Say Goodbye to the BBC

28 Aug

I recently posed a question on Twitter:

This sparked a series of back and forth tweets between myself, @johncoxon and @robhague discussing various ways the current system might change. John promptly gathered up his thoughts in a blog post, and I thought I would do the same. I’ll borrow John’s description of the current system for those that don’t know how it works:

In the UK, watching live television (in colour) carries with it a licence fee of £145.50. This basically means that if you own a television you pay the fee (unless you can prove you’re not using it to watch live broadcasts) and technically speaking, if you watch iPlayer live, you are also required to have a licence.

Now I don’t know this for a fact, but I’d guess that the number of people renewing their TV license is slowly going down. As John mentioned the licence only applies to watching live TV, so assuming you can wait an hour or so you can save yourself £145.50 a year by using catch-up services like iPlayer, itvPlayer and 4oD. This is what me and my partner have decided to do this year, given how few shows we found we needed to actually watch live. It was discussing this decision recently that sparked the above tweet.

At some point, if people are opting to wait and save money, the BBC will need to look into new ways of being funded [1]. John mentioned a monitor tax which would be applied at the point of sale for most devices that can be used to watch TV. I’m not in favour of this system as it requires people to pay for a feature of the product they may never use, and it was extending this line of argument that lead me to decide that we should privatise some of the BBC.

I am very happy and willing to fund TV shows I like, but the more I think about the way the TV license works the more I realise I’m not entirely happy about paying for shows I don’t like. I do not see why I should be forced to pay for the entertainment of others. What I found especially striking was considering the system compared to other types of media. People are not expected to fund the films I like, nor the computer games, yet quite a lot of Brits are happy with the notion that everyone should chip in and fund their favourite TV shows.

Some people have argued that without the licence fee we’d end up like America, which they describe as having a few very high quality shows but the rest is awful broadcasting much below the level of the UK, as it’s the licence fee ensures the high quality of the BBC which in turn forces the other channels to up their game. The problem with this argument is that it’s completely subjective. The quality of the BBC or lack of quality of American shows is purely opinion, and so doesn’t really make a compelling argument for why I should pay £145.50 a year. It also doesn’t take into account all the other forms of media manage to make great works without relying on taxation for funding.

Without the licence fee I fully expect that we’d lose some shows, maybe even some shows that I like and would hate to see cancelled. But I think that’s fair. If there are not enough people who are willing to fund something you shouldn’t just get everyone else to cover the cost. You can moan all you want about what a detrimental effect it’ll have on creativity but I just think it is fundamentally unfair to force people to pay for something as trivial as a TV show.

Now I said initially that we should privatise some of the BBC, what I’m not suggesting is privatising BBC News. I think that BBC News should remain paid for by some sort of general taxation as I feel it’s providing a valuable service that everyone should have access to if they want it. Now it’s obviously nowhere near as important and as necessary as healthcare, but I do think it’s more important than the entertainment provided by general TV shows.

I’m almost certain that the growing ability to watch TV online thought various different services will cause some sort of change in the way the BBC works, and whatever form it ends up taking I don’t think that the change is very far off.

  1. The same problem faces road tax. Where will all the money come from when all cars are electric and exempt from road tax?


Posted by on August 28, 2013 in Blog


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10 responses to “Say Goodbye to the BBC

  1. Josh Barker (@RevJB)

    August 28, 2013 at 1:09 pm

    One could argue that with Films and Games that you are funding other projects you may not like. DVDs/Games/Cinema tickets are sold with the aim of making a profit. This profit is then used by the studio to work on other projects, some of which you may not be interested.

    I also feel that you run the risk of stifling new IP this is something that is very apparent in the Video Games market, not so much with films and TV as of yet. If you implement a system where you only pay for what you like you run the risk of endless sequels of rehashs of the same stuff. I will declare that this is an extreme and has a very low likely hood of happening. I bring it up because i have stumbled on more TV that i have liked and enjoyed because it just happens to be on TV and i have watched it. I don’t think i have ever bought a game or film ‘just in case i like it’.

    It will be interesting to see where it goes though as some big changes are due.

    • Fred

      August 28, 2013 at 1:22 pm

      If people would rather spend their money on sequels at the detriment of new IP then they should be allowed to. I may not like Call of Duty but a lot of people obviously do and really look forward to the new release each year or so.

      • Josh Barker (@RevJB)

        August 28, 2013 at 1:25 pm

        I’m not saying they shouldn’t be allowed to spend their money how they like, it’s just that if we got to an extreme where Call of Duty was the only game i would be very sad.

      • Fred

        August 28, 2013 at 1:28 pm

        But if you, and others, were sad then you could just fund other games. It’s a lot easier to get games out now thanks to things like Kickstarter, maybe something similar could happen with TV.

  2. S

    August 28, 2013 at 3:29 pm

    Note that even in the US, no channel allows customers to pick and choose which specific programmes they want to pay for: if you want to watch ‘Game of Thrones’ (God only knows why), you have to subscribe to HBO and fund ‘True Blood’ even if you hate anything with vampires in. If you want to watch ‘House of Cards’ you have to subscribe to Netflix and fund ‘Arrested Development’ even if you never got why anybody thought it was funny.

    In what way is paying for ‘Doctor Who’ and funding ‘Miranda’ different to those examples?

    What reason is there to think that a privatised BBC would adopt a pay-per-programme model, something no other broadcaster does, rather than following the same known-to-work single-subscription model as HBO, Netflix, Sky (which does tiered subscription, but all its original content is on the same tier: you can’t pay for ‘Stella’ but not ‘hit & Miss’), Starz, etc?

    • Fred

      August 28, 2013 at 7:58 pm

      The subscription model you mention isn’t one I’m advocating either, I hate subscriptions and tend to avoid them like the plague where possible.

      As for no one doing a pay per show format, I can think of quite a few series you can buy on iTunes, either as full seasons or on an episode by episode basis, the same being true of Blinkbox. Even itvPlayer has started letting you pay episodically or by series for some American shows.

      • S

        August 30, 2013 at 9:57 am

        All of those examples are after-markets, the same as DVDs or foreign sales. In theory, the productions costs have already been paid for by that time and they’re into pure profit.

        No original content carrier operates a per-programme payment model.

        (And even if one did, as noted above, it would still involve cross-funding; that would just be hidden in the ticket price, the way everybody who paid for a ticket to see Avengers Assemble was also funding John Carter. The whole economics of production in such an unpredictable business requires that the successes cover the cost of the flops, either openly or not.)

      • Fred

        August 30, 2013 at 10:37 am

        I’m not sure about the way itvPlayer or Blinkbox do it but iTunes definitely operates on day of release purchase model. You can buy a season pass that downloads the episodes on the day they air, and it’s this kind of thing I’d like to see more of.

        The level of cross funding you’re on about can’t be helped, I have no control over what they do with my money after I give it to them. But what I’d like to be able to do is give them my money through the channel of a show/film I like. I want them to know how much money they got specifically from something like Avengers, which they can use as some measure of success. If they want to then spend that money on a new project they can, but at least they’re aware of why they got the money in the first place.

  3. Claire

    August 28, 2013 at 3:43 pm

    The title is a disappointment. I was hoping for another “Don’ta”.

    I agree that the TV licence situation is far from ideal, but if it were abolished I can’t think of a scenario where we’d be better off. In order to keep the same level of funding, the BBC will have to get income from elsewhere, which would mean a decrease in quality (poorer shows, ads etc.) and/or possibly a subscription which may well cost me more than £145 per year to access (taking into account subscriptions I would have for all other channels I watch shows on.)

    It’s a difficult conundrum, and I look forward to complaining loudly when they solve it.

  4. matthewcro

    August 28, 2013 at 4:54 pm

    This also applies to BBC radio as well, you don’t have to pay a license fee to listen to any of analogue, digital or online radio stations (even though this is funded by the fee), so the same model applies to iPlayer. Surely this should be charged as well, as everyone has a radio in the car, and I’m sure there is a high proportion of those who listen to any of the BBC radio stations.

    As for charging for it, I had heard discussions about allowing expats to pay a fee so they could watch iPlayer overseas, where normally the live and on demand shows are blocked by the BBC. As for selling it off entirely if everyone did the same and just watched online, I doubt the government would want to sell of its state run TV station who it can appoint whoever it wants to run it and ‘maintain’ its ”impartiality’ for them.

    Also, your reference to road tax, its not technically a tax on roads, its a tax on vehicles. These taxes don’t directly fund roads and motorways, its merely another form of income for the government. Council tax tends to be the main source of funding for local roads. And before the tax was modified to take into account how ‘green’ your car was, it was measured differently (how I don’t exactly know), so I assume whatever system they had before would be applied the same way on electric/hydrogen cars.


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