Licence Fee will endure as BBC Director General reveals BBC future

DetailsEditor | 03 March 2015

On the back of stinging criticism from the UK Government regarding its funding and governance, the BBC has revealed its response and its plans for what may be an uncertain future.

Only days ago, in a damning assessment, the UK's powerful Culture, Media and Sport Committee called for major changes to the BBC's funding and governance. Even though it regarded the BBC as a valued and important feature of national life, the committee said that it could see no long-term future in the BBC Licence Fee and said the corporation was in need of stronger governance and more challenging, independent oversight if it is to be held accountable. Moreover, it said that there were major questions to be answered by the BBC as to what justifies the close to £4 billion of public money spent on the corporation, and what the scope and scale of its activities should be.

BBCIn a speech effectively representing the BBC's first response since the criticism, BBC Director General Tony Hall welcomed the report, calling it an important piece of work. Pointedly, Hall noted that the BBC had always said that the Licence Fee should be updated to reflect changing times. "I welcome the committee's endorsement of our proposal to require people to pay the licence fee even if they only watch catch-up television," he said. "The committee has suggested another route to modernising the Licence Fee – a universal household levy. Both proposals have the same goal in mind: adapting the Licence Fee for the Internet age. This is vital. Because I believe we need and we will need what the Licence Fee – in whatever form – makes happen more than ever."

In his speech Hall had three key points to make: that the BBC has embraced the Internet age; that the Internet strengthens the case for the BBC; that the Internet gives the corporation tools to make public service broadcasting even better. To do this, though, the DG conceded that the BBC must reinvent itself.

But despite being open to other options, Hall asserted that people increasingly prefer the Licence Fee to other models of funding and that as providing funding for content of the quality that the British public expect, he added that the Licence Fee would become even more important.

However, in the speech Hall revealed new services for the modern BBC. These included personalised recommendations on the iPlayer and BBC website homepage and a personalised BBC app, which will remember viewers' favourite programmes, artists, music, interests, DJs and sports teams. And this fitted in with a key part of the future strategy: public service recommendations.

"I don't think anyone in the market has cracked recommendations. I want us to be the first to get it right, but to do something different," he said. "The potential is huge. Letting our audience become schedulers. Giving you the health news that you need, based on data you choose to share with us ...This is the start of a real transformation – the myBBC revolution. How to reinvent public service broadcasting through data. But we'll always be doing it our way – not telling you what customers like you bought, but what citizens like you would love to watch and need to know."

Concluding, Hall said that the BBC's stated aim was to become an organisation of world-class quality with global reach in what's becoming a single global market. Yet its future was not 100% guaranteed. "We must take on the notion that the old ideals of public service broadcasting may become irrelevant," Hall suggested. "Because that notion affects what we decide now. If you think you're running something down, you don't think about what you can do to help it flourish. But if we want a BBC that's even better in the future, we will need to take far-sighted decisions now so we don't inadvertently let the BBC wither."

As Hall was speaking, the BBC revealed that it was creating a new BBC Studios production division within the public service, independent of BBC Television. This will give production greater visibility within the BBC and an increased autonomy over its long-term strategy. It will operate as a separate subsidiary of the BBC group, operating at arms-length from the public service, to ensure that there is no cross-subsidy. Children's and Sport, with different commissioning and production models and relationships to the market, are not be included in this part of the proposal as they have different production models and market characteristics.