Bitcoin and the Beeb

Crypto-currencies such as Bitcoin have already changed the way we pay for things. For a start, it speeds payments up. Instead of institutions like banks controlling our money, it is now issued independently – with thousands of bitcoin miners trying to discover more. 

But it is still rather clunky. All those bitcoin-mining computers whirring away consume vast amounts of energy. And it is still, in a sense, centralised. New generations of programmable money will be more efficient and more dispersed still. And that will change the way we pay for things yet again.

With micro-payments of a tiny fraction of a cent becoming easy-peasy, they will also become routine. Why endure TV ads, for example, when you can simply pay a tiny amount online to watch ad-free content?

Which might completely change our thinking about the BBC. The government is about to issue its thoughts on the corporation's future, and other technological changes (such as the relative ease with which we can now operate subscription systems) might change it fundamentally, even if the government doesn't. But just think about how micro-payments could change public broadcasting even further. Most of the BBC's content is pure entertainment. And bolted on are some 'public service' functions, like current affairs programmes. (That is why politicians love it - they get to watch Newsnight and other tedious political content.)

In a world of micro-payments, your TV can charge you for watching the entertainment and (if that is really what the politicians insist on), not charge you for the boring Newsnight. But think further. Who would really want ads on the commercial channels when you can pay - a tiny amount - not to have them? Or could we actually be looking at a world in which the BBC takes adverts in return for being 'free', and the commercial channels are ad-free, at least to those who pay a bit?

The possibilities are endless. Which is another good reason why the BBC should not be a public monopoly.