AGENDA: Why we should pay for the BBC - As the BBC celebrates its 75th anniversary, its head of corporate and brand marketing, Jane Frost, insists that, like the NHS, it represents a principle that must be protected: public service broadcasting supported

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.

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.

Real accountability

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.


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