The BBC licence fee is superb value for money

Just ask Gary Lineker, who thinks it should be doubled

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The Independent Online

Over the weekend, I tweeted that anyone with doubts about whether the BBC licence fee represented good value for money should go on to iPlayer and watch the Arcade Fire set from Glastonbury. It was a mesmerising, inspiring, emotionally charged performance by the rock band from Montreal. The BBC’s coverage was superb, and the iPlayer – a groundbreaking piece of effective technology – meant that I could enjoy this musical extravaganza whenever, and wherever, I wanted. The monthly cost of the licence fee is £12.13, and I would have paid double that for this experience alone.

No sooner had my opinion been loosed into the Twittersphere than Gary Lineker – yes, it was he, direct from his redoubt in Rio de Janeiro – responded by reminding me that the BBC does football rather well, too. (He’s not wrong about that: a friend of mine has only watched half the World Cup because she cannot stand the advert breaks on ITV. Not to mention Glenn Hoddle.)

I responded to Lineker by adding “Newsnight, the Today programme, and that thing with Matt LeBlanc”. (It’s a sitcom called Episodes, by the way.)

There’s nothing like a debate about the value of the licence fee to raise the temperature on Twitter and beyond. Lineker then made a bold suggestion, calculated to get the tweets flowing. “Make it double,” he tweeted, “but optional”. At this level, say 25 quid a month, it is still by some distance cheaper than the full Sky package. However, the optional element would mean that the BBC could never have a guaranteed income, and thus would find it harder to plan programme budgets, or, indeed, bid for the rights to big sporting events.

But it’s an interesting idea, and one that Lineker was happy to expand on. “Takes away the tax aspect,” he wrote. “20 quid a month, pensioners free, non compulsory, remain commercial free. Great value!” You can imagine what the forces of conservatism thought of these radical ideas. “The BBC is a compulsory tax, out of date in the modern world,” tweeted a senior executive on the Daily Mail, a newspaper which defends the great institutions of Britain (but not the BBC).

He suggested that the Beeb “should have the courage of its convictions” and go for a subscription model. “I’d pay for it,” he added. As more joined the thread, it developed into an argument about how people watch TV these days. Was the licence fee an outdated blunt instrument, “an analogue solution to a digital age”, as someone put it? Of course, young people access TV programmes through a variety of different devices, (although almost always in households where someone has paid the licence fee), but as Gary L pointed out, not many people watch the World Cup on iPlayer. On and on the discussion went, until someone tweeted “Rubbish” in capital letters, and then I tuned out.

It is the fact that the licence fee is regarded as a “tax” that sends people loopy. It should be thought of as a “benefit” of a functioning, mature democracy, in the way that roads, hospitals and schools are. It’s not just about seeing Arcade Fire or Brazil v Colombia. It’s not even about the quality of the content. It’s about the quality of our lives.