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Why the BBC should abandon 700+m "regional news" to fund local radio, BBC three,

In summary: the more I think about this, the more it makes sense for the BBC to withdraw from so-called regional news and plough the extensive savings - 715 million pounds a year - into an improved local radio network, keeping BBC three on the television, expanding BBC FOUR and creating a new daily tea-time family comedy spot. Part of the savings would be used for a Scottish Six news programme, plus NI Six.

Is Sally Taylor (and her colleagues) really worth over seven hundred million pounds a year?    Photograph: BBC
Is Sally Taylor (and her colleagues) really worth over seven hundred million pounds a year? Photograph: BBC
published on UK Free TV

Why am I making these proposals in the first place?

Following the recent announcement to "take BBC three online", I thought I would take a look at the BBC programme budget and see if there was an alternative.

It seems to me that to reduce the BBC budget by 0.5% by taking a service which is valued by a normally hard-to-reach demographic was unfair.

And I think there is a gaping hole in the budget of BBC One that needs urgent attention.

With the renewal of the BBC Charter coming up soon, now might be the time to act.

What am I proposing?

I am saying that the BBC needs to abandon BBC local news in England and Wales because it costs a fortune to provide, is poor value for money and it is not very good.

I am saying that the hundreds of millions of pounds spend should be used to provide:

  • Funding a new family-comedy slot at 6:30pm on BBC One;
  • Funds to keep broadcasting BBC three as a TV channel for the next decade;
  • Funds to make BBC FOUR a better service;
  • Money for local radio to improve the local radio news websites (and Red Button) and provide a full local news service in the 6:30pm-7pm slot.
  • Provide a Scottish Six news programme at 6pm on BBC One Scotland, and a similar service for Northern Ireland.
  • Save £615 million pounds;

BBC - Press Office - BBC Nations & Regions

"BBC Nations & Regions is the largest regional broadcasting operation in the UK- accounting for more than £550m of BBC expenditure and employing nearly 7,000 staff across the UK."

At 2014 prices, half-and-hour evening slot costs £715,000,000 a year.

The problem with regional news

The first problem with regional news is that it is very expensive - costing £715m a year. That's more than enough to fund BBC local radio FIVE times or BBC TWO, BBC three AND BBC FOUR.

The second problem is that it is poorly targeted. Even back in the 1960s the BBC observed:

"The boundaries were drawn some forty years ago not on any basis of community interest but to match the range of the transmitters. These are regions devised by engineers rather than sociologists. We respect the loyalties which the present English Regions have created but we now propose to replace them with eight smaller and more socially logical regions. " - Broadcasting in the Seventies

The current regions are too large to be socially logical and provide local news to anyone. Real people are interested in what happens in their street, their town. If they live in a city, they care what is happening in their part of the city.

No one really care what's happening in their "region". To spend over £700m a year on a service to these areas is wrong.

The reason for them is they are a legacy of the start of the ITV network in the 1950s and 1960s. The BBC had to match a network of ITV companies that most people have long since forgotten about.

The Scottish issue

The government and legal system in Scotland (assuming that it stays within the Union) is different to that in England and Wales. Because of this a special 6pm programme for BBC One Scotland should be provided. This should use the main BBC news packages for international and UK-wide news, but also provide suitable Scottish Parliamentary and domestic priority stories.

The Northern Ireland Issue

Exactly the same arguments can be made for Northern Ireland: therefore a 6pm news programme "edited and re-purposed" for the province is also essential.

What to do with the £715m saved?

Firstly there needs to be some funds allocated to Scotland and Northern Ireland for their special 6pm and 10pm news.

Then £20m should go to enable BBC local radio in England to provide a comprehensive news programme at 6:30pm and 10:25pm and training, staff and support to ensure that the BBC local radio news websites are fit for purpose.

£30m should go to BBC three to enable it to be kept as a television service. It is important to not disenfranchise those young adults who can't or won't go online.

£50m should go to BBC FOUR. It is an excellent channel that suffers from having too small a budget to provide what it does in enough quality. This money should be able to provide a weekly hour of new science, history, arts, international affairs and

And what of the empty slot between the BBC News and The One Show?

I propose that BBC One takes a leaf out of BBC Radio 4 and uses the slot as an comedy antidote to the news. Five slot might mean a panel show (say, QI), a stand-up show (like Russell Howard, but pre-watershed), something leftfield (like The Might Boosh) and there's still room for some satire.

All questions
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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
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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

Wednesday, 19 March 2014
Iain Davies

11:56 PM

Keep the regional tv and get rid of BBC3 as it has a load of tosh on it!!!

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Iain Davies's 38 posts GB flag
Thursday, 20 March 2014

3:22 AM

Iain Davies: yet BBC3 has a bigger audience than might think its tosh, but many BBC3 viewers might be equally unimpressed with their regional programming.

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MikeB's 2,579 posts GB flag

2:30 PM

Excuse me for being thick, but how can scrapping BBC three save money, if it is still going to be broadcast on the internet and the transmission slot being used to transmit BBC one+1? Same production costs, same transmission costs.

BBC three is aimed at the late teenager to 30ish. A lot of which don't have broadband internet access. So how can they be expected to watch?

All I see is flaws in the whole idea.

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Betamax_man's 43 posts GB flag
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Charles Stuart

4:46 PM

I have heard a lot of people say that they don't have a TV licence because they only watch catch-up services online. Whether this is a legal loophole is questionable, though if it isn't, it's almost impossible to enforce the rules. Therefore, I have a proposal to close the BBC's funding gap that I think will sooner or later occur, if it hasn't already.

My idea is that iPlayer should be a pay per view service that is free for licence holders. When you choose to watch a programme on iPlayer you would have a choice of either inputting your licence number or paying to view. If I were the BBC, I would allow a number of devices per household or per person in a household to be registered; for example 1 desktop, 1 mobile phone and 1 tablet per person or 6 devices per household. Thus you'd only have to input your licence details one. I would set the pay per view fees so that it's cheaper to pay per programme if you watch 50 hours of programmes or fewer per annum. Above that, buy a licence. Maybe the BBC could be kind and say that anyone buying a 51st hour of TV within a calendar year has paid for a licence, so doesn't have to pay any more for the rest of the year. Maybe legislation could be passed that this applies to any programme supplied by a UK broadcaster to a UK viewer, so it wouldn't be 50 hours of BBC programmes but simply 50 hours of programming on UK catch-up services. Then, any pirate distributor would be committing a double offence of copyright infringement and licence fee evasion. (51.4634,-2.5264) 

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Charles Stuart's 159 posts GB flag

5:17 PM

I just think it would be so much simpler to scrap the licence and let the BBC compete in the market with everyone else. It has always bugged me that I have to pay even if I don't watch.

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Ian's 497 posts GB flag
Ian's: mapI's Freeview map terrainI's terrain plot wavesI's frequency data I's Freeview Detailed Coverage

6:34 PM

Ian: The BBC 's annual budget is around 3.5 billion pounds I believe, and some 67% of this public funding is spent exclusively on tv programming. The annual licence works out at just 41.22 pence a day for each licence payer. For this, we get the best television service and programming in the world. Plus the BBC are heavily involved in the development of new transmission standard technology, which is being embraced around the world, to give us even sharper, life like tv pictures and channels. Currently working on two HD standards up and above the current HD standard.
Ian, if it bugs you that you don't like paying for a service even if you don't use it, then why not just get ride of your tv and any equipment capable of playing or recording television signals altogether. Write to tv licensing letting them know what you've done, then they may visit you a few times to check you haven't got a tv etc, then once they are satisfied you haven't, then they'll leave you alone.
As for myself, I'd hate the thought of de-regulate commercial tv full of cheap trashy tv shows and adverts every ten minutes or so like they have in U.S.A. I think the status quo suits most uk folk.

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KEVIN GARDINER's 68 posts GB flag
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Duncan Hill
6:57 PM
Waltham Cross

Although BBC local radio stations generally cover smaller areas than the TV regions, "let them eat radio" doesn't work for many people.

Apart from the fact that most people watch BBC1 in prime time rather than listen to their any radio station, there are many places throughout the UK that cannot get their "local" radio station.

TV has a comprehensive set of thousands of relays, this isn't matched by the coverage of radio transmitters.

Here in SE Herts, the Three Countries Radio is barely audible. Radio London (and Radio Kent!) come in fine, but no news coverage of Herts of course. At least London News on BBC1 tries to occasionally cover some news outside the city. Same situation in Ilfracombe: Radio Wales blasts in, but Radio Devon is nowhere to be found.

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Duncan Hill's 2 posts GB flag
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Charles Stuart

6:57 PM

@Kevin Gardiner - I basically agree with you, though I accept that the licence fee model is flawed and I question whether or not we still have the best TV programmes in the world. I cannot see any better model for funding the BBC than the licence but as the detection of broadband-connected devices, particularly those using mobile broadband, is increasingly hard, licence fee evasion will become increasingly easy. Thus, my suggestion that catch-up TV should be pay per view but free to those who've paid their licence fee.

I have lived in the US, though many years ago, and TV there was OK and there were some good programmes but the commercials were absurdly frequent and lasted far too long. Multiply the number of ads on Sky One by 2. Sometimes it made programmes, particularly films, unwatchable. "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane" is 133 minutes long according to Wikipedia. On US commercial television at the end of the 1970s, it was shown over two days, each day showing part of the film plus commercials in a 90-minute slot. Thus, assuming nothing was cut (highly unlikely) there were 47 minutes of commercials! Probably, there were closer to 60 minutes of ads. (51.4634,-2.5264) 

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Charles Stuart's 159 posts GB flag

8:25 PM

Im not getting rid of my tv and other equipment because I have Sky TV which I don't mind paying for because I watch most of the programs I am paying for unlike the BBC.

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Ian's 497 posts GB flag
Ian's: mapI's Freeview map terrainI's terrain plot wavesI's frequency data I's Freeview Detailed Coverage

11:01 PM

Ian: You would be one of a tiny number of people who never use any BBC services, if indeed that was actually the case. Brianist has posted data which reports that about 97% of the population does use some BBC services, and despite people swearing blind that they dont watch or listen to the BBC, I am more inclinded to believe the research.

As for scrapping the licence fee - think about it for a couple of seconds. There is only so much advertising revue to go round - companies do not spend twice as much because there is more space available. The BBC has a big brand name, is already watched by the majority of the population, and has both popular programmes and a huge archive. If they enter the market, ITV is basically stuffed. As Brianist pointed out the other day, no rivals ever suggest this, because it would kill them.

Betamax man - BBC3 is losing its broadcast channel, and will lose most of its funding, retaining just £30m for production. The internet part is obviously an attempt to make lemoande out of lemons - better to think of it as a premier online channel for productions that will end up on BBC2. As I keep pointing out, its the production that costs money - the transmission costs the same for a blockbusting drama as it does for a bloke with a sock puppet.
I suspect that BBC3's age range (teenagers to thirties) probably has a slightly higher rate of broadband use than most - 42% of the general population, but that age range has a larger amount of internet use than any other age group. And they also use mobiles to go online.

Charles Stuart: I totally agree that the Iplayer loophole should be closed. When this is mentioned on newspaper comment boards, people try to justify it with some vaguely libertarian nonsense, but bascially its freeloading. Sky wouldn't allow it, so why should the BBC?
In fact the BBC is launching pay-per-view BBC to charge licence payers £5 to download favourite shows in challenge to Netflix and iTunes | Mail Online , and the Global Iplayer App costs about $10 a month. For most of us, we just need put a unique number from your TV License into the Iplayer app/software, in exactly the same way that Netflix, Now TV, etc work. A cookie checks that your License is in date and thats it. If you use it, then you should pay for it. The Germans certainly have that mindset.

The really crazy thing about being proud of just watching the BBC online is thats its far less less flexible than having a licence and being able to record. Not everything is online for very long, and if your watching TV on a monitor, the biggest you can reasonably get is 29", and most are smaller than that - thats basically a portable TV. The World Cup is really going to be great on that...

I'm not sure that we have the best TV in the world, but I'm sure that we have a pretty good standard of TV, and certainly US TV goes from excellent to awful, and the number of ads is just vast. Basically, we get a very good deal, and Brianists recent article on comparative costs of European broadcasters shows we are pretty cheap.

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MikeB's 2,579 posts GB flag
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