'm a Celebrity's on! Quick, switch over!")

    Don't even get me started on the volume differences between the adverts and programmes on certain channels either.

  4. James

    So how soon...

    ...is the reg announcing that it's been bought by Newscorp?

  5. Vaughan
    Alert

    @Paul

    "Only BBC and C4 do good, cutting edge, intelegent programing, not done for ratings or price, but for artistic and editorial content"

    And even C4 bulks out the schedule with the antithesis of such content. Big Brother & Wife Swap, I'm looking at you among others.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    Um, not necessarily so...

    As you point out, the arrival of the BBC in a commercial market would be taken somewhat askance by the existing players. The brand is so big that the advertisers are likely to flock to it some enthusiasm... but there's only so much advertising revenue out there. The independents are going to be hit hard.

    Regarding the points about real estate; the BBC flogged its buildings off years ago, along with most of its technical expertise (indeed, I was at the meeting when it was announced by the head of BBC Engineering that 'Engineering is not a core activity of the BBC'). Its infrastructure - transmission chains, site to site links, IT, contribution and distribution circuits etc - are all farmed out already to third parties; you will recall that the technology group was sold to Siemens three years ago, and Red Bee Media seem to manage most of what goes on inside.

    Which leaves the Achives. Wonderful things, they are. Lots of excellent programmes (and no doubt also some huge piles of, um, piles) which are completely unavailable because of the artist's agreements and contracts. So I - as a customer who's paid for the BBC for thirty years, as well as an employee for most of those years - can't get to watch things that exist, on demand.

    Crazy.

    Which leaves Auntie where in a private world? It's the brand that does it, and it kills channels 4 and 5, almost certainly the 'secondary channels' from ITV simply because the money leaves them and goes to the Beeb. Mind you, with Thompson at the helm, it's turning into a commissioning and playout service anyway - channel 4a and 4b, anyone?

    I regret I have to hit the anonymous coward button; I'm too close...

  7. JP
    Stop

    Why privatise?

    The current track record for the government in privatising public services hasn't been best so far; whether it is in the service provided once privatised, the price at which the service was privatised, or the drain on the public purse after it has been privatised.

    Additionally, "impartiality" can't be guaranteed whether the service is public or private. Look at classic "Fair and Balanced" FOX News in the US, which shows that private funding supplies a private message. At least we expect a public service to have a slight government bias. At the end of the day, they are holding the purse strings. But at the same time, a public service is also more likely to be loyal to the populace.

    What I don't understand is why the BBC can't be made into a for-profit organisation, with profits given back to public services... I know, I know, unfair competition, possible favouritism and monopoly etc etc... But still...

  8. Hans

    God Save the Beeb!

    Oh jeez, God spare us and preserve us (poetic licence here since I don't believe the guy) from wretched Murdoch ever getting his grubby little paws on the BBC.

    I currently pay Murdoch £45 per month for endless channels of utter shite. (Why I continue to do so is a matter for another debate)

    Adding insult to injury, Murdoch multiplies his income by collecting advertising revenues and the final insult is Pay-per-view delivery whenever he does have something worth watching. Notice how the set Sky movie channels are now starved of decent content to pressure punters towards his pay-per-movie soaking.

    Sadly the BBC is struggling against the almighty power of such wealth, but nonetheless continues to deliver unrivalled content. Granted, not so difficult against a background of quiz shows and reality TV.

    As Bowling for Soup sang on their single -1985- "Since when did reality become TV?"

    Even in another 10 years I'll still gladly put my hand in my pocket for the BBC collection jars.

  9. Anthony

    Hmm

    You couldn't sell the BBC off as a whole, nor could ITV buy the BBC or a major share in it, competition regulations wouldn't allow it.

    Splitting the BBC up would give us half of London back, a slew of private production companies and studios and release a lot of celebrities back where they belong - the unemployed actors dole line.

    This would force innovation, if you don't work for your money then you don't get paid. The BBC could focus on tv that would make money from syndication and DVD sales - the best kind of tv in my opinion.

    But what it will do instead is bid for (with my money) the HD spectrum for Freeview. Now I ask you, how many Freeview audiences have a HD ready TV? Surely the point of Freeview is that it's cheap/free and therefore the choice of the type of people who wont pay £500 for a television.

    There is bad thinking in the whole tv game, who wants five (or more) channels of garbage, the BBC should stick to one channel of in-house or outsourced goodness and return to its core values.

  10. Chris Redpath
    Alert

    Stupid and Dangerous

    The BBC only has it's position because of it's history. If you sell it off, you will gradually lose everything that makes it the BBC and then you'll be in the same position as ITV and other commercial operators.

    I don't want to pay upwards of £30 a month to watch TV occasionally, £11.61 is much more reasonable. The only reason it's so cheap is because we all pay it. I'm happy to know that my licence fee pays for all that - all without advertising subsidy. I think it's a fantastic deal - there is a broad range of TV, some of the best radio stations in the world and one of the world's favourite websites. You couldn't get all that commercially *without advertising in programmes* for any money.

  11. David Harper

    Utter bollocks

    "The best television is yet to come. We are entering an age where competition will really start to drive production."

    Have you seen the tripe that passes for television on most of the non-BBC channels these days? There's plenty of competition, but we still get dross like "Big Brother", makeover shows, effing celebrity chefs and daytime chat shows.

    "Rational economists would argue that if the UK was to realise the greatest economic return from the mandatory investment in the BBC over seven decades, that we would wise to do it before its value starts to fall."

    Economists know the price of everything, and the value of nothing. Besides, economists are the biggest source of utter bollocks outside of astrology.

    "At present there is a healthy level of support for the BBC - and seemingly, for paying the licence fee. The corporation is seen to provide a pretty good deal given the range of other options on the market."

    The licence fee is currently about £11 per month, half the price of the cheapest Sky package. Imagine what the BBC could do if it were able to gouge customers in the same way as Sky or Virgin. And they both get extra revenue from advertising as well. £11 per month is starting to look pretty amazing value, isn't it.

    "The assets are impressive. There's the infrastructure - a global network of production and distribution facilities. Then there's the real estate - some of the choicest cuts of property in Central London and beyond."

    Aha. The real reason for your privatisation wet dream emerges. The vultures are circling (with due apologies to El Reg) and waiting to pick the poor old BBC's carcass clean.

    "Timed correctly, a sell-off would be fiercely competitive and realise massive returns"

    Which, in practice, would mean that the Director-General and a few senior executives would line their pockets with millions of pounds, and the rest of the BBC staff would find themselves facing great uncertainty as the newly-privatised company's shareholders demanded cost-cutting to maximise their returns.

  12. Sean Baggaley
    Flame

    The BBC is dead! Long live the BBC!

    An interesting article, but it misses the fundamental purpose of the BBC: to ensure that the electorate can make informed choices in an election. The BBC really is there to "educate, inform and entertain".

    Some will doubtless leap on that statement and moan that that means documentaries and Newsnight. Rubbish! All entertainment is, *by definition*, educational. The reason people complain about "How Much Is Your Old Tat Worth?" or "I'm A Nonentity, Give Me Some Publicity" is not because they don't provide entertainment, but because what they *teach* is generally of negligible value. Unless you have a career as a celeb magazine hack, learning about these has-beens and egomaniacs is rarely of interest to anyone outside the psychology industry.

    ("The Mark Steel Lectures" are an excellent illustration of my point: Entertaining, as well as educational and informative.)

    The BBC's problem is that it is still fundamentally a traditional, linear media company designed and structured around broadcast radio and television. This needs to stop. TV and radio are by no means dead, but they are no longer the kings of the distribution chain they once were. Remember all the complaints about the BBC's website? The correct response to all the whining private sector competitors should have been: "And...? How is it *our* fault that your content sucks? Stop complaining and start *competing*, dammit!"

    By all means sell off the distribution side if you absolutely must have your pound of flesh-- a TV channel is just one medium amongst many now -- but keep the content creation side on the public's books. Concentrate on producing content none of the other companies can justify taking a risk on. Research and develop new forms of distribution that make sense today and tomorrow. Find ways to reach out into schools and colleges -- a well-made documentary is superior to any tiresome lecture delivered by a bored, crusty professor. There are a million ways the BBC could change. The only thing the BBC cannot do is remain as it is.

  13. Andrew Orlowski (Written by Reg staff)

    Rupert Murdoch's Worst Nightmare

    " the reg ... bought by Newscorp"

    Stop your knee from jerking for a moment.

    You imply that a private BBC with billions to spend would be what Murdoch really wants. It's almost certainly not: no rational businessman wants competition with a) more resources and b) more viewers.

    A BBC with billions to spend would be able to buy the football right - which would destroy Sky's TV business.

    No footie, no dishes, no subscriptions.

  14. Robert Ramsay
    Thumb Down

    Denationalisation

    Whenever public services are sold off for profit, it is always the customer that suffers.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Pirate

    Shame on you, El Reg

    For publishing such blatant free-market tosh. 'This emerging environment is likely to be so competitive that although some of the content offered will be low-grade and banal, much of it will also need to be excellent for producers to survive...The best television is yet to come. We are entering an age where competition will really start to drive production. Expect the Americans to win on big budget production and everyone else to win on innovation and humour.'

    Oh really? Am I expected to believe that this nonsense was written with a straight face?

    Certainly the licence fee is sure to come under pressure in the coming years. But privatisation would not be the solution; one only needs to look at BBC1 programming during prime-time - where the Beeb goes for ratings - to see the fallacy in the market-driven argument.

    I note that, according to Google, Luke Gibbs is a part-time lobbyist for the Food & Drink Foundation and an 'associate' of Open Road ("Campaigning for the road network Britain neeeds'). Next time, get someone from the Adam Smith Institute to write, not some biased lefty!

  16. Kevin Sedgley

    Graphics

    Love em. http://www.theregister.co.uk/Design/graphics/bbc_week/reg_beeb.png

  17. Liam

    good value my (_,_)

    £11/mth for 2 channels isnt that good value is it? ok, HD has ~4 hours viewing a day and bbc3 and bbc4 are a waste of space. but for £20/mth i get loads of stuff from virgin and my v+ box - i have radicalised my viewing since getting a + box.

    and be honest, the reason we watch the beeb is lack of adverts... its not impartial any more in news and has proven it cannot be trusted lately :(

    its the fact that the beeb piss money away like nobodies business that erks most of us. how many millions are the spending on a galic tv channel for the 3 people that speak it in scotland? (galic being the 4th language in that country btw), how many millions in salary between the RADIO djs (that work so hard on their 3 hour slots), wasting millions on useless iPLayer service (its a TV broadcaster ffs! just because 3% of the population are staying in hotels with wireless doesnt mean i should have to foot the bill for a service i dont care about)

    i just want value for money, sack off 3&4, put better content on 1&2

    stick with comedy - the beeb do some of the best comedy in the world, buzzcocks, live @ the apollo, mock the week et al.

    and dont get me started on jonathan ross - how many people's license go for him and his 3 hours a week he does :(

    and dont get me started on the fact that half the ENGLAND footy games are on bloody sky! more darts and boring arse snooker it is then :(

  18. Bob Jones
    Coat

    BBC = Britain

    The BBC is the only reason Britain has a culture these days, without it all our TV would be from America without the love (now with 50% more political value!).

    With our "domestic" policy come from Brussels and our foreign policy coming from Washington, thank god the BBC provides a British voice for British people.

    Rule Britannia and the BBC!

  19. Jim Hague

    @Anthony

    I'm someone with a >£500 HD telly, Freeview and not Sky or Virgin. So no HD signal. But I'm dammed if I'm going to pay the vast sums Murdoch and Virgin demand to ship ad-crammed garbage into my house by the container-load. Because I'm a cheapskate? No, because I can't see anything in their offerings that I want to watch, and while HD would be nice, it's the programming that's important, not the screen resolution. For the (not great) amount of TV that I watch, Freeview plus the licence fee is a compelling option.

    By your argument, Sky would have penetrated the market from the wealthy down. I'd argue that history was significantly different.

    As to the original piece, it's similar to loads produced a decade ago. 'In the upcoming multi-channel world, no-one will want the Beeb'. Turns out that the multi-channel world of choice is a choice of crap or drek, and a lot of people do still want the Beeb.

  20. fred base
    Unhappy

    Family silver

    As has been pointed out - the BBC is a real asset to the people who bought it, ie the UK taxpayers.

    Isn't selling the family silver what you do when you're desperate?

    If we're that much in need of money, how about stopping our contributions to the Common Agricultural Policy and/or to Europe, so we stop the madness of paying people to do nothing, and the fishermen to throw away their catches?

    And BTW, the BBC is far more innovative that the other TV companies, whose sole objective is to get you to part with increasing sums of of your income.

  21. Duncan Hothersall
    Flame

    Absolute bollocks

    I was going to spend time on a rebuttal to some of the points made in the article, but I can't be arsed. Suffice to say privatisation would be a disaster. Competition in the media drives quality DOWN not up. If a "policy analyst" can't understand that then heaven help him.

  22. Mr Chris

    @ Andrew Orlowski

    "You imply that a private BBC with billions to spend would be what Murdoch really wants. It's almost certainly not: no rational businessman wants competition with a) more resources and b) more viewers.

    A BBC with billions to spend would be able to buy the football right - which would destroy Sky's TV business.

    No footie, no dishes, no subscriptions."

    You're assuming that any sell off wouldn't end up with Murdoch having a controlling share in the new private BBC. The Competition Commission have consistently shown that they're not too fussed about him owning a hefty whack of UK news outlets of all formats (recent wobble re: ITV notwithstanding, but that was only because "National Treasure" Beardie Branson kicked up a stink).

    And who's to say that a private BBC wouldn't move to a cable or satellite footing? And, god forbid, a subscription service? There'd be no controlling them.

    This is all conjecture of course, but as that's what the (free-marketeering) article consisted of...

  23. Andy Davies
    Stop

    The BBC is the only channel that doesn't produce tosh?

    The BBC produces plenty of crap, it's supposed to be focused on stuff other channels don't do, why do we have crap like Eastenders and huge salaries to Ross, Norton, newscasters etc?

  24. Mark Broadhurst
    Thumb Down

    Beeb Doco's

    Wild life Documentory's are great its a clasic example of something which costs a fortune to make and will never be profitable but are made by the Beeb because of the unique way its funded. If the way the Beeb was funded changed to a more profit focused way then that would be one of the first things to go. However a good doco does seem to be fewer and further between now a days.

    I also think that a lot of money gets wasted on other projects like the web site launching HD channels that less than 1% of people can get too etc.

    Conversly I think that TV licencing are stupidly over agressive with their letters and adverts particularly with houses which dont have a TV (yes theres more than you think)

  25. Andrew Orlowski (Written by Reg staff)

    Re: @ Andrew Orlowski

    "You're assuming that any sell off wouldn't end up with Murdoch having a controlling share in the new private BBC. "

    Correct. Luke discusses this in the piece.

    "There'd be no controlling them."

    No. Every broadcaster whether public or private is subject to regulation today. I can't see that changing - but then you may know something I don't.

  26. Nev Silver badge

    Someone smells like a Murdoch apologist

    A privatised BBC would be open to attack by Murdoch and his untaxed billions.

    The Beeb already has too much lowest common denominator TV. Let's not make it any worse, hey?

  27. Andrew Orlowski (Written by Reg staff)

    Someone hasn't read the article

    @Nev:

    "A privatised BBC would be open to attack by Murdoch and his untaxed billions."

    The BBC is already under attack by Murdoch and his untaxed billions - I'm not sure why you think it isn't. Only this time it would have enough capital to defend itself. And then some.

    Try again, this time with logic - and my comments above re. football rights.

  28. Andy
    Thumb Down

    Haven't we been here before?

    How long ago was it when El Reg published the last pro-Murdoch, anti-Beeb rant by some shouty little man with a blog?

  29. Ros
    Paris Hilton

    Who says the BEEB doesn't have adverts?

    It's full of ads, just the same as all of the commercial channels. They just happen to be ads for all the other BBC services, channels, and forthcoming programmes. But the fact is, they take up almost as much time as the commercial breaks elsewhere, and are just as annoying. The BBC is spreading its content too thinly, and with this fragmentation it loses its quality.

  30. Anonymous Coward
    Flame

    Flame

    I cant even build up the head of steam required for a proper flame.

    Its Friday .. beer time, and less of this foolishness

  31. Kate Menzies
    Thumb Down

    Privatisation is NEVER EVER about quality

    As soon as any industry is privatised it is entirely about profit. Nev has mentioned lowest common denominator television and they are the ones that bring in the mass audiences and, therefore, the highest revenue. I watch crap TV, I've watched Big Brother, Pop Idol and the rest; that is all we will have left. No question, that's it. But I also live for Countryfile, do sometimes watch Newsnight all the way through and loved that the BBC let new comedians out sometimes with excellent results (Boosh!) and sometimes rubbish ones. Their drama series are head and shoulders over everyone else. They have had the money to invest in new technology and have, in the past, led the way in this field.

    Privatised companies answer only to shareholders who answer to no-one. It is never about quality or innovation. It is about getting the most money from the least investment. The current Government spends as much money now bailing out the train companies as it used to spend running the entire network. The quality is lower, the fares are higher and there is no new investment (apart from the glorious new St Pancras Shopping Centre).

    The NHS and the BBC are two of Britain's greatest achievements. Privatising them would be a complete and horrible disaster.

  32. Jonathan Larmour
    IT Angle

    Beeb keeps the bar high (and @Sean B)

    From TFA: "Indeed, a lot of the BBC's content is damn good - something it suggests it couldn't achieve in the market. Given that point, it's odd that most of its best content sells well globally and also tends to dominate DVD sales charts in the UK."

    Well yes, but clearly that's a drop in the ocean otherwise there would already be no need for the licence fee, silly! The price of innovation is frequent failure, and for every roaring success there's a dozen "Meh"s.

    Sean Baggaley writes: "By all means sell off the distribution side if you absolutely must have your pound of flesh-- a TV channel is just one medium amongst many now"

    But there's no point having production if you can't guarantee distribution. What channels would buy innovative content unless there was a good chance of it being a good earner? You'll get what some suit thinks is low-risk solid TV that advertisers will like, and bingo, you've just invented American TV.

    As far as I'm concerned, the beeb does a good job, not just for its own decent content, but because it makes ITV/CH4/5 work harder to compete. If the Beeb went commercialised (whether privatised or whatever), and its quality dropped, you could expect ITV/CH4/5 to get even worse than they already are.

    Anyone who has seen the free market in action in the form of TV in the USA will know that we need the BBC, and for it not to be commercialised.

  33. Richard Neill

    Same as the Bank of England

    I think we should do for the BBC as we did with the Bank of England, i.e. make it totally and permanently independent of government, while at the same time guaranteeing permanent funding, growing in line with inflation.

    * We don't want a repeat of the WMD mess, where #10 effectively forced the BBC governors to resign, even though they were in the right.

    * We want to ensure high quality programming indefinitely. This is especially valuable on the radio (eg Radio 3,4)

    * Collecting the license fee is inefficient. It should be out of general taxation, because it would reduce the costs of collection, reduce the aggravation, and make it more fair.

    * Lastly, the UK citizens as a whole are the "owners" of BBC content. So most of it should be freely downloadable. [Obviously there are some cases where the BBC doesn't own outright what it broadcasts, and this couldn't be made available for download.]

  34. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I'm with the rest of you

    I agree with the majority of people on these boards. Commercial TV = LCD TV: Lowest Common Denominator.

    Apart from a few decent US shows (mostly HBO), the only things worth watching on Sky/Virgin are endless repeats of programmes by - guess who - the BBC.

  35. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Gibbs, you're a muppet!

    Or you're very good at Swiftian satire.

    Unfortunately, you're probably just a muppet.

  36. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    Bollocks

    The problem with the BBC currently is that it's suffering from such appalingly shitty management. People who have no understanding of what the BBC is actually there to do, and who have no concept of what public service broadcasting should offer.

    Flogging off the beeb is absolutely not the answer. Many of the problems that the BBC are currently facing can be directly attributed to the outsourcing of previously in-house departments.

    The BBC at its finest is head and shoulders above almost any other broadcasting company in the world. It can take risks, it can invest in and develop new talent and it can afford to let these people make artistic mistakes without ending their careers.

    There's a lot that the BBC can do better at the moment, but selling it all off is absolutely not the solution. Stop peddling this free-market bullshit; all that offers is an increasingly frantic race to the bottom in the desperate pursuit of audiences and advertising.

    I choose Paris as my avatar because she's as informed and intelligent as the article I'm writing this in response to.

  37. teacake

    Can't see the logic of the argument

    You seem to be saying that in order to capitalise on its assets and retain its uniqueness we should take away the things that make the BBC unique.

    No, ta. The BBC is not a cash cow, and the licence fee contributions we have made are not for spending on schools and hospitals. They're for spending on TV, radio and web content.

  38. Sameer
    Thumb Down

    UK would end up just like US

    The US still has PBS but its partial privatization (forced by cuts of public funds by right wing nutjobs like Bush) have rendered it nearly useless. Arguing the same for the UK is beyond shortsighted.

    It's simply stupid.

    The only real result of this will be that the UK will get a stupid, short sighted government in return. It will be responsive only to the same massive corporate interests that have purchased and thereby short-circuited Democracy in America.

  39. Cody

    Make it voluntary

    The difficulty is, we are forcing people to subscribe to a state channel in order to have the right to watch any TV. This is plainly wrong. However, to correct this wrong we do not necessarily have to privatise it.

    The right thing to do is keep the present ownership structure, but remove the obligation to subscribe. If you do not want to watch it, why should you have to pay for it? Make it subscription TV like all the other channels.

    The BBC would then adjust itself to a size appropriate to its revenues, it would remain a non-profit foundation with its present high minded objectives, those who want to watch it would pay to do so, those who do not would not have to. Perhaps it could be made into a sort of mutual or coop structure, owned by its subscribers, who would, as with savings banks, elect the Board.

    It is very difficult to see any objections to this proposal. All other alternatives seem to involve forcing people who do not watch it to pay for the pleasures of those who do. That is just crazy.

    No-one goes around saying there should be a tax on, for instance, white paint, so that those who want to paint their houses in colours can get a discount. No-one says I should have to have a NewsCorp ID card showing I have subscribed to the Times, before I am allowed into a newsagent to buy the Independent. No-one thinks I should have to subscribe to UK TV Gold, which I have no desire to watch, in order to be allowed to watch Channel 4. Well then, why should I have to subscribe to the BBC, which I also may have no desire to watch, in order to be allowed to watch Channel 4?

    Isn't this just perfectly obvious and reasonable? Make subscription voluntary, and those who want to watch it will subscribe and the rest not. What's the problem?

    I might add, I would immediately subscribe, and I would be happy to pay more than the present license fee. I am however very uncomfortable with people who do not want to being forced to pay, so I can pay a bit less.

  40. Nìall Tracey
    Dead Vulture

    Reg 2.0

    It's interesting that in "Beeb Week", the same Beeb Week that brought us the excellent rant by Adam Curtis against blogs and the myth of the wisdom of the crowds/market, the Reg publishes a comment piece by a blogger praising the wisdom of the crowds/market.

    "We are entering an age where competition will really start to drive production."

    We are in an age where competition has singularly failed to drive production, where competition has led to increased profits for a minority of shows (Friends, The Simpsons, Buffy et al) and increased wages for a minority of actors, directors and producers. Competition in the world market has placed so little value on the main element of good TV -- writing -- that the writers have gone on strike.

    Ironic that it is left to Andrew "Scourge of Sadville" Orlowski to defend this technocratic tripe....

    ----

    @Liam

    "how many millions are the spending on a galic tv channel for the 3 people that speak it in scotland?"

    Well, at the moment, maybe nothing.

    http://www.digitalspy.co.uk/broadcasting/a79665/doubts-expressed-on-gaelic-digital-service.html

    For the 60,000 Gaelic speakers, this is a bit of a bummer. For the bigots who resent and belittle Gaelic, it means you'll still have Gaelic TV taking up BBC 2 Scotland's early evenings every Thursday for the foreseeable future.

  41. Jax
    Unhappy

    No freakin way

    I have two words for you: Fuck off.

    The BBC is pretty much one of the only current things that gives me a sense of pride in my nationalism.

    It is the only provider of media that isn't trying to waste my time with adverts and it is our main cultural influence that we give to the world. I think it does us much more international benefit than the Foreign Office has ever mustered.

    If the government or Ofcom tried to privatise it then i'd be marching towards their offices with banners, flags and as many other angry people as I could muster.

    Leave the BBC alone, we need a media service that isn't dependent on raising finance.

  42. Michael Pearce
    Thumb Up

    The BBC should become a premium channel in the US

    I would subscribe in a second. I am already paying $11/month for HBO and Showtime (each) in order to see the original programming they provide. Nothing would be better than to get all the BBC channels at the same time they are showing in the U.K.

    As it is now, I am seeing most of the BBC programming I like via Usenet and BitTorrent. It was massive downloading of the first new season of Doctor Who that finally motivated the idiots at the SciFi channel to buy it - a year late. Could the Beeb use the millions of subscriber dollars that would come from becoming an American premium satellite channel? You bet, although they would have to force some tough negotiations on the content producers (outside of their own) to get it passed.

    BBCA is a pathetic, commercial and censored shadow of the real thing, although it is improving. I wish someone with real influence would take up the cause of bring the real BBC inside our borders.

    Michael in the Pacific NW

  43. Will Godfrey Silver badge
    Unhappy

    Rock On

    Not only do i agree with everything folks on here are saying, I would also draw attention to the 'historical' facts of the water industry, the rail network, and de-regulated bus services.

    ... or should that be 'hysterical' ?

  44. Luther Blissett

    Reg readers prove the point

    I note only one dissenter from the general view that the sun (not Murdoch's) shines out of the BBC's backside. The claim that the BBC causes Britain to have the culture that it does is just a metonym for that view. It confirms very high brand loyalty to the BBC. It seems reasonable to suppose this brand has a higher rating than, and is well positioned to beat, anything put up by Murdoch. Face it - if you are known as The Dirty Digger, your brand is starting off in debit anyway.

    Personally I do not concur that the BBC's output is head and shoulders above the competition - it just knows style (production values) better than the competition. But in terms of substance I don't think it's any better (or worse) than commercial broadcasters. (Tho that technical ability with styles would assist its independent survival, at least initially and/or until HDTV is up and running and we can see that all sets are really like Doctor Who's). I don't get more or better news, or better facts or information, or better interpretation of events, from the BBC. Or better drama, better England matches...

    If public service broadcasting is conceived in minimalist terms such as ensuring political issues and choices are adequately aired at election times. this could be done by putting some funding into C4 expressly for that purpose. It would not be a lot, as it would not need to be a lot. (It would also ensure Big Brother took a regular holiday).

  45. Colin McDonald
    Heart

    @Luther

    England matches are far better on the BBC, particularly if you're listening to Radio 5 Live. Can't bear the commentary anywhere else personally.

    I suppose it's all a matter of preference, but to my taste the quality of the BBCs output is massively better if you stray off the mainstream and avoid prime time or daytime. Ok, news and current affairs is pretty awful at the moment, and science programming is the worst it's ever been, but the BBC does Arts programming better than anyone else across the whole range of its output. It does the best children's programming in the world, particularly CBeebies, which is so astonishingly good (educationally top notch and not even slightly 'worthy') it's worth the licence fee on its own for me (well, for my son). Radio 2, Radio 4 and 5 Live are infinitely better than their competitors, and Radio 1 isn't far behind. And as for the website...

    The BBC is the anchor which stops the UK TV schedules from drifting towards the lowest common denominator. It forces the competition to aim higher than the open market would, and the result is that UK TV continues to be some of the best in the world; not consistently perhaps, but enough to be critically important to our sense of national identity.

    Do you think if we funded the England football team through a licence fee.......

  46. Andrew Orlowski (Written by Reg staff)

    Re: Reg 2.0

    "Ironic that it is left to Andrew "Scourge of Sadville" Orlowski to defend this technocratic tripe...."

    Glad you've enjoyed the chats with Adam - but I'll rise to that bait, Niall.

    Try this on for size:

    It's ironic that given the chance to destroy Rupert Murdoch within five years, you flunk it. (Compare business models, revenues, audiences... and the value of TV rights to the winning bidder)

    It's almost as if you want to keep him alive.

    Why?

  47. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    RE: Orlowski

    Re: Reg 2.0

    By Andrew Orlowski

    Andrew ill give you two reasons why we should keep Murdoch

    1) Better the Devil you know

    2) The price is too high if it means loosing Auntie to commercial interest

    However point 2 is purely dependant on the Beeb lifting its current game and maintaining a market leading position in producing quality product regardless of what platform it is delivered to.

    Aunties muscles and value come from what it does not what it has or at least in this context is how i define value which is different as to how i would define value for Sky for example which i would subject to purely commercial considerations.

    The government would fail to capitalise on its sale as with QinetiQ and we would loose a media production house that exceeds the best the rest of world has to offer in terms of scale and scope. Once privatised Auntie would not become Channel 4, they would become Sky and ITV. Of course if they don't lift their game then maybe all the deserve.

    Curtis for Aunties big chair if you ask me!

  48. Philip
    Jobs Halo

    Greed Not Always Good

    The BBC may not be so politically neutral these days (regrettable, yet true even by its own admission); but I have yet to see any effort from the market come close to what it offers.

    The poster who posited the erroneous ' Freeview ergo cheapskate' theory above, forgets that Murdoch's pivotal strategy is football, something in which I personally have little interest - lose de facto exclusivity for this and his empire crumbles.

    I am someone who can afford a £500 TV, yet is perfectly happy with Freeview and feels completely unburdened by the need to pay the Digger or Beardy £40+ of my hard-earned, for 500 channels and nothing on.

    For once, why can't people (well, Thatcherite economists and ultra-free marketeers at any rate) accept that good things can and do happen without the greed imperative?

  49. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Without the BBC

    Just look at an event such as the annual children in need night, regardless of if they are your personal charity of choice or not you have to admit that is a very good example of a license fee funded BBC being a great thing.

    How many commercial stations dedicate an entire night to a charity? hell, how many commercial stations could even manage to stage anything even resembling an event that size?

    Then you have the educational programs... find a school that doesn't use BBC programs in at least 2 or 3 subjects to help with things which would otherwise be taught poorly (health and safety morons won't let schools play with explosives for some reason, so the other options to talk about this type of chemical reaction are either pictures in books and hope the children stay awake, or a video which most will watch with some enthusiasm... i know which I preferred when I was at school)

    while I agree the BBC does waste money on things which aren't beneficial to the majority - I also think this is one of the strongest arguments for keeping the BBC, if a company can't afford to do things unless it knows for a fact that will be profitable then there are a lot of things we would miss out on! (I believe Dr Who was originally "just another show" if I'm not mistaken...)

  50. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @ cody

    I agree to a point. However, I would make one small change to your plan - I would make the BBC subscription free (for the public), and make it a condition of the commercial stations licence to broadcast that they pay the costs of its upkeep.

    Let's have the people making the most money out of tv actually paying towards something with quality. As has been pointed out, many people choose to pay for both commercial and public funded tv anyway, so lets shift the burden of taxes to the commercial stations, and let the consumers pay the commercials who in turn sustain the BBC. I would be much happier paying sky a monthly fee if I knew a proportion was being used to keep the BBC alive. Also, keep the BBC in public ownership, with decent oversight.

    If gas, water and rail had been dealt with in this way (kept public but offering tenders to private firms) then maybe we would still have a bit of control over them.

  51. Anonymous Coward
    Dead Vulture

    Agreed - to the "big fuck off" comment

    The BBC has already fallen from being technology leaders to something of an embarrassing "I wish they were better" rosey nostalgia but as they farm out most program making now anyway it's not quite "the BBC" who've lost this position. The rot induced by the "internal market" rubbish and subsequent pseudo-capitalist government commanded policies is clear to see in the quality of programmes and culture left at the beeb.

    That so many people pay so much for so little on Sky really does make me weep. I think the government should block Sky reception under the mandate of inform, educate, entertain. Blowing up Sky satellites would be entertaining, learning that satellite dishes are an ugly eyesore would be educational and not listening to Sky News would lead to a better informed population.

    Ask anyone else who's had the misfortune of using other great British privatisations whether it generally improved or worsened them. Take your pick from money-grabbing piss-poor service trains, money-grabbing piss-poor service buses or money grabbing utilities pissing away our water and profiting foreign firms. There's only health, education and the BBC left to finish fucking up .. go for it, privatise the lot of them ... we're very good at making a very large fucking disaster by listening to lying thieving consultants eager to line their pockets with the last ram-raid on public ownership.

    Very poor article. One giant "hope over experience" from someone hoping to fill their boots with cash no matter what the rest of us experience. (Did you see what I did there ...?)

  52. Roger Brown
    Thumb Down

    selling auntie?

    You'll only need to look at TV in other countries to see the difference that BBC makes. I'd far rather pay for the content directly and not have commercials interrupting programming, having writers adapting their style to fit around commercials, or having the commercial-market dictate what sort of programming BBC can air.

    Often, the most dangerous and innovative programmes are the ones that BBC can do because they're not beholden to advertisers. Those kinds of programmes often produce huge audiences because everyone else is terrified to make them for fear of offending someone. Then the accolades come, and everyone else has a go at copying them.

    For now, I'm in Canada and cannot get BBC....for which I'm deeply saddened. Even with pounds waving in the air, nobody'll provide it to me.

    Strikes me that the production problems BBC's having are directly connected to the cost of the structural empire and the talent. Being London-centric must cost the earth, and retaining those popular presenters also. Don't have a way around that, outside of allowing non UK residents to subscribe to BBC in the same fashion as residents do would probably drum up some much needed cash and make a few million people quite happy.

  53. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Save the Beeb

    The first thing that needs to be done is to put the Beeb back the way it was before Thatcher's puppet John Birt tore it apart with his crazy internal market schemes. Get rid of most of the suits and leave programme-making to the people who actually care about broadcasting.

  54. Glen Turner

    Article doesn't follow through on consequences

    The article is tosh written by someone who doesn't work in the media business. The BBC is a powerhouse: so much so that privatising it would be a disaster for its competitors if the privatisation were done on a free enterprise basis. Competitors would quickly find themselves either bought out by the BBC or tied out as the BBC does exclusive production and exclusive retailing deals. The BBC could easily drive a first-right-of-refusal deal with the three USA FTA networks, Discovery and HBO. A deal with Disney would be more difficult, but achievable since Disney would be very interested in BBC coproduction in kids TV, since that would form a near-monopoly and Disney have lost traction in that market.

    This would leave the UK's non-Murdoch TV starved of content, and inevitably lead to their acquisition by BBC Inc or News Corp.

    The BBC currently has no print assets. That would quickly change, with BBC Inc and News Corp dividing 80% of the market. The BBC has a huge potential in magazines which it has not been able to fully exploit to date. The experience in Australia is that a TV tie-in is good for a 30% increase in mag circulation. Existing titles will be under pressure to tie-in, and they would need to offer equity to get to the negotiating table.

    The only way this wouldn't happen is if the sale were managed for it not to happen; such as the BBC's hands being tied by non-compete and limited-market clauses. But this article argues that the sale should maximise the price, and thus not contain any such clauses.

    I'll notice that the article doesn't discuss any of these obvious consequences of a BBC Inc on the media markets. Which is why it's no more than free market rah-rah tosh.

    Glen (ex News Corp)

  55. Leigh Anthony
    Thumb Down

    Free Market Rot

    I'm normally a big fan of Reg analysis but I've got to disagree here. Maybe the Curtis articles/programmes polarised the issues more than normal.

    Economists might spout rubbish based on over-simple models but even they know that free markets fail in various situations. This article was selling free-market philosophy, rather than free-market economics or even observations of reality.

    An economist would have pointed out:

    1. Big media requires big budgets (hence music labels, Murdoch etc)

    2. Large budget requirements are a significant barrier to entry.

    3. Significant barriers to entry pushes the market to domination by a few large firms

    4. Large firms "compete" by market segmentation (repackaging the same product - laundry soap, multi-channel TV), local monopoly (cable, water, electricity, railway companies), gimmicks (wine or beer glasses from a petrol station) but the basic product is the same from all vendors.

    5. "Perfect competition" requires and provides homogeneity

    There were also some rather flawed assumptions:

    1. the BBC doesn't already compete for viewers

    It is known how popular various programmes are - the commercial companies at least want to know which programmes the population wants to watch.

    2. Commercial companies provide what the customer wants

    Not true at all. Companies provide what shareholders want. The customers are just a means of achieving that. Firms decide if the revenue expected warrants the investment required. Rubbish programmes will be produced as long as the return on investment is greater than on good quality programmes, even if the company knows customer would rather watch good quality programmes.

    The next time you are unfortunate enough to have to sit through one of those "dance" or "singing" shows, measure how much time is spent on the song or dance vs the rest of the programme - recaps (always a favourite - look ma, no new material!), chatting, judges comments (which are the same every week) and adverts. I suspect the content the show is about only lasts for about 15-30 minutes out of a 2 hour show. That's worse than the 1/3 adverts on Sky-1.

    3. Commercial companies seek out and provide value the BBC doesn't or can't.

    The whole point of commercial companies is to siphon off the value for shareholders benefit. I would rather that value is re-invested in programming and returned to me that way.

    I know the BBC also produces bad programmes, I know the government held a gun to its head as the charter came up for review (at least that's over for another 10 years) but I'm would rather be the one investing than give the reins to an organisation with no accountability at all.

    There is more to life than profit - Curtis for BBC Director!

  56. Dana W
    Jobs Halo

    A word from outside.

    As an American, my interest is more academic. But growing up, "courtesy of PBS" I used to see a great deal of BBC programming, and it was always like a note of sanity from the TV, the one thing in the mass of crap American television had been for as long as I can remember. And I still rely on it for news that unlike ours, occasionally reflects reality, since ours has descended into political dogma and fantasy stories about how "great the war is going"

    .

    It seems like on the rare occasion we Americans produce a TV show that was above the learning curve of a flatworm, the networks crush it before it spreads.

    I'm not a fan of government solutions, but I'm sorry to hear that the BBC has been declining. Nonetheless, there is a place and a NEED for non market driven TV. Coming from a place awash in lowest common denominator swill, unless you want al of your TV to be just like ours, or imported from us. Hang onto the BBC.

    It may seem irrelevant now, but you will miss it when its gone.

  57. Lorenz Kahl
    Unhappy

    Down Under

    Here in NZ there is no longer a licence fee supported TV service. The result is endless (loud) adverts every 10 minutes or less & endless vacuous USA crime / comedy series. The only decent stuff that appears is British made drama, mainly from the Beeb and sometimes from ITV.

    If only there was a BBC here.....

  58. bw
    Thumb Down

    Consolidation of US media didn't work out so well..

    Utter rubish, Mr. Gibbs.

    One only has to look at the appalling state of the media here in the U.S. to see the "virtues" of privatization played out to the fullest.

    Aside from the fact your argument is incoherent and lacks any data to support your claim, our little experiment in under-funding public media, and de-regulating corporate media amply demonstrates the idiocy of your free-market clap-trap.

    Surely you don't believe that Murdoch's Fox News exceeds the BBC on any measurable scale except shamelessness?

    I expect better of El Reg than this kind of empty right-wing rhetoric.

    B.

  59. Charles Teton
    Thumb Down

    To be totally honest... Ditto!!!

    Ditto...

    To be totally honest...

    By Rob

    >> Privatisation of the BBC sounds like an incredibly bad idea.

    As much as it's full of tosh like eastenders and strictly come dancing, I prefer to pay a licence fee and not have commercial advertisements, than to pay a monthly subscription and STILL be bombarded with crass marketing messages (I'm looking at you, unnamed satellite provider that rhymes with 'pie')

    ITV/Channel 4 aren't any better really. I still flick to the Beeb when the adverts are on - if there's something more interesting on (which there usually is) then the beeb stays on.

    The commercial channels are losing out by having attention breaking gaps in programmes that only require half a brain cell to watch, thus making it really easy to realise just what you've been doing. ("Oh Noes! I'm a Celebrity's on! Quick, switch over!")

    Don't even get me started on the volume differences between the adverts and programmes on certain channels either. >>

  60. Richard
    Thumb Up

    The only good thing about adverts

    is that I can get a drink, make a snack, nip to the loo or go outside for a cigarette.

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