Today has been a big day for the BBC, as the government announced it’s plans for the institution’s charter renewal. Thankfully, it’s not as much of a track-wreck as people had feared. Culture Secretary John Whittingdale has said the BBC should put ‘distinctive content’ at it’s heart rather than chase rating. Overall, I actually agree with that sentiment (excuse me whilst I go scrub myself clean for agreeing with a conservative)…
Of course the BBC should be producing ‘distinctive content’ and not chasing ratings. That really isn’t what it’s there for. Part of the point of the license fee is that the Beeb doesn’t need to chase ratings. The reworked mission statement is for the BBC “To act in the public interest, serving all audiences with impartial, high-quality and distinctive media content and services that inform, educate and entertain.”
It does beg the question ‘what is distinctive content?’ though. You could argue that shows like Strictly Come Dancing or Bake Off aren’t ‘distinctive content’. However, think back to 2004 when Strictly was first aired. Would a commercial channel have taken chance on what is, essentially, a ballroom dancing show? Or would a commercial channel have thought you could make a hit out of a national baking competition? I’m dubious. The fact those shows went on to be massive hits is because the BBC stuck it’s neck out and commissioned these arguably ‘distinctive’ shows, doesn’t mean the BBC should be penalised when a show happens to becomes successful, and other channels try to imitate it, making it less distinctive.
One big change is that the so-called ‘iPlayer loophole’ will be closed, meaning you will need a tv license to watch iPlayer. This really makes sense, as it’s been an ongoing issue for a while now. I don’t really see why you should only be paying for BBC content just because of the format you’re using to watch. With modern viewing habits, that really makes no sense. It also means, if you put a login system onto iPlayer, it might allow the BBC the option of offering a subscription model at some point in the future, which could be great for those Doctor Who fans overseas.
The other big changes are that the BBC Trust is being replaced by a new “unitary board” responsible for ensuring the corporation’s “strategy, activity and output are in the public interest”, with Ofcom becoming the external, independent regulator for the BBC. This is a little concerning as it does allow the government some power to, potentially, interfere in the BBC’s output, so it remains to see how well the system works.
The licence fee, which has been frozen for the last few year, will now stay in place for at least the next 11 years and rise with inflation. They have also changed the charter renewal period from 10 to 11 years to remove it from any political cycle.
Finally programme making will be opened to greater competition, allowing the possibility of production by independent companies for all BBC programmes except news and some parts of current affairs. Given that a lot of shows, particularly dramas, are already make by independent companies, that’s probably not as bad as it sounds.
Overall, I think it’s fair to say, things could have gone a lot worse for the BBC, and on the face of it, they seem to have come out of it okay. There are some big changes in there, but that’s not necessarily bad news.