UPDATED Since instating a new chair in Richard Sharp and a newish director general in Tim Davie, and in the wake of a U.K. National Audit Office (NAO) report flagging its financial challenges, public broadcaster BBC has sent a wide-ranging survey to license fee payers.
The £3.52 billion ($4.8 billion) license fee is the BBC’s primary source of income. However, the report from the NAO, the U.K.’s public spending watchdog, titled “The BBC’s strategic financial management,” notes that the corporation’s license fee earnings has fallen by 8%, and its falling audience share poses a risk to income.
It also observes that with the advent of social media sites, including Facebook and YouTube, and increased online viewing of content with the arrival of streaming services such as Amazon Prime, Disney Plus and Netflix, there is a challenge to the BBC in terms of increased competition, as well as an opportunity to expand its online presence.
The voluntary survey, which was sent out wide on Wednesday to BBC account holders, addresses these concerns. It begins by asking respondents the frequency of usage of the BBC’s TV, iPlayer, Radio, Sounds, Sports and News offerings.
It also asks their opinions of competitors ITV, Channel 4, Sky, Netflix, YouTube and Spotify vis a vis the BBC. In addition, the survey seeks opinions about the BBC’s attributes like trust, balance and fairness, new and original programming and availability by region.
“We regularly use surveys to hear directly from audiences about how they use our services and help ensure we have the best possible understanding of what they care about,” a BBC spokesperson told Variety.
The survey ends with the question: “To what extent do you think the BBC is good or bad value for money?”
Currently, the annual TV license fee of £157.50 ($215.50) needs to be paid by every household that watches broadcast TV or uses iPlayer. Non-payment of the fee is a criminal offense and can result in hefty fines or even jail terms in the rare instance. While there was a push in recent years to decriminalize non-payment, the government has now backed down from that agenda after a public consultation process involving 154,737 people and stakeholders.
“After carefully considering the responses received, the government remains concerned that a criminal sanction for TV licence evasion is increasingly disproportionate and unfair in a modern public service broadcasting system,” U.K. Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said on Thursday. “The consultation responses showed that a significant number of people oppose the criminal sanction with some highlighting the considerable stress and anxiety it can cause for individuals, including for the most vulnerable in society, such as older people.”
However, “the issue of decriminalisation will remain under active consideration while more work is undertaken to understand the impact of alternative enforcement schemes,” Dowden added.
In response, a BBC spokesperson said: “The current system remains the fairest and most effective. The responses to the government’s consultation shows the majority back the current system. The BBC will fully engage with the government going forward on how we can continue to play an important role for the public.”
Incoming BBC chair Sharp thinks the license fee is terrific value for money, as he recently told a parliamentary committee.
It remains to be seen whether the fee-paying public shares his views.