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BBC: great value for money: but what’s it worth?

by on 4 Jul, 2013

The tsunami of bad news from and about the BBC calls into question another UK institution.  The BBC is 9 years short of its centenary and some would like to see the BBC in its grave.

Just to recap:

Jimmy Savile and Stuart Hall molesting people on BBC premises: expect claims for damages by victims and licence payers to cough up;

Payoffs over the odds to senior managers made redundant, and licence payers coughing up again;

Failure of a digital system and more coughing by licence payers of over £98 million;

And the string of perhaps not remembered criticisms including the poor Jubilee river pageant coverage, and the Ross and Brand offensive telephone call.

More bad news to come

I expect more.  The BBC’s enemies are on the war path.   The chief leading the charge is Rupert Murdoch in whose media you will get a steady feed of criticism.

Is the BBC worth it?  Let’s talk about price first, although that is the lowest signal of worth.

Great value for money

Licence payers fork out £145.50 a year for their TV.  It goes to the BBC.  They get 8 TV channels; 16 and more radio networks; and the BBC news website and iPlayer.  That is great value for money.  Read the BBC Annual Report to see what it does.

BBC: great value for money

BBC: great value for money

But it is weighted to people like me.  Radio 3 is a superb classical radio channel, supporting the Proms.  The interest generally in classical music is for the over 40s.  But there’s more.  “A YouGov poll of 2,000 people under 25 has shown that 60% of them are keen to explore new genres of music outside of pop, with 31% of that group wanting to learn more about classical music,” says Radio 3s commercial competitor Classic FM.

Business model under threat

Over 400,000 people pay no fee to the BBC but consume its content online.   A large loss of revenue and a large question mark over its business model.

And commerce is what it’s about.   The strength of the BBC, with its £5 billion turnover, crowds out the potential for commercial success, say its market-oriented critics.  They are right.  They already have a success.  They have forced the BBC to sell off its magazine arm.

And they want more.  They often argue that the BBC should not compete in the popular TV market against ITV.   What would the first Director General Lord Reith say about “Strickly Come Dancing”?

BBC a journalistic cult

How close or how far away from the commercial world is not the key, said Dr Andrew Calcutt this week in a discussion about the BBC.  The BBC is as much a cult of journalism as is the Murdoch media.  It is a cult which has not adequately reported Euroscepiticism, nor the concerns about immigration.  It is a centre-liberal and largely London-centered cult.

Without the BBC what would happen?  We would still get the main sporting events which the BBC can no longer compete for.  We would still get the best, and the worst, of US and continental European media.   But there is clear evidence that with a large public service broadcaster the public is better informed.  That’s the worth of the BBC despite what is coming down the road in the form of more bad news.

The next bad news will be about the relationship between the BBC executives and the Trust, which is meant to regulate it on behalf of the license payer.  That could be the killer punch.

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