How many people can honestly say that they sit and watch whatever’s on TV right at that moment? Not a lot. How we consume TV and radio has changed massively. In the past the TV schedule dictated what and when you watched TV. The power now has shifted into the hands of you, the consumer. The likes of iPlayer, Sky, Netflix and Now TV have played a big part in the record now: watch later attitude, where you’re able to record three or more programmes at the same time and then watch them whenever you want. This, of course, means that you can even skip through the boring bits like the adverts. The endless list of movies, box sets and catch up TV that you’re now able to access with just a click of the button, means that these days it’s all about ‘watch what you want; when you want; however you want’.
With the power to decide what to watch resting with the consumer, the challenge for commercial stations lies in the changing revenue model – how do you continue to attract advertisers and sponsors if the TV viewer simply fast forwards the advert? Then there is the publicly funded BBC. The big dog of broadcasting has been around since 1929, and in 2015 it still manages to pull people in by the millions with shows like Eastenders and The Apprentice. And don’t forget that it’s not just TV, Radio 2 alone pulls in 15.3 million listeners a week, making it the most listened to radio station in the UK. There are, however, some people who aren’t the biggest fans of the BBC, The Tory’s for example who have gone ‘to war’ on the BBC, according to The Daily Telegraph.
Last Thursday Culture Secretary, John Whittingdale launched a ‘root and branch’ comprehensive review of the BBC Charter, and named four key considerations: mission and purpose; scale and scope, funding; and governance for the review to address.
But it’s the license fee that seems to be causing much debate. Whittingdale has previously gone on the record saying that the license fee is “worse than the poll tax” and has included a proposal to decriminalise license fee evasion as part of the review. He has also added that at the present there is “no real alternative to the license fee” in the short term, since a subscription model excludes those without technology, meaning that it’s likely we’ll see some kind of hybrid model license fee.
Whittingdale has stated that in the next ten years the BBC must be prepared for change and that our current viewing habits mean that it’s becoming harder to justify having the license fee. It’s not just the BBC who is getting worried as the culture, media and sport select committee have the privatisation of commercially-funded, but publicly owned Channel 4 also on their agenda.
Also up for discussion as part of the review is programming and content. Detractors of the BBC have long proposed the broadcaster cannot be all things to all men and must be more focused in its output. Coming under attack could be some of the nation’s favourite shows such as Bake Off and Strictly Come Dancing, who pull in a staggering 97% of the British public to use the BBC’s services for 18 hours a week.
Whittingdale has given a further indication of his intentions to clamp down on the BBC, after he accused the BBC of being bias and commentated that the broadcaster should bring in an external regulator to look at impartiality questions. Bias or not, is Whittingdale planning on changing the BBC completely?
So what do you think? Should the license fee stay or go? Or are times moving so fast that we’ll all be watching the latest episode of Corrie on the new Apple and Samsung watches by this time next year?
Katherine Wilding is Skout’s newest recruit and a PR apprentice.