BBC plc, 2017: Rest in peace, Auntie (from 2019)
What ever happened to the BBC? Photograph: Shutterstock
The Telegraph online. Wednesday June 12th, 2019
Ofcom today agreed a plan to immediately allocate the TV frequencies of the former BBC to double the 4G mobile broadband capacities. This marks the final passing of the once dominant, former-monopolistic state television and radio broadcaster.
The speed of the decline of the broadcaster has been a sorry tale of mismanagement, misjudgement and bad luck: but from now on those three letters will point only to the past.
The privatization went well enough, but there was already a £2.6bn pension deficit hole to fill.
The initial hubris of the first BBC CEO after privatisation was thinking that four out of five homes would opt to pay £18 a month for the existing BBC channels.
Failing completely to learn from the 2002 ITV Digital debacle, the BBC seriously tried to change 10 million Freeview homes to a pay-TV service: it invested just under £3bn to set up system. The "Beebview" system was troubled just like its pay predecessor: it was unreliable and pirate cards overcame the encryption. The surprise decision by the Treasury not to convert free TV Licences for pensioners into Beebview subscriptions left the system in too few homes to be viable.
It was only after six months of the pay-TV experiment that BBC plc had to admit that subscription levels were running at 40%, just half the predicted level. The first private BBC crisis saw the departure of the CEO.
BBC plc was forced to make drastic changes. The new CEO dropped the subscription system in favour of carrying advertising. It was at this point the new CEO announced the immediate closure of everything except a national BBC One, BBC Two and BBC News television channels and Radios 1 and 2. 52 radio stations closed, and the funding was cut for S4C and the World Service radio, both of which closed without ceremony.
The BBC was not best placed for a fight with ITV. It had been "off the air" in many homes for seven months, and the management of ITV put up a tough fight to keep their channels ahead.
The following 18 months were a cycle of decline. The BBC channels were poorly scheduled and padded, initially because they were not planned with 16 minutes per hour of adverts, and later because declining viewing figures stripped the service of income.
Eventually the shareholders received an offer for the BBC from venture capitalists. Happy to make some money back for their investment, the new owners sold the programming (EastEnders is now on ITV), buildings, and archive.
Ofcom had hoped that the buyers would stick to promises to keep BBC News on the air, but when arrangements were made to sell the acquired multiplex capacity for use for 4G broadband, it became clear that the now-token news service days were very numbered.
It is a shame that the epitaph of a once-great corporation is that it burned £8bn. This sad tale is one for future books on economics.