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If the Licence Fee is frozen for 5 more years how could the BBC reshape itself?

I have been looking at the figures for the existing BBC services and considering what the BBC should have been doing to "cut its coat".

A frozen licence fee would mean cutbacks to BBC services.  Photograph: Shutterstock
A frozen licence fee would mean cutbacks to BBC services. Photograph: Shutterstock
published on UK Free TV

It looks like the current "age of austerity" might continue for a few more years. It seems likely that the negotiations for the renewal of the BBC Charter, which happens every ten years, may see the level of the Licence Fee fixed for another five years.

This means, with inflation, that the income to the organization is going to fall in real terms: the BBC will have less money to spend.

They could cut a little from everyone's budget: this has been the "salami slicing" policy in the past, but the new men at the top think that this has gone too far: any more will visibly reduce the quality of the output. Therefore the option is to cut one or more stations entirely.

The starting point must be the long-standing mission of the BBC: to inform, educate and entertain. In practice "informing" means providing an impartial new service that keeps everyone in the know about what is new in the world.

The "educate" means programmes that teach you about the world: science, art, history, natural history, business and so on.

The "entertain" part of the proposal is that you should, as part of the mix, hear music, watch drama and laugh at comedy.

So, here is a little exercise in "being Director General for the day". You have reached the supermarket checkout with the whole basket of BBC radio and TV stations, but you don't have enough money to pay for them all: which one will you put back on the shelf?

It is always easy to say "I don't watch this, so close it": but such selfish arguments always look self-serving. If you are being the DG, you have a responsibly to everyone in he UK, not just your own personal taste.

To kick off the exercise, I have made my proposals to save £400 million.

I would very much like to hear what your choices would be, if you were in charge.

If you want to check my figures see:


This is where most of the BBC's budget goes and where most of the viewing happens. Given that the BBC has a mission to "inform, educate and entertain", then BBC One should continue to chase ratings with the best quality drama, factual and documentary programmes. The many viewers means that BBC One costs 6.2p per viewer-hour on average with EastEnders being really good value for money at 3.5p per viewer-hour.

BBC One Regional News

However, the provision of local news in England and the news services for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are hideously expensive to provide and broadcast (especially on satellite). I would consider these services obvious choice for cutbacks or closure: running 18 services in parallel just eats into the budget. What the budget is exactly we don't know, as the BBC never publishes the figures.


BBC Two is an expensive service to provide at 8.3p per viewer-hour and provides little that is distinctive. The budget of £404 million (plus £138 for transmission and infrastructure) needs radical rethinking.

The budget should be cut back considerably and savings made on distribution. A few programmes should be moved: Newsnight to BBC News, The Daily Politics, Horizon and Top Gear to BBC One.

The channel should be repurposed to fit the needs of the not-served black, Asian and minority ethnic audiences (see Stephen Lawrence's mother urges change 'at the top' over media diversity - Media - ) mixed with brining the cultures of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to the whole of the UK.

Cutting the budget to £200 million (plus £18 for distribution and infrastructure) would still provide a programming budget of four times that of BBC Four.

BBC Three

Taking the channel online in 2015 is a poor move: it disenfranchises the poorest people within the target demographic. The savings made from closing the regional news services and repurposing BBC Two would easily save BBC Three.

I know that many people don't like BBC Three: this seems fine to me, young people should be objectionable to their elders.

At 6.6p per viewer hour, BBC three is good value for money.

BBC Four

If the BBC Four budget was boosted by cutting back of BBC Two, then finding a small budget increase to boost the hour-long documentaries on this channel would see a suitable use of savings.

At 6.8p per viewer hour, BBC four is also good value for money.


At only 2.7p per viewer-hour Cbeebies is very cost effective. The CBBC channel is quite expensive at 11.1p, but the value of an advertising-free service for school-age children cannot be underestimated.

BBC News

The news channel is at the core of what the BBC does. Costing 5.1p per viewer-hour, it is also exceptionally good value for money.

BBC Parliament

This under watched channel costs 7.2p per viewer hour. The channel was taken on by the BBC when the old non-BBC version hit the buffers. The arguments about democracy aside, it is hard to see how this channel can be kept but BBC three closed.

BBC Radios 1, 2, 6 Music

Given that these stations cost between 0.5p (Radio 2) and 1p (Radios 1, 6) per listener hour, it is hard to see how they are not exceptionally good value for money.

BBC 1Xtra, 4Extra, Asian Network

1Xtra radio station costs 2.7p per listener hour: but serves an important demographic. 4Extra comes in at 0.8p per listener hour; an effective use of the speech archive not provided though a commercial service. The Asian network is more expensive per listener hour.

BBC Radio 4

The speech radio service is good value at 1.4p per listener hour. However, the drama output ("The Archers", "15 Minute Drama", "Afternoon Drama" and "Classic serial") is of a poor standard and lack distinctiveness: and costs a lot of money: 40 times what 1Xtra takes.

BBC Radio 3

This service should clearly be closed: It is horrendously expensive at 5.6p per listener hour and does little for British culture. The current listeners have a long-running commercial station to move to, or if their tastes are more sophisticated there are many online services. The £54.3 million (plus £29.2 for the BBC's Orchestras) would be much better spent on boosting the BBC Four TV service.

Some Radio 3 speech programmes ("The Essay") could find a natural home in the slots vacated on Radio 4 for drama.

BBC Radio 5 Live

This is a distinctive national service that costs just 2.4p per listener hour.

An argument could be made to move the station back to being a more news, less sport network as the commercial TalkSport service could serve these listeners.

However, sports fans pay the licence fee and sport is part of British culture.

BBC Local and regional radio

If the regional news services are removed from BBC One, then a boost to the local radio services would seem a good use for some of the money saved. In particular the services being added to Freeview and satellite for better access and be better online.

However the services outside England need to reduce their costs to match the 3.4p per listener hour. These range from Ulster (5.4p), Wales (6.2p), Scotland (6.5p), Gaelic (15.6p) to Welsh (19.0p).

All questions
BBC Three Linear channel re-opens1
Removing all barriers to communication between diverse cultures2
How do I get a test card with Freeview3
What can I do when my Sky Digibox says 'No Signal' or 'Technical fau4
Can I receive UK TV in Ghana?5
In this section
BBC salami-slicing returns to overnight services?1
#GreatBBC campaign launched2
Goodbye BBC Red Button!3
Want to know how much the BBC spend in England, Scotland, Wales and NI per home?4
S4C and Welsh Exceptionalism?5
BBC future: make sure you make the deadline6

Sunday, 9 March 2014

8:43 AM

I should add that https://reutersinstitute.….pdf

What If there Were No BBC Television?
the Net Impact on UK Viewers
Patrick Barwise and Robert G. Picard
February 2014

to the list of references

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Briantist's 38,900 posts GB flag
John Clemence
9:22 AM

I got to the BBC radio three comment and realised that this article is based on taste rather than an understanding of public service.
One thing I would suggest, now that we have an all digital service with BBC news 24 available to all is that all news broadcasts and comment should be there leaving the time on BBC 1 and 2 free for the sort of programming that BBC 3 (and to some extent 4) provides.

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John Clemence's 16 posts GB flag
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10:03 AM

I heard on the BBC news this morning that BBC is moving to pay tv and scrapping the licence fee..... i wonder if this going to cost more ?

means having a decoder box...... etc

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Rob's 17 posts GB flag
Mike Dimmick

10:42 AM

Rob: I can't see any announcement of that on the BBC website, and I'd be very surprised.

What I can see is a story that the government are considering reclassifying the offences for non-payment from a criminal to a civil matter: BBC News - TV licence fee non-payment 'could be decriminalised'

At present the licence fee is basically treated as a tax. Non-payment is met with a fine of up to £1000 (that fine goes to the government, not the BBC), at the magistrates' discretion. If you can't pay in one go, they have the power to subtract the fine from your pay, if you tell them how much you earn. Persistent non-payment of the fines can land you in jail if you don't work out a payment plan. Some people take the jail time on point of principle, but in fact there are many, many chances to avoid that.

Changing it to a civil offence would mean that the BBC would have to apply for court orders and bailiffs for non-payment. If a non-payer is truly unable to pay, they would need to use some form of insolvency arrangement - bankruptcy, Debt Relief Order, Individual Voluntary Arrangement - meaning the BBC would only get a portion of the money owed, if anything at all. This is likely to increase the costs of collecting the licence fee, effectively reducing the money available to produce and distribute programmes. It would still be a stick for the BBC's opponents to beat them with ('BBC forces x people a year into bankruptcy', 'BBC bailiffs seize property from x people', etc.).

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Mike Dimmick's 2,486 posts GB flag
Charles Stuart

11:30 AM

I disagree with your comments on BBC2. It's the BBC's main channel for science and, if anything I think that more resources should be put into science programming as it's currently an underserved area in British TV.

I think that John Clemence has a point and I also think that it's terribly difficult to separate an objective view from a subjective view. For instance, as far as I'm concerned, yesterday's TV schedules were a waste of space on the five main channels. But I'm sure that one reason why the BBC gives us saturation coverage of that abomination, The Voice, is that it does bring in the ratings. I am obviously unusual in thinking that it's unspeakably dreadful.

I think that the BBC should not chase ratings in the way it does. It should aim to achieve customer satisfaction but its primary purpose should be quality over quantity. For that reason, I'd defend Radio 3, even though I might listen to it once every two years at most. Classic FM does not serve the same market as Radio 3 and though it may only appeal to 1% of the population, I think that's enough to justify Radio 3's existence.

I do not know how you achieve true objectivity in this type of analysis and that's a part of what makes decision-making so difficult for the BBC. On the whole, I think that they are currently doing a reasonable job, though I would like to see more serious science, more serious history documentaries and fewer reality TV shows.

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Charles Stuart's 159 posts GB flag
Charles's: mapC's Freeview map terrainC's terrain plot wavesC's frequency data C's Freeview Detailed Coverage

11:47 AM

Charles Stuart: Thanks for you response.

Your comments are quote valid.

However, the question I was posing was "which BBC service would you cut?"

I can't accept "fewer reality TV shows" as the BBC doesn't broadcast any!

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Briantist's 38,900 posts GB flag

12:54 PM

What I would like everyone to do is to join me in the "though exercise" of arriving at the supermarket checkout with a basket of services and not having enough money for them all.

Imagine you are three or four hundred million pounds short: you will have to put something back.

I want to know what you will choose and why!

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Briantist's 38,900 posts GB flag

1:01 PM

Value for money should not measured in terms of cost per viewer hour as it does not take into accound the quality of the programs.You could reduce the cost per viewer hour by continually showing repeats but this does not mean it is good value for money. The value of BBC programs cannot be determined with a compulsary license tax. In fact you could argue that large numbers of people not paying the tax is an indication of bad value for money. The licence tax is simply an outdate way to fund the BBC.

The BBC needs to be sold off and the money used to reduce the national debt. It could then be funded by any combination of voluntary contributions, subscription, pay per view and advertizing.

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trevorjharris's 367 posts GB flag

1:13 PM

trevorjharris: "The BBC needs to be sold off and the money used to reduce the national debt."

The BBC doesn't belong to the government. If it were "sold off" then money would go to the BBC.

If you could please engage with the question at hand: "what service do you put back?" rather than reiterate your anti-Licence Fee diatribe.

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Briantist's 38,900 posts GB flag
Charles Stuart

7:37 PM

"I can't accept "fewer reality TV shows" as the BBC doesn't broadcast any! "

Maybe I've got the genre name wrong but shows like The Voice, Strictly Come Dancing, that thing about sewing and all that type of thing where people are judged by "experts" or telephone voting drives me crazy. I cannot stand any one these shows, with the possible exception of Masterchef - The Professionals, which I think is just about OK.

I think that a lot of savings could be generated by making better use of classic TV programmes and old films. FTA TV hardly ever broadcasts any films made before about 1980 and even less frequently broadcasts films made in black and white. If I were the BBC, I'd fill the afternoon daytime schedule on BBC1 with classic films from the '30s to the '70s. There are many fabulous films that could be shown and I bet they'd be cheap to buy. They could probably broadcast a different good classic film every day for ten years and still have some to go. And they could have some foreign language films - and I bet that digital technology would allow the viewer to choose between dubbing and subtitles. These films would replace what I see as second rate original programming that's currently being transmitted. I'd keep the classic TV programmes on BBC2.

I think that the BBC has too many radio stations. While I think that Radio 3 and Radio 4 serve a market that it's hard for the commercial sector to serve, and I think that Radio 1, Radio 2 and Radio 5 Live complete a good all-round service, I think that most of the digital services are surplus to requirements, with only 6 Music really adding something. I'd drop the others. I might also keep Asian Network because there may well be a need for its service - I honestly don't know enough to judge.

I would seek to change the BBC's Royal Charter to allow it to enter joint venture broadcast businesses with commercial stations. I'd then convert the local radio services to these joint ventures and they'd mostly be funded by commercials but with BBC licence fee money being used to provide a top quality local news service. The BBC could also sell its local news service to other fully commercial local stations.

I quite like the morning schedules on both BBC 1 and BBC 2, so I would do little to change them. I'd save a little money by not starting transmissions on CBBC and CBeebies until 0730 each morning and closing CBBC during term time between 0845 and 1600 each weekday. I don't think it's right that children's programmes should be transmitted when the children should be at school. I assume that if there's empty space on a multiplex it doesn't consume loads of money. Maybe the BBC could sell the space for other uses when not being used for children's TV.

I think that my main ideas are for bringing in new income streams, rather than much that would actually cut costs but both have the same effect - to provide enough money for the BBC to provide the services that it chooses to provide.

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Charles Stuart's 159 posts GB flag
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