menuMENU    UK Free TV logo Archive (2002-)



Click to see updates

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
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.

link to this comment
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

7:51 PM

(FYI, I have made improvements to my text ) 

link to this comment
Briantist's 38,910 posts GB flag

7:56 PM

Charles Stuart: Interesting comments. You don't seems to have saved much money, however!

"The Voice, Strictly Come Dancing" aren't reality shows. They are Light Entertainment. Wikipedia says Reality television - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Reality television "unscripted situations and actual occurrences" with "previously unknown cast".

I think you might be confusing "formulaic" with "reality TV".

link to this comment
Briantist's 38,910 posts GB flag
Richard E

8:05 PM

Braintist , BBC 2 ,should not become some ethnic getto channel ,its as good as BBC 4 . I went to this Indian chap, who I know , house a few weeks back, & all the tv they seemed to watch came direct on the satellite, from you guessed it , India , Star tv I think it was .They don`t listen to Asian network either .

link to this comment
Richard E's 42 posts GB flag
Richard's: mapR's Freeview map terrainR's terrain plot wavesR's frequency data R's Freeview Detailed Coverage

10:15 PM

I doubt we would ever agree on how to best prune the BBC. To me, local news on radio and BBC1 are very important. I am sure they could be streamlined without sacrificing quality. I suspect BBC running costs could be drastically reduced - symptomatically brooding : upper echelon salaries and benefits, the many unattended screens behind the newsreaders, unnecessary travel, facility maintenance, outsourcing etc etc. The credits at the end of a programme or film suggest a huge number of people are employed to produce one-hour of air-time. If I had to choose between a subscription-based BBC and SKY, I would, with regret, lean towards SKY - simply because the overall quality of service offered by the BBC continues to drift away from its high standards of former times.

link to this comment
michael's 869 posts GB flag

10:58 PM

Charles Stuart: The idea of cutting CBeebies/CBBC came up on Britmovie yesterday, and my argument there is pretty much the same here - its unfair and unworkable. I suspect that most are totally unfamiliar with the channels, or how they operate.

Firstly, CBBC/CBeebies share space with BBC3/4 - when the childrens programmes end at 7pm, then they start - so putting two together saves nothing - you've still have one channel spare during the day, and you've got to show something.

Next, the two channels serve different audiences, and putting the two together would be a bit like amalgamating BBC3 and 4 - I can imagine that would not go down well. CBeebies serve an audience that are 6 or under, whilst CBBC start at 6 and go up to 12. As anyone whose had kids can testify, that is a huge age range, and although there is some crossover around 5-7, when could you schedule a programme for a 10 year old that would be OK for a 4 year old to see?

Most of CBeebies audience is pre-school, so there is no justification for not broadcasting during the day, and of course programmes are repeated, so actually costs are not huge. Now you could argue that CBBC could close between 9 - 3 each weekday, but you could say the same for BBC1 & 2 for that time - its the period of fewest viewers for all channels (which is why you have cheap programming at that time). And dead air on a multiplex doesn't really save much money - its the content that costs, and if your repeating shows, then costs are relatively low.

However, having that 6-7 hour break (for only Monday-Friday) would be a scheduling nightmare. My children have some 15 weeks a year as holiday from school, but these are not evenly spaced, Easter moves every year, and half terms are not uniform (some schools one week, some the next). So something like 20 weeks out of the year would be broadcasting all day. How could you sell (or even use?) those blocks of 'spare' multiplex time? Yes, you could just show a test card/ident, but again, repeated programmes cost relatively little.

Trying to kill off kids TV is also unfair. Firstly, I pay my licence fee (first and last time I'll write that), and like other parents, we want good TV for our kids, hopefully without adverts. Until CITV started, there was a point some years ago where there was no childrens TV at all on terrestial TV apart from the BBC's output, and even now, the amount of toy adverts on CITV does not make me all that happy.
To be fair, CITV does some decent stuff (some of it UK made), including the rather good if your an adult (but total crazy) Aquabats. But it does not have the specialisation or depth of the BBC channels. Kids TV is exactly the sort of thing that the BBC should be doing, since the relative lack of it is a market failure.

Overall, these two channels are very much following the concept of doing things that the commercial sector does not, and certainly deliver 'quality'. CBeebies also has an international channel and both channels have programme merchandising, which raise revenue. Its worth pointing out that in 2012, CBeebies budget was about a third less than BBC4, yet in Dec 2013 had a 1.3% audience share, whereas BBC4 had a 1% share.

I'd love more old films on BBC2 (there is a thread on Britmovie which mentions whats coming up - I'm All Right Jack was on the other week), but it might be that its cheaper and more popular to show newer stuff (which are made by independents, who have to make up at least 25% of BBC output).

I honestly have no idea if the BBC mostly shows films made after 1980 (Films on Freeview is probably your best bet for actual data), but remember that colour films have been largely standard since the 1950's - so about 20 years of mostly monochrome, and 60 years of mostly colour.
As for repeats, the BBC has a limit on how many they can show, and when. In the mid-late 1980's they used to show some excellent stuff from the archives of 'The World About Us', 'Great Railway Journeys'. It could be that it costs more, and have more problems with clearance to broadcast those than new programmes.

Does the BBC have too many radio stations? They all serve a purpose, and although I seldom listen to 1x, regional or local radio, why shouldn't their audience be served? Frankly, your choices make up the bulk of the budget anyway, and local radio is very cheap considering the number of stations.

You dont like lots of 'popular' programmes - some of that list I'm fine with, some not so much, but my wife likes Strictly and 'The Voice' - she also pays the licence fee, so why shouldn't she have programmes she wants to watch? I hate Top Gear, but I can watch BBC4 instead.

I'm in agreement with Russell Kane Russell Kane: kill BBC3 and you kill risk-taking comedy | Stage | - 'If everyone puts in £145.50 then all deserve to be pleasured. From Moneybox Live through to Help, My Tits Are Hairy I would defend the right of anyone to receive their slice.' None of us are going like everything, but hopefully we should all have a reasonable number of programmes that we like, and that are of decent quality. After all, we've all paid for it.

Michael - There are lots of people in the end titles of films as well - is there any evidence that film producers are padding their payroll? In reality, making tv programmes is more complex than most people think, and that applies to the programmes Sky shows as much as the ones that the BBC make. In fact, the ones that Sky makes are usually written, produced, directed and starring people who have worked for the BBC.

link to this comment
MikeB's 2,579 posts GB flag
Monday, 10 March 2014
4:18 AM

How will the funding be affected if Scotland goes for Independence, or put another way, does the License fees collected from Scotland cover the full cost of Scottish operation, is there a shortfall or a surplus?

link to this comment
Ian's 17 posts GB flag

9:58 AM

Ian: I've written a couple of articles about this

In What could happen to Freeview if Scotland voted to become independent? | Freeview news | - 11 years of independent, free digital TV advice I said

"About 9.2% of UK households are in Scotland: whilst £320 million sounds like a lot of money, it is only enough to fund a BBC One budget channel for three months a year.

The 230 mast network belongs to Arqiva and would continue to do so. It is worth noting that is an extensive network for the 2.4m homes in Scotland. The costs of distribution are high in Scotland as it has one third of the UK land-mass, but 8.4% of the population.

Taking the current £222m a year the BBC spends on distribution, 6% of the budget. If we assume that this is a cost per mast, then this works out at £2.48 in England, £8.07 in Scotland, £12.49 in Wales and £4.72 in Northern Ireland.

This would make the BBC Scotland distribution budget £43m a year, or 14% of the £320 from a Scottish Licence Fee!. This could be a low estimate: BBC Radio Scotland takes 3.2m a year for distribution, which is 60% of the costs of each UK wide radio service.

I looked at the An Independent Scot would still be able to watch the BBC on satellite, surely? | Freesat | - 11 years of independent, free digital TV advice issue

"The result would be that Scottish Sky and Freesat viewers would have to resort to the "other channels" menus on their boxes, and not have the ability to record programmes automatically on Sky+/Sky+HD."

link to this comment
Briantist's 38,910 posts GB flag

10:18 AM

michael: I suspect you'd be shocked to hear that "upper echelon salaries" accounts for, according to….pdf ... £5.6m (plus £1.1 for a few "compensation for loss of office") [1]

So, you've saved £5.6 million. And the other £394,600,000 is going to come from where?

I don't think turning off a few montors in the newsroom (which are there to be .. monitored: or are the artifice to show that BBC News is awake all the time) are going to make it.

[1] BBC - Inside the BBC - Executive Board Senior Management

link to this comment
Briantist's 38,910 posts GB flag
Charles Stuart

11:17 AM

Mike B, I don't think that you understand my suggestion re CBeebies and CBBC. I'm not suggesting amalgamating them into one channel but that they shouldn't start until 0730 and CBBC shouldn't broadcast during school hours. I don't see why a multiplex cannot contain blank space or have that part used for non-TV purposes. I definitely think that during school hours CBeebies should transmit programmes wholly aimed at pre-school children, though I'm inclined to agree with those who think that a ban on TV for the under twos is desirable.

I wonder whether the BBC could find a way to phase in lower pay for its presenters and actors. I wonder, if the BBC had retained actors on a regular salary, might these people accept a lower rate of pay in exchange for a guaranteed salary and pension rights? The BBC might occasionally bring in a big name for an inflated price but I don't think that BBC drama would suffer if the was an in-house BBC Company of Actors. Equally, I reckon that there are plenty of people able to present programming, who could do it for a reasonable salary. I get the impression that many TV presenters are paid highly, if not six figures, then high five figures. To be honest, I think that most TV presenters should earn in the £30-£50K area, with just a few earning more. The way to do it is to give them 20-year contracts at the start of their careers with big restrictions on what they can do in British television if they leave early. Therefore, I think that the biggest way to cut costs is to cut the payroll.

link to this comment
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
Select more comments
Page 2

Your comment please
Please post a question, answer or commentUK Free TV is here to help people. If you are rude or disrespectful all of your posts will be deleted and you will be banned.

Privacy policy: UK Free Privacy policy.