Would you pay for a complete stranger to go to the cinema? Probably not I suspect. So why then, should you pay for the television of a complete stranger, most of which you will likely have no interest in seeing, let alone have heard of? This is precisely what us Britons do, but not gladly. An ICM poll in 2013 revealed that 70% believe that the licence fee should be abolished or cut.
Undeniably, the BBC is an incredibly important institution to many Britons. Its programmes are the first thing thousands watch when arising for work in the morning, and often the last thing before bed. Whether it’s the iconic “Planet Earth” series, or Andrew Neil’s late night yawn-athons, people love the inspiring and original content that the BBC often comes out with. But this love often clouds judgement and prevents sensible debate about the BBCs future, and how it could make a greater contribution to the UK creative economy.
It could begin its path to greater contribution by first abolishing the licence fee, which has long been the main source of income for the BBC. Broadband countrywide renders such a licence obsolete for many. At the click of a button you can watch any BBC show for free. Indeed, economist Tim Congdon has argued that technology has nullified the justification behind public service broadcasting in the first place.
Shifting to a voluntary subscription model would encourage the BBC to compete globally with the big US studios, export more high quality content overseas and spark significant growth in the UK broadcasting industry. This is as well as giving a significant contribution to the wider economy in the UK.
Subscription TV is the medium’s fastest growing revenue stream. So it is perhaps telling that soon the world’s most popular motoring show Top Gear, will be aired on Amazon Prime. This medium, more than any, has the ability to not only meet, but also monetise the diverse tastes and preferences held by us eccentric English people. Subscription services have in the past been responsible for some of the most remarkable television ever made. These include Breaking bad, House of Cards and Orange is the new Black, and that’s just counting a few from Netflix.
Unfortunately, the BBC’s ability to produce shows for all to enjoy has recently come into question. Head of television Danny Cohen has admitted that the BBC “couldn’t compete with the amount of money that Netflix were prepared to pay” for programmes that are considered “a classic BBC subject” like Netflix’s £5 million an hour The Crown. Maybe he should ask why, if independent producers like Netflix are willing to pay for high-quality series like these, the BBC should be competing at all. A subscription service would give us a British Broadcasting Corporation that can compete, that can afford to keep the Great British Bake off and can continue producing Planet Earth. An institution that were not forced to own, and that we’re proud of.
Since most people watch the BBC, why shouldn’t most people be given the option to pay a subscription for it? Why should you be forced to pay for channels that you don’t want, simply because you own a television? Voluntary subscription (with some subsidy for core public service content), would enhance ownership, involvement and participation. The best outcome could truly be had for all, and people wouldn’t be criminalised for not paying for a service that they never use. Perhaps then you would agree, that the BBC would be better off as the BB fee.