U.K. public service broadcaster BBC, already on the ropes due to fallout from an investigation into a 1995 Princess Diana interview, has suffered a further body blow with a damning report from a parliamentary committee.
The U.K. parliament House of Commons’ Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has reported concerns that the BBC, “at a critical juncture” in its history, seems “complacent and unconcerned” in the face of a series of commercial and financial challenges. The PAC notes that the time people spend using BBC services is declining; it is no longer the media provider that young people spend most time with; and that TV license fee sales have fallen considerably, with some 200,000 new households each year choosing to opt out of paying for the license.
Addressing the BBC’s ongoing negotiations with the U.K. government about the future level of the license fee, the PAC says that the corporation “appears to have put off the hard choices” about the cuts to frontline staff and content that it concedes it will be forced to make.
The license fee, which helps to keep the BBC commercial-free, makes up the bulk of the public broadcaster’s income, which, in the financial year 2019/20 was £3.5 billion ($4.6 billion). The license fee currently costs £157.50 ($208.6) per household per year.
The PAC also calls the BBC’s aim to increase its commercial returns by 30% over five years “unambitious,” since commercial returns currently represent less than 6% of the income the BBC gets from the license fee.
The PAC report also presents several conclusions and recommendations. About the BBC’s perceived complacency about the threat it faces from declining audiences, the recommendation is to understand the reasons for the decline and update the PAC with plans to reverse it, in three months.
Concerning the BBC’s “unclear and disjointed” plans for an increased presence across the U.K., the PAC asks for transparency about what the corporation is hoping to achieve with these plans and the value they are expected to generate.
About the corporation’s uncertain financial future, “which its financial plans do not appear to address adequately,” the PAC asks the BBC to set out how it will achieve its £1 billion savings target by March 2022, and produce a revised financial plan on completion of the license fee negotiations.
PAC chair Meg Hillier said: “We can see the BBC might be reticent to share detailed plans at this delicate moment, in the middle of license fee negotiations, but we expected a clearer vision of how it will address the decline in its audiences and revenues, and manage the global transition from traditional TV viewing to online.”
“The BBC has enjoyed a truly unique position of privilege and trust, it should have been capitalizing on the cosy buffer of its guaranteed income from taxpayers,” Hillier added. “Moving bits of this Titanic organization around the country, reorganizing the deckchairs, just won’t cut it in the face of intense and rapidly changing global competition. The BBC needs to radically re-engineer its offer.”