Dawn Airey on Broadcasting

Come on, BBC: you've got a nerve asking for that kind of money on and you know you are

Just imagine if you ran a business with £3bn guaranteed revenues, with no competition for them, and with very limited scrutiny of how you spend them. Nice work if you can get it. But then imagine how stressed you would get if that business only had one customer, and that that customer decided every few years whether to go on paying you, and how much. You would look after that customer pretty well, and put quite a lot of effort into convincing it to renew its subscription.

That's what Mark Thompson feels like while he's managing the UK's biggest lobbying programme - about the decision on the licence-fee level. The BBC's not so subtle strategy, and this happens with every licence-fee settlement, is to ask for a jaw-dropping increase in funding, in the hope of compromising for just an extraordinary rise. It's amazing that the Treasury and the Department for Culture, Media, and Sport even bother to read the corporation's first proposal - they might as well just send it back with "reduce by 50 per cent" scrawled on the cover.

The BBC's initial bid would mean that it increased its expenditure by £6bn over seven years, or about twice the revenues of the entire commercial-radio sector in the period. It plans to fund this increase with £3.9bn of "self help" and a £2.1bn increase in the licence fee.

Does the BBC need this sort of increase to cope with ever-increasing demand for its product? No, actually. The licence fee (which even the BBC has admitted is really a tax) has increased by 46 per cent from its March 1996 level of £86.50, at a time when average consumption of BBC television services has declined by 20 per cent. More than a third of adults now watch less than five hours a week of BBC television and, in an average week, one in six of us watches less than 15 consecutive minutes of any BBC channel. So it is hardly surprising that support for the fee has been slipping.

The BBC makes some great programmes. So it should, on that kind of money. But my advice to the BBC bosses is to be careful what you wish for. By shooting for a licence fee of around £190 when people are using the corporation's output less and less, I think there is a real danger that the BBC is putting at risk the general goodwill the British public still feels towards it, not to mention the danger that the sheer scale of the BBC will stifle investment and innovation from a commercial sector that doesn't enjoy the luxury of guaranteed income.

There have been only the sketchiest details of what it would actually use this extra money for, and the few examples we hear about have hardly helped explain things. Support for the corporation is strained when it first announces that the settlement must pay for its £600m move to Manchester and then says that this will actually only cost £400m. Then there's the £3.9bn of licence-fee-payers' money the BBC has discovered that it's already wasting, even though it argued vehemently last time around that this same pile of cash was vital to its remit. This might just be a small taster of what it could really save if it tried.

And the Government should be extremely wary of committing to a long-term settlement. My favourite two quotes from the BBC White Paper are these: "Broadcasting in 2016 will bear little relation to today's media world" (p5), and "The television licence fee remains the best way to fund the BBC and will remain its main funding mechanism throughout the next 10 years" (p8). It seems odd to accept that broadcasting is changing beyond recognition yet blindly to sign up to the status quo for 10 years.

The BBC says that it needs a long settlement - it's angling for around seven years - to allow it to plan. Well I'm sure we'd all like to have seven years of absolute certainty in our income, but there are plenty of companies, and plenty of public-sector bodies, who manage to take major strategic decisions and fulfil a clear remit without having anything like that. The Government should start being a more demanding customer on everyone's behalf.

Dawn Airey is Managing Director, Channels and Services, BSKyB.

News
i100'Geography can be tough'
News
newsVideo targets undecided voters
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Pixie Lott will take part in Strictly Come Dancing 2014, the BBC has confirmed
tv
Life and Style
Cooked up: reducing dietary animal fat might not be as healthy as government advice has led millions of people to believe
healthA look at how governments started advising incorrectly on diets
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Management Accountant

£30-35k + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Management Accoun...

UI Designer / UX Designer

£40 - 60k + Amazing Benefits: Guru Careers: A UI Designer / UX Designer is nee...

SEO Manager / SEO Expert / Head of Search

£30 - 35k: Guru Careers: An SEO Manager / SEO Expert is needed to join an inno...

Business Development Manager / Sales Pro

£30 - 35k + Uncapped Comission (£70k Y1 OTE): Guru Careers: A Business Develop...

Day In a Page

Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

The science of herding is cracked

Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

This tyrant doesn’t rule

It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?
Rachael Lander interview: From strung out to playing strings

From strung out to playing strings

Award-winning cellist Rachael Lander’s career was almost destroyed by the alcohol she drank to fight stage fright. Now she’s playing with Elbow and Ellie Goulding
The science of saturated fat: A big fat surprise about nutrition?

A big fat surprise about nutrition?

The science linking saturated fats to heart disease and other health issues has never been sound. Nina Teicholz looks at how governments started advising incorrectly on diets
Emmys 2014 review: Can they genuinely compete with the Oscars

Can they genuinely compete with the Oscars?

The recent Emmy Awards are certainly glamorous, but they can't beat their movie cousins
On the road to nowhere: A Routemaster trip to remember

On the road to nowhere

A Routemaster trip to remember
Hotel India: Mumbai's Taj Mahal Palace leaves its darker days behind

Hotel India

Mumbai's Taj Mahal Palace leaves its darker days behind
10 best pencil cases

Back to school: 10 best pencil cases

Whether it’s their first day at school, uni or a new project, treat the student in your life to some smart stationery
Arsenal vs Besiktas Champions League qualifier: Gunners know battle with Turks is a season-defining fixture

Arsenal know battle with Besiktas is a season-defining fixture

Arsene Wenger admits his below-strength side will have to improve on last week’s show to pass tough test
Pete Jenson: Athletic Bilbao’s locals-only transfer policy shows success does not need to be bought

Pete Jenson: A Different League

Athletic Bilbao’s locals-only transfer policy shows success does not need to be bought
This guitar riff has been voted greatest of all time

The Greatest Guitar Riff of all time

Whole Lotta Votes from Radio 2 listeners
Britain’s superstar ballerina

Britain’s superstar ballerina

Alicia Markova danced... every night of the week and twice on Saturdays
Berlin's Furrie invasion

Berlin's Furrie invasion

2000 fans attended Eurofeurence
‘It was a tidal wave of terror’

‘It was a tidal wave of terror’

Driven to the edge by postpartum psychosis