×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

U.K.’s Continued Support of BBC Leaves Rivals Disappointed

The BBC may have breathed a sigh of relief as the U.K. government’s blueprint for the pubcaster, released last week, left it largely unscathed. But rivals are likely dismayed that the network is maintaining what they see as an unfair advantage with a funding plan set to last at least a decade.

The government’s white paper protects the BBC’s domestic public service and global commercial activities, guaranteeing the broadcaster’s £3.7 billion ($5.3 billion) license fee funding for another 11 years from 2017.

The annual fee, paid by all U.K. homes owning a TV set, has been frozen at £145.50 ($209) since 2010; increases starting next year will be pegged to inflation, provided the BBC passes a “health check” after five years. Also, those who watch TV online will now be required to pay the fee.

BBC director general Tony Hall said in a statement that he is happy with the terms. “The white paper reaffirms our mission to inform, educate, and entertain all audiences on television, on radio, and online.”

But others are unsatisfied. Many observers believed the white paper would mandate that the BBC sell the lucrative UKTV network, owned jointly with U.S. media firm Scripps Networks Interactive. “This will be a disappointment for the commercial sector, that the BBC has not been reduced in scope or size,” says Michael Grade, the former BBC chairman and ex-ITV executive chairman.

Fox-controlled broadcaster Sky is likely among those disappointed. Chairman James Murdoch “will think the U.K. government missed an opportunity,” says media consultant Phil Harding. “Everybody knows that James Murdoch would like the BBC’s presence in online news curbed. It’s not that long ago that he said the scope of the BBC’s activities and ambitions is chilling.”

11 More Years of Funding
$209 Annual household licensing fee for owning a TV set in the U.K.
$5.4b Total annual funding BBC collects from licensing fees

ITV, the U.K.’s biggest commercial free-to-air broadcaster, had lobbied for the BBC to be less competitive. The white paper suggests moves in that direction, stating that the Beeb should avoid “bidding wars” for third-party content like “The Voice” and schedule shows less aggressively. “I think there will be a cooling of the BBC’s fiercely competitive instinct,” says Harding. “They will think twice about scheduling ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ against ‘The X Factor.’”

But Steve Hewlett, a media commentator, argues that, in certain aspects, a more commercial Beeb is in the cards. “While the white paper is generally good news for the BBC, last July it was forced to accept budget cuts of up to £800 million a year, phased in from 2017. Consequently the BBC will now be desperate to earn every penny it can to supplement the license fee.”

The white paper opens the door for BBC subscription plans, at home and potentially overseas, stipulating that the broadcaster launch trial pay services over the next five years. “We’ll see an SVOD BBC offering based on the BBC Store before too long,” Hewlett predicts, referring to a domestic iTunes-style service launched last year based on the BBC’s 60-plus-year archive. The Beeb, which has traditionally opposed subscription plans due to fears they would erode license-fee funding, could form an SVOD partnership with ITV and possibly NBCUniversal, according to reports.

The most contentious issue to emerge from the white paper is a proposal that, for the first time in the BBC’s 93-year history, government appointees will sit on a new “unitary board.” The body, which would replace the discredited BBC Trust and board of governors, would be responsible for determining the network’s editorial direction. Some claim that, if implemented, it risks compromising the pubcaster’s global reputation for journalistic integrity and impartiality.

“The BBC is one of the world’s most trusted brands,” says Peter Kosminsky, director of the award-winning “Wolf Hall.” “That reputation would be lost if the BBC was seen as getting too close to government.”

More TV

  • Contract Placeholder Business WGA ATA Agent

    Signs of Solidarity and Strain Emerge as Week 2 of WGA-Talent Agency Standoff Begins

    Hundreds of WGA members rallied solidly behind their union last week as the industry grappled with uncertainties spurred by the sudden break between writers and their talent agency representatives. But as the standoff heads into its second week, signs of strain among some WGA members are beginning to emerge. Shalom Auslander, author and creator of [...]

  • Jon Snow Arya Stark Game of

    'Game of Thrones' Final Season Vegas Odds Reveal Wild Theories

    With “Game of Thrones” hype at an all-time high, Las Vegas may be raking in as much money as the Iron Bank. HBO’s fantasy masterpiece has seized the gambling world’s attention nearly as much as the Super Bowl or Kentucky Derby. Fans spew countless theories on social media, such as which characters will be axed [...]

  • FX's 'Snowfall' Panel TCA Winter Press

    John Singleton Hospitalized After Suffering Stroke

    UPDATED with statements from John Singleton’s family and FX Networks John Singleton, the Oscar nominated director and writer of “Boyz N’ the Hood,” has suffered a stroke. Sources confirm to Variety that Singleton checked himself into the hospital earlier this week after experiencing pain in his leg. The stroke has been characterized by doctors as [...]

  • Adam Lambert, of Queen, performs at

    Adam Lambert Back to 'Idol' to Mentor Finalists Through Queen's Catalog

    Adam Lambert famously launched his career on “American Idol” a decade ago performing a brilliant audition of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.” He wrapped that amazing eighth season performing with the band on the season finale, and years later earned his current spot as the front man touring as Queen + Adam Lambert. On April 28, Lambert comes full circle as he steps [...]

  • Lily Tomlin SAG Lifetime Acheivement Award

    TV News Roundup: Netflix's 'Laugh-In' 50th Anniversary Tribute Sets Premiere Date

    In today’s TV News roundup, Netflix sets the premiere date for its 50th anniversary special of “Laugh-In.” DATES “Laugh-In: The Stars Celebrate,” the 50th anniversary tribute to the original series by Dan Rowan and Dick Martin, will premiere on Netflix on May 14. The special, which was taped at the Dolby Theater in Hollywood, pays [...]

  • Texas Tech's Norense Odiase (32) shoots

    Live+3 Ratings for Week of April 8: NCAA Championship Game Dunks on Competition

    The final of the 2019 NCAA basketball tournament, in which Virginia triumphed over a spirited Texas Tech team, unsurprisingly finished way out in front in the Live+3 ratings for the week of April 8. Although the sports broadcast’s scripted competition made some gains, its 5.4 ratings still more than doubled that of “Grey’s Anatomy” in [...]

  • Mueller Report Release Draws 11 Million

    Mueller Report Release Draws 11 Million Total Viewers Across TV News

    Coverage of the release of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report into whether President Donald Trump committed obstruction of justice unsurprisingly caused a ratings bump across TV news yesterday. In terms of overall viewership, around 11 million people tuned in to see Attorney General William Barr’s news conference regarding the report’s release, and the news coverage surrounding it. According [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content