Lord Hall’s comments to the Oxford Media Convention that salami-slicing of budgets would have to end has prompted this take from The Daily Mail, suggesting BBC3 or BBC4 will be axed.
But it’s not going anywhere. It serves an audience that’s hard to reach for other BBC TV output and has a decent track record of innovation, especially in comedy. Little Britain, The Mighty Boosh and Gavin and Stacey all started out there. It’s also hard to see Director of Television Danny Cohen axing his old alma mater.
And poor BBC4. Loved by the middle-aged and middle-class, it could have become the TV version of Radio 4. But the budgets were never quite big enough, the ambition wasn’t quite large enough and it never really defined itself as anything other than what BBC2 used to be before endless series of Masterchef.
If the Mail is right and a channel is going, and I’d say it’s still a pretty big if, BBC4 is probably the one in the firing line. Although whether the savings are big enough is a reasonable question. BBC4’s budget in 2012/13 stood at £50 million, BBC3’s at £89.9 million. Both of those figures are already being reduced as part of the DQF process.
So, here’s a modest proposal: axe the BBC world Service instead.
Part of the reason why the BBC is having to make savings is the insistence by the government that the World Service’s budget is met from the licence fee rather than direct grant from the Foreign Office. In the next financial year, the first under the new funding arrangement, that will cost £245 million pounds. That’s almost exactly £10 for every licence fee payer. Money that’s spent on producing content for audiences outside the UK. Is that equitable?
People who work at the BBC will insist that the World Service IS the BBC. The keeper of the sacred Reithian flame. But in these days of reduced funding and greater value for money for licence fee-payers is it really justifiable to spend a quarter of a billion pounds on services for audiences who don’t have to pay while cutting services for those who do? I think that’s becoming an increasingly tough position to defend.