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Whittingdale: Let viewers “switch off” BBC

“The BBC will need to think about whether it needs to make so much content"

Former UK culture minister John Whittingdale has proposed replacing the BBC licence fee with a government grant.

In an interview with i, the Conservative MP said the rollout of superfast broadband would ultimately allow viewers to “switch off” the BBC and only pay for programmes they want to view.

The proposal would include a “core” BBC comprising news and children’s programming funded by the taxpayer, with a Netflix-style subscription for additional entertainment and sport content.

He called the proposal a “progressive” solution, as opposed to the “flat rate, poll tax” of the licence fee.

“Is it not better to fund a core BBC package through a central government grant and taxation?” said Whittingdale. “Instead of £159 a year, it would be a reduced amount to pay for the things an insufficient amount of people would be willing to pay for – news, current affairs and arts programmes. On top of that, two-thirds of the current fee could be a voluntary subscription (for populist programming). You wouldn’t have to pay it.”

Whittingdale claimed that the cancellation of around one million licence fees over the past two years was an existential threat to the corporation. “The warning signs are there,” he added. “That decline in licence fee numbers will only grow. The younger generation is much more attuned to the idea of on-demand TV.”

“The BBC will need to think about whether it needs to make so much content,” he continued. “They make great drama but if the BBC stopped making drama, there are plenty of other great drama being commissioned by a wide range of services with vast budgets.”