Friday 26 November 2021

Whither [or wither] the licence fee?

It was always one of the arguments in favour of the BBC being uniquely funded by the licence fee that only the BBC could produce in quantity the kind of high-quality arts programmes and documentaries that that their crowd-pleasing commercial rivals were reluctant to make. It was called 'public service broadcasting'.
The decision to turn BBC Four into repeats channel was just one sign that this argument has been breaking down, and it was reported a week ago, that Mark Bell, arts commissioning editor for the BBC, has explicitly rejected such esoteric programmes in favour of “TV that people want to watch” and “find things that will play at 8pm and appeal to all sorts of broader audiences”.

Now, as Charlie notes on the open thread, Ofcom is reporting that the BBC has cut its original arts programming by half in the past decade [from 305 hours ten years ago to 154 hours last year], its history programmes by more than a quarter [from 814 hours to 595 hours], its music programmes by three-fifths [from 239 to 93 hours], and its original children's programming by two-fifths [from 705 hours to 437 hours]. 

In other words, the BBC has become dramatically less of a public service broadcaster over the last decade. So what's the justification for the licence fee now - especially when many of their commercial rivals are producing superb arts programmes and documentaries?

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