Can’t Afford to Tell the Truth
Owen Bennett-Jones on the state of the BBC
Depending on how one defines the BBC’s purpose, its licence fee income of £3.8 billion is either too much or not enough. In a world dominated by Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix and Google, it’s ever harder for the BBC to keep up. It is estimated that Netflix alone will have spent upwards of $12 billion on content in 2018. It has a global audience of more than 130 million, a figure that is increasing by more than two million each month. The problem is that, faced with such numbers, the licence fee can never provide sufficient funds to allow the BBC to compete. It’s only a matter of time before Wimbledon and other prized parts of the output go the way of the Premier League and Sir David Attenborough onto better financed channels. That’s not the only difficulty. It is generally reckoned that if the BBC is to justify being the beneficiary of a poll tax, the BBC needs to reach at least 90 per cent of the UK audience, although there is a bit of wiggle room in terms of the period over which that measurement should be made – whether they need to watch once a week, or once a month, or what. Since the BBC’s funding depends on hitting this number, it is a higher priority than the more widely proclaimed purposes of informing, educating and entertaining the audience. To reach 90 per cent the BBC needs to be everywhere: if young people are migrating from TV to YouTube, the BBC has to have a YouTube channel.