'Top slicing' gets opposition support

LONDON — The U.K.’s right-of-center opposition Conservative Party has thrown its support behind controversial plans for the BBC’s license fee to be shared by its commercial rivals.

The idea, known as “top slicing,” is one of several suggestions outlined in a policy paper on public service broadcasting published Monday.

“One option is to consider whether other organizations should be allowed to bid for small parts of the license fee,” states the document. “This would ensure a plurality of provision in key genres, such as daytime children’s TV and current affairs.”

Under the proposals, the BBC would still receive the bulk of the license fee, which generates some £3.2 billion ($6.38 billion) a year in revenue, but other broadcasters would be able bid for a small proportion of the funds.

In addition, the current BBC Trust would be replaced with a Public Service Broadcasting Commission, which would be charged with distributing the license fee.

The Conservatives have also called for a relaxation of current regulations governing the commercial exploitation of programming by Channel 4.

In particular, they are keen to see Channel 4 generating more revenue from the international sale of its programs. Currently these rights are controlled by independent producers, with Channel 4 getting a 15% share of international revenue.

“These regulations were introduced to protect a fledgling independent production sector, but given the size of many production companies this may no longer be necessary,” suggests the paper.

A BBC spokesperson said the corporation will publish its own response to the government’s current review of public service broadcasting in the next few months, which is likely to argue against any form of top-slicing.

Both BBC director general Mark Thompson and Michael Lyons, chairman of the BBC Trust, have already warned that sharing the license fee would weaken the corporation.

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