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What next for the BBC?

Following the news that the UK government is freezing the licence fee ahead of a possible move to a subscription-based model, TVBEurope looks at what impact it could have on the BBC

Following yesterday’s news that the UK government is freezing the BBC’s licence fee for the next two years ahead of possibly scrapping it altogether during the next Royal Charter renewal, social media has been alight with reaction.

Topics around the discussion have been trending almost constantly on Twitter over the last 24 hours, with many people highlighting all of the different services the BBC provides both viewers and listeners for 43 pence a day.

Among those taking to social media to back the BBC have been Armando Iannucci, Gary Lineker, Hugh Grant and Dan Walker. There have also been dissenting voices.

While the cynics among us may suggest the announcement by Nadine Dorries is aimed at distracting the public from the government’s woes over Partygate, it has once again fuelled the discussion as to what the future holds for the Corporation.

With the licence fee remaining at £159 for the next two years, it’s thought the BBC will have to find around £2 billion in savings over six years to fill the funding gap left by the freeze. “If the BBC’s licence fee income is capped at £3.8 billion, then costs have to be capped, or it has to increase its commercial income from 1.3 billion,” analyst Alex DeGroote tells TVBEurope.

“Cost cutting depends on your vision for the BBC. Personally, I like a news and information centric BBC, which is focussed on older demographics,” he adds.

But does the BBC’s audience want the licence fee to be scrapped? While there are always loud voices on social media calling for it to be scrapped, many viewers are quite happy with the status quo. “The cost of living is a serious household issue now, so removing the BBC fee burden would be a small help to many,” says DeGroote. “For many older audiences, the BBC is a key lifeline. They will pay. Younger audiences are not interested and won’t pay. For some reason, the BBC and Ofcom are obsessed by young audiences, which is fighting a losing battle.”

So, is a subscription-based model like the global SVoDs, as the government seems keen on, the way forward? “It’s one possible source,” states DeGroote. “Metered use is also possible. The likes of Netflix and Disney Plus are global businesses so not really comparable to BBC. They also have access to other sources of capital – unlike the BBC.

“Arguably the BBC needs a better way of funding and collaborating on high value international drama – maybe that could be through more partnerships.”

In a note looking at the future of Public Service Television, Enders Analysis noted that in the discussion around subscription-based models, it is easy to forget the significant proportion of TV owners who lack the means, or do not wish, to pay for any TV service beyond the licence fee.

“There are just under eight million adults in the UK who only have access to free-to-air television, relying on it as a vital source of entertainment, information and company,” added the note. “These viewers watch much more television, and depend heavily upon the diversity and quality of content delivered by the BBC and other public service broadcasters.

“Without further support for PSB content in all genres, for all audiences, there is a risk of leaving millions of people out of ever-rarer shared cultural conversations, speeding up feedback loops of viewer decline, and losing the core public value in the ecosystem as a whole.”