Simon Shaps: The BBC's strength now risks damaging the competition

Share
Related Topics

If a week is a long time in politics, then a matter of a few months feels like an eternity in television. It wasn't so very long ago that the BBC appeared to have legitimate cause for complaint about its £3bn-plus licence settlement. Programme budgets would need to be cut, expensive talent deals reined in, croissants axed – again – and, more recently, "off-site" bonding and brainstorming curtailed. The BBC has certainly not been shy about appearing in public wearing a hairshirt.

Today, in the wake of ITV's annual results and Channel 4's longstanding campaign for a bail-out, the BBC's position now looks somewhat different. Arguably, the source of its strength – guaranteed income – is fast becoming its Achilles' heel. Television in the UK works best when there is an equilibrium between competing broadcasters.

The viewers' interests are served by genuine competition for ideas and talent, as the schedules of the major broadcasters go head to head. If that delicate balance is upset, the consequences can be grim, with commercial broadcasters losing revenue as they lose audience. This isn't simply a question of the BBC outbidding commercial competitors for talent, sports rights or ideas. The BBC is too politically savvy to allow that to happen.

More dangerous is the corporation's ability to sustain investment across two major terrestrial channels, as well as its two digital channels, at a time when its commercial competitors are cutting back.

It isn't merely money spent on the programmes themselves that is the issue. Every pound the BBC spends on a drama, comedy or factual series, can be supported by significant cross-promotion from radio and online, as well as above the line marketing. (It is difficult to miss, for example, the campaign for the new sketch show on BBC3 by the stars of Gavin and Stacey, which seems to be on every London bus at the moment).

So, in an age when commercial television was a licence to print money, the BBC's access to public funding felt like a perfect counterweight. Now it risks damaging the competition, in particular the rich diet we have been used to for more than 50 years, of high quality, domestically produced programming.

In fairness to the BBC, none of this is really its fault. The BBC's director-general, Mark Thompson, can hardly be expected to hand a chunk of the licence fee back. Moreover, the evidence from yesterday's ITV results is that its on-screen performance is, in fact, holding up pretty well, boosted by shows such as Dancing on Ice, Whitechapel, Law and Order, Unforgiven and Wild at Heart.

But even if we cannot see it yet on screen, the danger signals are there. In time, that could pose a devilishly tricky problem for the BBC Trust, and ultimately for Government.

Simon Shaps is a former ITV director of television

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Project Coordinator

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: The Organisation: The Green Recrui...

Project Manager (HR)- Bristol - Upto £400 p/day

£350 - £400 per annum + competitive: Orgtel: Project Manager (specializing in ...

Embedded Linux Engineer

£40000 - £50000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Embedded Sof...

Senior Hardware Design Engineer - Broadcast

£50000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Working for a m...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The Lada became a symbol of Russia’s failure to keep up with Western economies  

Our sanctions will not cripple Russia. It is doing a lot of the dirty work itself

Hamish McRae
The Israeli ambassador to the US, Ron Dermer, has been dubbed ‘Bibi’s brain’  

Israel's propaganda machine is finally starting to misfire

Patrick Cockburn
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

Feather dust-up

A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
Boris Johnson's war on diesel

Boris Johnson's war on diesel

11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
5 best waterproof cameras

Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

Louis van Gaal interview

Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
Will Gore: The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series

Will Gore: Outside Edge

The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series
The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz