Michael Grade: Only the BBC can afford to push the boundaries

From the keynote address to the CBI Annual Conference in Birmingham, by the Chairman of the BBC
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The Independent Online

The BBC was built on spectrum scarcity. But today spectrum is plentiful. The public policy question therefore is: How can the BBC's exceptionally privileged position continue to be justified in this new, highly populated landscape? I have no doubt that it can - that's why I took the job. But I also have no doubt that as the landscape changes, so the BBC itself must change.

Let there be no misunderstanding. I am not here to question broadcasting delivered by the market. My family were among the founders of commercial television, where I spent most of my broadcasting career. I'm proud of what I achieved in ITV, in America and at Channel 4.

But there is no doubt that, as the commercial broadcasting market fragments and competition intensifies, the freedom of manoeuvre that I and my generation enjoyed is fast disappearing. Those were the days of the ITV advertising sales monopoly, when your sales director never came in on a Wednesday because it mucked up both weekends.

Commercial television still does wonderful things, but the surest route to success these days is to avoid risk: to find predictable, commodity programming, to clone the last successful format - and minimise investment in news and current affairs.

The BBC remains free from those pressures. Its secure funding enables it to break new ground, to take risks, and to push the boundaries. That ability - indeed that duty - to take risks is now under threat everywhere else in public service broadcasting.

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