As I See It

Time to put the BBC on a proper commercial footing

Terry Murden


Corporation’s excess needs tackling

At last the BBC is being ordered to face up to commercial reality. Chancellor George Osborne will this week order the corporation to meet the cost of subsidising free television licences for the over-75s, signalling an end to the BBC’s reliance on the taxpayer.

This is a meaningful allocation, equal to 17% of its total budget, and how it will stretch its budget to meet this target will be the subject of much hand-wringing from now until it is fully implemented in 2018/19.

The corporation always claims hardship even though to everyone else it looks bloated, excessively funded and overly comforted. Need to staff an overseas event with a team of reporters and production staff? Would a dozen be enough? Are you kidding? Any major event – especially sporting or political – gets the BBC overkill: at least enough to ensure regional reporters are sent out to duplicate what national reporters are already doing, and when there is nothing happening there should be enough reporters to interview each other.

The London 2012 Games were covered by 765 BBC staff, vastly outnumbering the 550 athletes competing for Team GB, and some had to make a long journey to get there. A very long journey. Just before the Games began the BBC relocated large numbers of its staff to Salford under a programme designed to share its influence and resources around the UK. As a result, 23% of Olympics staff had to commute from Greater Manchester to London. That would have been a nice little expense bill (for the taxpayer).

At least the BBC put on a performance worthy of the greatest show on earth – 2,500 hours of live action broadcast on 26 channels. It could afford to, of course, given that it has lost out on some many other A-list events from the Grand National to European Champions League Football.  However, there is bad news on the Olympics, too. The BBC has lost the broadcasting rights to the Discovery channel.

So, if it’s not sport, what else might the BBC spend its budget on? How about stitching up the local press with its money-no-object expenditure on websites that can carry as much information as it is humanly possible to handle without ever having to break sweat about making it commercially viable?

Surely it must be time for the BBC to compete for revenue alongside its peers? Don’t let anyone kid you that it is free of advertising. It already receives advertising income through the likes of the Good Food guide and other speciality services.

If the Chancellor’s objectives are to make the BBC stand on its own two feet it may mean the end of the licence fee and a greater reliance on the market. Now that really would be a cause for some hand-wringing, but also for some rejoicing among those who believe it has lived off the taxpayer for too long.

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