BBC director-general Tony Hall has delivered a robust defence of the UK licence fee that funds the corporation and has called for it to be extended to cover BBC iPlayer.
Delivering a speech at the Oxford Media Convention, Hall rejected the subscription or advertising-financed models for the BBC. He said the BBC “would become an organisation motivated by maximising profit” under a subscription system, while advertising “would also narrow the range of content on the BBC” as well as undermining the business model of ITV and Channel 4.
Hall said that the view that the licence fee could not be sustained in the digital age is misplaced. “The facts just don’t bear this out. Around 90% of all television viewing is still live. Well under 2% of households consume only on-demand TV content. And this number is growing only slowly,” he said.
“Funding by licence fee therefore remains practical and sustainable.”
Hall nevertheless called for the fee to be modernised to take into account the changing pattern of consumption of BBC services, pointing out that the licence fee already covers consumption of live services via computers.
“When and how best to take the next step is, of course, a matter for the Government. Our view is that there is room for modernisation so that the fee applies to the consumption of BBC TV programmes, whether live on BBC One or on-demand via BBC iPlayer,” said Hall.
Hall also rejected the idea of “top slicing” or sharing the licence fee amongst other public service broadcasters.
“Contestable funding feels like a solution in search of a problem. In the anxiety to privatise the BBC, this proposal suggests nationalising the rest of the sector,” he said.
“But, most importantly, the fragmentation of the licence fee risks de-stabilising a broadcasting model that works. A model that is based on competition for quality – but not funding – between public and private broadcasters. Top-slicing means just that – less and less funding for content and services that we know people love. And by weakening the BBC, you also weaken the competitive intensity that underpins the success of UK broadcasting.”
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