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Would the BBC work better as a company, charity, instead of a new Royal charter?

The BBC exists because, every ten years, the monarch has granted another Charter. Given the changes in the media landscape in the last decades, should the BBC move to another status?

Time for some BBC blue-sky thinking?   Photograph: Brian Butterworth
Time for some BBC blue-sky thinking? Photograph: Brian Butterworth
published on UK Free TV

BBC, plc 2017

In a set of articles earlier in the year, I investigated the BBC as a public company, sometimes run by subscription and other times by adverts and by subscription.

British Broadcasting Charity

One option that must be on the table is the change in the BBC from having a Royal Charter to being a charity.

The claims for the BBC's Royal Charter seem to be rather bust these days.   Aside from the democratic implications in the 21st century of the head of state being able to make law by proclamation, the claimed benefits are long since gone.

The last three Prime Ministers have done away with once-treasured the BBC News independence.

Tony Blair used the strategy of a judge-lead whitewash (using the logic "the Prime Minister cannot lie because he is the Prime Minister") to weaken the independent broadcaster.

Gordon Brown, by providing "free" TV Licences to pensioners allowed the state to co-opt a sizable part of the funds supposedly hypothecated from the TV Fee.    He could have provided pensioners with a £150 uplift in their pensions.

This pensioner allocation was used by Prime Minister David Cameron to strong arm DG Thompson into cutting back the BBC in an egregious funding settlement. 

It is clear that the BBC is no longer independent of government, the Royal Charter special guarantee no longer respected by Ministers "of the Crown".  

So, perhaps it would be sensible to do away with the 10-year cycle of renegotiation and move the Broadcaster to the status of the British Broadcasting Charity, and hope that the Charity Commission can provide a better protection for our national broadcaster than elderly monarch does. 

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Tuesday, 25 November 2014
Geordie lad

8:39 PM

Lorna Smith: Would that what you say about "Advert Free" was true; far from it! Program start and stop times are now disrupted by the Beeb's adverts for its own programs. As a retired broadcasting engineer, it was drummed into me at an early age that program schedule times MUST be adhered to, even if it meant using a stop watch and time signals.

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Geordie lad's 43 posts GB flag

10:38 PM

Fred Perkins: This isn't about insults, its about evidence. And its the lack of evidence to back up common assertions that troubles me.

Its certainly true that a large single broadcaster, with a steady revenue stream in the billions, interests that go beyond just TV broadcasting, and some would say a clear bias in some area's of its news reporting and extensive links with the political establishment may well have an profound effect on other players in the sector. By using their quasi-monopoly position, they could block others from access to certain suppliers, outbid others for certain coverage and possibly push others out of business entirely by underhand means. But enough of Sky for the moment...

Is there actually any real evidence that the BBC is no longer capable of fulfilling its remit in this modern world? Is there any evidence of restriction of choice or crowding out? And has technology made the licence fee obsolete?

The actual answer is probably no.

If the BBC contined to get three and a half billion pounds a year, yet was watched by only a small fraction of people, that might be grounds to cut the BBC down to size, etc. Yet 99% use its services on a weekly basis, and some 98% of viewers watch BBC1 at least once during any given week (and has a 21% average share).

Since we have a huge amount of choice, just on terrestial TV (and even more on Sky, where it should be pointed out that BBC viewing does not greatly differ from terrestial), there seems to be little evidence of any stranglehold by the BBC. You can chose to watch any number of channels, yet the vast majority of us continue to watch the BBC - are we brainwashed?

As to the idea of 'crowding out', this normally applies where there is a free and open market, which is distorted by the state. The UK's broadcasting structure is regulated, so its hardly a free market in the classical sense. And there is no single market in terms of funding. ITV and the rest of the non-BBC channels advertise, Sky manages the neat trick of getting people to pay to watch it, and advertise to them at the same time (although its only a small part of their revenue stream), and of course the BBC gets theirs via the licence fee.

You could argue that there is an opportunity cost in the licence fee, since people could spend that on services from the commercial sector, and certainly the BBC has a commercial arm, selling books, etc, but even PBS in the States does that, and its very difficult to argue that thats crowding out the market.

A reprt asking if there was no BBC Reuters Institute for the study of Journalism did ask the question about crowding out, but since the data is sparse, the best they could up with was to suggest that 'most economists' agree that there must be.

They state 'none of its proponents has to our knowledge provided any empirical evidence to support it or tested the presumption that a free market with out the BBC, funded by subscriptions and advertising, would meet consumers' needs better than the current mixed economy'.

So they had a look at the data, and even given the BBC critics the benefit of the doubt (and assuming that there is crowding out), if there was no BBC and no licence fee, the net effect would be:

'Total TV industry revenue would most likely be lower, although there
is a wide range of uncertainty about how much

Total content investment would be 5 25% lower.

Investment in first - run UK content would be 25 50% lower.

The net impact on viewers would vary, but most would suffer a reduction in both choice and value for money.

A 25 50% net reduction in investment in first - run UK content would also be a
severe blow to UK production companies.'

Actually, one of the possible outcomes was for investment in first run UK features to fall by 57%. Some of their assumptions were more positive, with revune up by possibly 10%, but overall, it looked bad. And the impact on viewers would two-fold. Not only would large amounts of UK content disappear, they also calculated that the cost to the viewer would increase. If non PSB commercial sources became the the main means of accessing TV, then costs per viewer per hour would be four times the cost of the BBC and PSB commercial channels. In other words, Sky would cost them much much more money. And less choice. And less quality programming.

Crowding out makes no sense when you think about it. Is there a very limited number of actors, technicians, writers and directors? Judging by Equity's employment rate, clearly not. In fact the commercial channels tend to pay more anyway, so the market is in their favour. And the 'market' is not a zero sum game - if the BBC makes 'The Paradise', that does not mean that ITV cannot make 'Dowton Abbey'. And thanks to PVR's, and streaming, we can watch both 'The X Factor', and 'Strictly'.

In fact there is an argument that the BBC raises everyones game. It trains and nutures talent, provides programmes that other broadcasters want to copy (Dancing on Ice, Got To Dance,etc), and pushes innovation. There really wouldn't be digital if the BBC hadn't stepped in after Ondigital crashed and burned. It was the BBC who introduced colour TV, the BBC website was early in the game on the net (and the BBC computer was a huge force in opening up the home computer market) and Iplayer led the way on streaming content. Far from crowding out, they were trailblazing.

And if the commercial's are so good, where are the childrens channels, the nature documentaries, etc? The BBC won 13 out the 25 childrens' BAFTA awards this year (and at least 5 they weren't even eligible). Yes, CN won the kids votes for channel of the year, but its the BBC which is investing in the kids TV. Its certainly not Sky.

The that now we can stream, we dont need the BBC any more is one of the most stupid memes around today. Its generally uttered by metropolitan journo's, who have the money and the capacity to stream Breaking Bad. I love Breaking Bad, but most people in the US didn't watch it, and nether did most people in the Uk, even when it was on terrestial (it was sort of hidden away).

Its basically the tech version of 'let them eat cake'. At least 30 years after VCR's became cheap enough to buy for almost every home, the bulk of viewing is still done LIVE. Not even recorded. The amount of streaming thats done is really very small. Yes, its growing, but even so, most people dont do it, and if they do, not a lot, and usually via Iplayer. Even if you have the capacity to stream (as MikeP points out, 2mb is the ambition of the government!), you may not even want or feel the need to. When everyones broadband is as universal and fast as TV reception is now, then we'll talk. Until then, lets be practical.

Essentially, most people watch TV in much the same way as we did in 1975, albeit with vastly more channels, and the capacity to chat about it instantly. Seems crazy to me, but since we are essentially still apes on the savannah, why expect a massive change in viewing habits, just because the technology is there for many, but by no means all?

'The BBC has no monopoly of truth nor of wisdom.' Indeed. You dont have to watch or listen to it, and if you disagree with something, you are more than welcome to tell them. Personally, I though the BBC's coverage of the anti-terrorism debate and todays report were awful, and I will let them know. You might disagree. Thats fine.

But its the worst solution, apart from all the rest. I have no problem with people coming up with different ideas, but I like those ideas to be grounded in reality and have actual evidence to back them up. What tends to happen is little more than handwaving and objecting on 'principle' to the BBC and the licence fee, even if its abolition would lead to poorer programmes, less choice and at higher cost.

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MikeB's 2,579 posts GB flag
Sunday, 7 December 2014

11:23 AM

I saw in the Sun newspaper other day about 11 BBC bosses on £350,000 per year..... its crazy i mean the prime minister don't earn that.... BBC is a public company its time to say no to these silly wages....... no wonder the workers of BBC get upset and get allot less money.

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rob's 171 posts GB flag

7:06 PM

rob: Firstly, you read it in the Sun...which is A) The Sun, and B) owned by Rupert Murdoch, who is hardly a disinterested party.

Secondly, what wage would you want highly experienced people who made decisions involving millions of pounds to actually be paid? Minimum wage plus luncheon vouchers? The same as an MP? And how much do you want the PM to be paid? In reality, a relatively large number of professionals are paid more than the PM, but then again, the PM is possibly underpaid.

MP's were so scared of appearing to line their own pockets by having a bigger wage, that instead, they grabbed whatever expenses they could, on the grounds that no one would really notice. How did that work out? The PM also gets a free house in London (No.10), and presumably keeps his allowance towards another home, and has access to his country home, Chequers.

I notice that the article didn't bother asking what similar managers at ITV, C5, C4 and Sky earn. In the case of Sky, they didn't even need to go very far. The BBC did point this out in their rebutting of the article Contact right! BBC's rapid rebuttal unit goes into action against the Sun | Media | The Guardian - the head of Sky and ITV get twice what the head of the BBC gets, and bonus/share options on top.

So just how many Sky employee's are paid more than the PM? Waiting for answers...

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MikeB's 2,579 posts GB flag
Monday, 8 December 2014

8:27 AM


I was only saying is it really necessary for BBC bosses to be on over inflated wages while that wages could have been better spent on more new programmes while this Christmas is going to be full of repeats..... its time UK public tell theses bosses where to go. as the lower wage worker is getting alot less which is not fair or balanced.

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rob's 171 posts GB flag

7:47 PM

rob: You havn't actually supplied any evidence that BBC bosses are paid 'over inflated wages' (?) . When you supply the pay rates of the equivalent ITV, C4, C5, and Sky executives, then we are having a discussion. In fact, throw in some advertising positions and newspaper execs as well into the mix. Right now, all you've done is handwaving.

BTW - how exactly does the pay of TV executives impact on the plight of the low paid?

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MikeB's 2,579 posts GB flag
Dave Hagen
8:14 PM

MikeB: Take a look at what Alan Yentob gets paid for both his job descriptions, it is the BBC that's being discussed here not ITV.

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Dave Hagen's 19 posts GB flag

10:35 PM

Dave Hagen: I agree with you Alan yentob is being paid in 3 different jobs in the BBC. Now is that the correct way to spend our license fee. I am not interested what ITV bosses get as ITV does not get any money from license fee. Sky its up to people if they want it or not. We don't get that choice with BBC. If BBC became subscription based tv. I will not want to pay for bbc but it be my choice.

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rob's 171 posts GB flag

11:05 PM

rob: Whatever Alan Yentob is paid (and I believe his role is something of a special case) is a red herring.

When I asked you about what someone at his level in Sky, ITV, etc is being paid, its because there is a market rate for any job. I'm sure the HR dept where ever you work keeps a close eye on the local rates of pay, and what competitors pay. If they don't, they are not a very good HR dept.

What ITV or Sky pays is relevent in two ways. Firstly, if you are going to claim that the BBC managers are overpaid, what are you comparing them with? If you have no figures, but just quote-mined from Google, thats simply handwaving. I want to see data.

Secondly, if the BBC wants to attarct or retain experienced, quality staff, it needs to pay people a competative salary. The BBC very quickly pointed out in rebuttal to the Sun story that it tends to pay anything from 20% to 80% less than other broadcasters. It can do this becuase its the BBC, and people want to work with it. But they also need to make a living, and in the current TV sector, talant is highly sought after. Its not just all the TV channels that need people, its the increasingly large independent sector, owned by large multinational companies. If your good, you can paid far more outside the BBC. The BBC has to respond to that.

So my question remoains - what exactly should a senior BBC exec be paid, and how does that relate to their counterpart in other organisations? Facts please, not empty opinion.

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MikeB's 2,579 posts GB flag
Tuesday, 9 December 2014

7:10 AM

MikeB are you a tory toff who are the rich and discrimiate ITV sky..... end of the day BBC is suppose to be a PUBLIC service..... again newspaper article headlines BBC wasted £21 million on taxi rides? this is total misuse of licence fee.... time to get rid of it its no longer needed due to digital age... time for people make a choice not forced to pay for

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rob's 171 posts GB flag
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