Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Tough Times Ahead At The Beeb

With Michael Grade's departure to ITV, the BBC looks like it is going to have more trouble getting through the proposed licence fee increase above the cost of inflation. It now seems as though getting an increase even in line with inflation will be tough.

I'm a fan of the BBC. I like some of their programming and enjoy both the news website and their radio content. However, as a firm believer in free markets, I think the BBC distorts and disrupts the UK media market. I can fully understand the desire to cater to niche markets, sports and areas of public life that we feel need to be protected, but why on earth does the BBC need to chase ratings with programmes like Eastenders. That is a show that could be entirely funded by third party advertisers and certainly needs no public subsidy. The same could be said of the extremely funny and extremely overpaid Mr Ross. Of course he does a great job with his chat show, but this raises the same questions about what the BBC exists to provide. There are many top UK business executives (Michael Grade might now be among them) who would be hauled over the coals for receiving a pay packet this large. How on earth can it be justified for a man who is effectively a civil servant?

The BBC should be stripped back to core programming. There is no need for it to have four or five digital channels. The website should take advertising revenue and a smaller core should be refocused on high quality, public interest programming. The rest can and should be provided by the private sector.

Arguments for retaining the BBC typically turn on the quality of the shows produced. I would understand this argument if I saw shows that lived up to this promise - Celebrity Scissorhands certainly doesn't. The US model proves that when media companies are left to their own devices they produce great output. Think of ER, The West Wing, The Sopranos etc., etc. Where are the UK equivalents? ITV is in their current position precisely because they let quality deteriorate. The market has spoken and ITV now has to lift its game.

The BBC is the second largest public body after the NHS. Is this really appropriate in a modern western democracy?

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