TV, funding and the BBC

For a number of years now there has been a lot of hand-wringing at the commercial broadcasters’ over how to fund quality TV programming in a shrinking advertising market. I know this because I read the papers, but also because I have a friend who works for Channel 4,  and our conversation often swings around to this very subject after she’s had a few glasses of wine down the pub. Changing viewing habits, on-demand TV, PVRs, internet services, YouTube, the increase in the number of channels available to the consumer – they’re all whittling away at once mighty advertising revenue figures, and leaving broadcasters scratting around in the dirt for cheap (and in my opinion often dirty) TV.

Commercial broadcasters have seen advertising revenues slump over the past through years

Nothing you don’t already know there.

Against this backdrop, I noticed a piece in the Guardian on Wednesday (23rd September 2009) about the BBCs ‘arrogance’. It stated: ‘Meanwhile, the BBC is under siege from commercial competitors who argue that its dominance is distorting the market at a time when they are struggling to survive one of the most serious advertising downturns for generations’ and later: ‘Murdoch…used a landmark speach…to call for a “far far smaller” BBC’. You can read the full article here.

Well, hang on just a minute. Yes it is the worst advertising downturn for generations – but it’s not a temporary blip, it’s a long-term decline caused by changing technologies. It’s not going to get better fast. And I for one thank the lord that the BBC is at least somewhat insulated from its effects. After all, isn’t the licence fee a revenue stream? And doesn’t it work? Don’t we get four channels (and extras such as cbeebies, HD and News) of quality programming, a web resource second to none, and to crown it all the mighty iPlayer for only £140 odd a year? How good is that? Frankly Murdoch, if a ‘smaller BBC’ means losing out on innovations like the iPlayer, or the total awesomeness that is Radio 6 Music, you can stuff it. I’ll happily pay my £12 a month.

It also begs the question as to why other countries don’t adopt a similar model. I’m no expert in global broadcasting trends, but I had a conversation with a Canadian friend of mine who has been living in the UK for a few years now who was amazed at the quality of the BBC and by just how much we got for our money. I wonder whether it would make sense for  other nations to think about safeguarding their national broadcasting heritage by pumping in a bit of state cash. After all, what’s good for the banks…

Image thanks to fatcontroller

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