Amount of TV produced in UK ‘would fall by 50 per cent if BBC didn’t exist,’ claims new study

Findings of researchers at Oxford University will aid Corporation as it fends off calls for licence fee to be shared

Media Editor

The amount of television produced in Britain would fall by as much as 50 per cent if the BBC were to no longer exist, according to a study by researchers at Oxford University.

A report compiled by the university’s Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism claims that “a future without BBC Television” is a “logical conclusion” of proposed changes to the organisation’s funding ahead of its next Royal Charter beyond 2016.

The findings, predicting a collapse in home-grown programming without the BBC, are helpful to the Corporation as it tries to fend off calls for the licence fee to be shared with other broadcasters or for reduced funding which would mean “salami-slice” cuts in its resources.

A reduced BBC would be “bad for the public”, said one of the report’s co-authors Patrick Barwise, a visiting fellow at the Institute. “[Critics] conclude that viewers would be better served if the BBC were smaller – allowing commercial broadcasters to expand – and showed only public service programmes that the market will not provide. We think our analysis demolishes that argument. A smaller BBC would be bad for the public even in pure consumer terms: choice and value for money.”

The study found that overall investment in all television programmes would fall by five to 25 per cent, and that investment in new UK programmes would drop by between 25 and 50 per cent. The authors said this would be a “severe blow” to the UK’s independent television production sector.

The findings come after a succession of senior broadcasting figures have advocated radical changes to the BBC’s current funding model. Former BBC chairman and former Channel 4 Chief Executive Lord Grade suggested to MPs that Channel 4 should be allowed to compete for a share of the licence fee and that the BBC should reduce its in-house programme making to news and current affairs only.

But the Institute’s report said scaling back the BBC would not mean other organisations expanded their output. “The evidence suggests that, on the contrary, the BBC probably forces commercial channels to spend more on programmes in order to attract viewers. If this is correct, losing BBC Television would be even more damaging to viewers and programme producers than the report projects,” it said.

The authors predicted that if the Government continued to force reductions of the BBC (as it did with the freezing of the licence fee at the last settlement in 2010) then the organisation would be quickly “reduced to a minor sideshow”, the equivalent of America’s Public Broadcasting Service, which is largely funded by philanthropy.

Tony Hall, the Director General of the BBC, will today argue that the organisation should model itself on John Lewis rather than adopting the management culture of the banking sector.

Tony Hall, Director General of the BBC (Getty) Tony Hall, Director General of the BBC (Getty)
Lord Hall’s sympathy for the department store chain and its model of sharing profits among its employees will be seen as an attack on the generous executive pay structure adopted under the previous BBC regime.

In a speech to the Oxford Media Convention, he will appeal to the public to support the BBC’s current licence fee funding model by highlighting the organisation’s importance to Britain’s national culture on the international stage.

“We have a creative sector in this country that is world-beating,” he will say. “The BBC is an essential part of that. And it’s British: owned by the British people. Google is more than double the size of the whole UK broadcasting market [and] Apple seven times bigger. Today, I believe the BBC’s cultural influence still matches theirs. I want that to be true at the end of this charter and into the next.”

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