There's a lot of BBC-related stuff in today's Sunday Times, including a in-depth report by Tim Rayment headlined Taming the BBC beast.
Among other things, the piece crisply lays out why the BBC's long-standing imperial ambitions are such a problem:
On the day ITV was launched in 1955 a young woman died in The Archers. Her life ended horribly as she tried to save a horse from a fire and for 48 hours heartbroken listeners jammed the BBC switchboard, overshadowing the dawn of commercial television. A new instinct had joined the BBC’s Reithian values of public service broadcasting: the urge to smother all rivals....
Grace Archer is not the only example. In 1983 a commercial station called TV-am won the franchise to bring breakfast television to British viewers for the first time. The BBC rolled out a rival so fast that it beat TV-am to air. In 1997 it launched a rolling news channel, then called BBC News 24, as a competitor to Sky. It later contributed to the closure of a third entrant to the market, the ITV News Channel.
The BBC’s expansion in publishing reached an absurd and costly climax when BBC Worldwide, the corporation’s commercial arm, invested a total of £152m to buy Lonely Planet, only to sell it later at a £100m loss. The chancellor told Andrew Marr last Sunday. “If you look at the BBC website it is a good product but it is becoming a bit more imperial in its ambitions.”
And it is true. Twenty years ago, the editor of a national newspaper lost no sleep over the threat from the BBC, for all its excellence. Then readers began to get news online, print circulations fell and newspapers started charging for digital access to survive. At the same time, the BBC website was becoming more like a newspaper, with feature-length articles by some of its best-known brains appearing alongside everything from news to recipes.
Among the people whose proposals for the BBC are canvassed by Tim Rayment, David Elstein's strike me as the most sensible:
“I think the likeliest thing to go is the BBC News Channel,” says David Elstein, a former head of programming at Sky and former Channel 5 chief executive. “It should never have been launched.
“BBC Two is effectively repeats only until seven o’clock at night. BBC Four is heavily dominated by repeats.It’s only an evening channel anyway. It’s not beyond the wit of man to see how they could merge.”
He added: “One of the things that Tony Hall talked about last week was reducing ten layers of management to seven or less. It’s inconceivable to me that two years into his reign Tony Hall should still not have dealt with the ten layers of management.”
Elstein believes the BBC should encrypt the iPlayer and replace the licence fee with a menu of prices, charging more to people who connect multiple devices and less to those who connect only one, which would give many elderly or single people a discount. About a tenth of the population might then choose not to subscribe, he thinks; perhaps a fifth. “And that’s something the BBC would have to live with. And cut its cloth according to its income.”