Jul 23rd 2015

Dealing with buffering in the BBC’s revenue streams

The BBC is an institution about as British as you can get and is renowned around the world for programmes like Strictly Come Dancing, EastEnders, Dr Who, Planet Earth,  BBC World News, University Challenge and Blackadder, to name a few. Yet, in the past few weeks it has seen its fair share of headlines as many wonder; can the BBC fund itself? What?! Channel 4 and ITV run (almost without exception) 24 hours of okay, mediocre and downright rubbish television and still manage to turn a profit, yet the home of TopGear is in dire straits?! How can this happen?!

There is a part of me that wants to blame Tory cuts for strangling the creative and artist heart of the country. Refusing to continue paying the TV License fees for over 75s is cutting off a vital source of income for the BBC, £650 million to be precise. But another part of me knows that cuts are going to be made somewhere and my local A and E should probably get priority over Live at the Apollo.

There is still something troubling. Even with the loss of government funding, how is the BBC and the BBC alone among the ever growing number of TV channels struggling with funding when it is still producing some of the world’s top television programmes?

A range of factors are contributing to the rapidly thinning BBC budget, and the reduced number of households paying for TV licences is having a big impact. It’s not that over the past few years Britain has become a nation of licence fee-dodgers; it’s that the BBC only charges the licence fee for those watching live TV. When was the last time you watched live TV? Really? Even I, as a slave to the Coronation Street schedule, struggle to remember the last time I stopped what I was doing to be ready for the start. Aged 9, I remember the closing music as my 8pm cue for bed time yet now, I watch it in 30 minute blocks when I find the time. With the flexibility of iPlayer and 4oD, why would I plan my days around TV schedules when I can spend Saturday night on the tiles and still watch Casualty, bacon butty in hand, the next morning. And why on earth would I pay for a TV licence solely for the live TV I never watch?

This has got to be one of the biggest problems facing the BBC, of the myriad of services it provides for the British public, only live TV comes with a price tag. I don’t think it can be overstated how ridiculous this is. Imagine you own a successful cake shop in London and due to customer demand you launch an online site. However, rather than selling your famed Bakewell tarts to the masses, you send them free of charge to anyone and everyone who asks as you only charge for cake sold from the physical shop. It would never happen.

The BBC has made huge progress in adapting for a digital audience; however it has so far failed to translate this development into a revenue stream capable of sustaining the institution. Couple this with the fact that 60 million, yes 60 million people are accessing iPlayer outside the UK with no cost means it really needs to buck up its ideas when it comes to ensuring its services make the money it needs to survive.

The cuts to licence funding should be a wake-up call for the BBC. Whether it introduces a subscription, extends the licence fee to cover iPlayer or takes a different tack all together, it is essential that it must act quickly to keep the money needed to stay afloat streaming in.


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