Earlier this month, Channel 5’s chief executive, David Elstein,
gave a speech to the Chartered Institute of Marketing about the future
of broadcasting. One of his main complaints was that the BBC provided
too tough competition for commercial broadcasters.
Let me disabuse David of some odd notions he seems to hold. It is not
the BBC’s function to make life easier for the commercial sector by
making niche programmes. Indeed, its remit - to make the highest quality
programmes and services available to all - is almost designed to keep
commercial broadcasters on their toes.
Volume and revenue problems are not solved for any marketer by
dismantling the competition, but by providing customers with products
and services that fit their needs at the right price. ITV chief
executive Richard Eyre knows that, which is why he has made the
commitments he has to ITV’s customers - the advertisers.
The BBC will continue to fulfil is mission of providing a diverse range
of quality programmes for its licence payers, while incidentally helping
to create for advertisers a high-quality communications environment by
setting challenging programme standards for the industry as a whole.
Threat of privatisation
I agree with David on one thing he said, that the BBC is a great brand,
and that privatisation of this national asset would not lead to its
complete disappearance. The BBC band would survive. But survive in what
Could it continue to deliver the social and cultural responsibilities so
important to its character, its values, and in the case of so much of
its output, to British industry and exports? The BBC’s freedom and
diversity are central to international perceptions of Britain’s creative
excellence, and are as varied as classical drama and Britpop (largely
created by Radio 1’s commitment to new music).
I wouldn’t have thought that in these first months of a new government -
when the talk is about new values, attitudes and community spirit, and
when ethical marketing and public responsibility are supposed to be on
every marketer’s lips - that I would be called on to defend the
principle and benefits of public service.
The licence fee is universal. Some 95% of households still tune in to
the BBC for more than two hours every week. An average household tunes
in to BBC radio and television for 42 hours and 37 minutes every week,
maintaining the BBC’s 45% share of all UK viewing and listening.
When asked, licence fee payers believe that the licence fee is generally
the best way of guaranteeing the BBC’s services and values, the
programmes they watch and listen to, and the services we provide for
others. An NHS paid for solely on the basis of personal consumption is
not the NHS in which most of us believe.
We all know as well that the future is digital - it is not a question of
if, but when - and the BBC intends to be a leading player in this
In line with our commitment to universality, we seek to ensure that BBC
news is continuously available and accessible on relevant formats. Our
24-hour BBC News channel is part of that strategy and is designed to fit
audience demand. News is a key responsibility of a public service
Public consultation has confirmed support for a 24-hour news service
from the BBC that will be distinctly different from existing services
and thereby extend viewer choice.
Remember, the BBC is accountable to its shareholders and that
accountability has to be proved. If we are going to tell the public what
we deliver for its money we must do so in a way that is relevant and
engaging, effective and cost-effective.
Everyone pays the licence fee, but until recently not many knew what it
paid for. Thanks to the campaign started two years ago (of which our
Perfect Day promotional film is a part) that situation is improving.
Our communications programme must also reflect the contextual media, so
we will not be making uninteresting trails just to suit our
The BBC is a very strong brand. It is a national asset and we will
continue to nurture that asset value for our stakeholders. Key to brand
differentiation are the values that the licence fee guarantees -
alternative funding shows no balance of benefits.
Competitors want to change the BBC but protect themselves from the
Fewer nationally acclaimed programmes might suit some commercial
broadcasters, such as Channel 5, but we know that the licence fee payers
would not agree.