menuMENU    UK Free TV logo Archive (2002-)



Click to see updates

BBC plc, 2017: Rest in peace, Auntie (from 2019)

It never went right for the BBC after it was sold off when the new government decided to "remove the legacy of public service by transferring all broadcasting to the private sector". In less than three years, after compounded mistakes, the old broadcaster is assigned to the recycling bin of history to make way for better mobile broadband.

published on UK Free TV

The Telegraph online. Wednesday June 12th, 2019

Ofcom today agreed a plan to immediately allocate the TV frequencies of the former BBC to double the 4G mobile broadband capacities. This marks the final passing of the once dominant, former-monopolistic state television and radio broadcaster.

The speed of the decline of the broadcaster has been a sorry tale of mismanagement, misjudgement and bad luck: but from now on those three letters will point only to the past.

The privatization went well enough, but there was already a £2.6bn pension deficit hole to fill.

The initial hubris of the first BBC CEO after privatisation was thinking that four out of five homes would opt to pay £18 a month for the existing BBC channels.

Failing completely to learn from the 2002 ITV Digital debacle, the BBC seriously tried to change 10 million Freeview homes to a pay-TV service: it invested just under £3bn to set up system. The "Beebview" system was troubled just like its pay predecessor: it was unreliable and pirate cards overcame the encryption. The surprise decision by the Treasury not to convert free TV Licences for pensioners into Beebview subscriptions left the system in too few homes to be viable.

It was only after six months of the pay-TV experiment that BBC plc had to admit that subscription levels were running at 40%, just half the predicted level. The first private BBC crisis saw the departure of the CEO.

BBC plc was forced to make drastic changes. The new CEO dropped the subscription system in favour of carrying advertising. It was at this point the new CEO announced the immediate closure of everything except a national BBC One, BBC Two and BBC News television channels and Radios 1 and 2. 52 radio stations closed, and the funding was cut for S4C and the World Service radio, both of which closed without ceremony.

The BBC was not best placed for a fight with ITV. It had been "off the air" in many homes for seven months, and the management of ITV put up a tough fight to keep their channels ahead.

The following 18 months were a cycle of decline. The BBC channels were poorly scheduled and padded, initially because they were not planned with 16 minutes per hour of adverts, and later because declining viewing figures stripped the service of income.

Eventually the shareholders received an offer for the BBC from venture capitalists. Happy to make some money back for their investment, the new owners sold the programming (EastEnders is now on ITV), buildings, and archive.

Ofcom had hoped that the buyers would stick to promises to keep BBC News on the air, but when arrangements were made to sell the acquired multiplex capacity for use for 4G broadband, it became clear that the now-token news service days were very numbered.

It is a shame that the epitaph of a once-great corporation is that it burned £8bn. This sad tale is one for future books on economics.

All questions
BBC Three Linear channel re-opens1
Removing all barriers to communication between diverse cultures2
How do I get a test card with Freeview3
What can I do when my Sky Digibox says 'No Signal' or 'Technical fau4
Can I receive UK TV in Ghana?5
In this section
BBC salami-slicing returns to overnight services?1
#GreatBBC campaign launched2
Goodbye BBC Red Button!3
Want to know how much the BBC spend in England, Scotland, Wales and NI per home?4
S4C and Welsh Exceptionalism?5
BBC future: make sure you make the deadline6

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

11:33 AM

Can I live without the BBC? Well the answer for me is yes there is plenty of television to choose from. The assumption 4 out of 5 homes willing to pay £18pm for the BBC channels is ridiculous when Sky offers 35 channels for £21.50 pm with 11 million subscribers. There is no reason why some BBC channels could not survive from advertising alone. The BBC is already involved in subscription services eg Gold etc.

We can live without freeview as well. Television can be delivered by Satellite, Cable, Broadband and 4G.

link to this comment
trevorjharris's 367 posts GB
1:16 PM

An excellent and thought provoking series of articles, but I just don't see how the BBC can carry on with its current funding model. The protection of the criminal law for non-license payers is absurd. The only way for the Beeb to provide such excellent value for money is to keep some kind of a 'mass-funding' model, but how we do this and maintain the BBC's independence is a very thorny problem. I have some ideas, but here is not the space for them!. Still to throw away the BBC because we can't work out how to fund it would be an act of cultural madness. This is not to say that the BBC is not in need of major reform, because it is. We really need our best minds at work to create a framework that will allow the BBC to function through the new century.

link to this comment
James's 11 posts GB
Thursday, 27 March 2014

9:07 AM

James: Thanks. I'm glad you like them.

I've been looking at the alternatives to the TVL in more detail, starting today BBC 2017: Which of these 14 options is best to collect 4 billion quid a year? | BBC 2017 | - 11 years of independent, free digital TV advice

link to this comment
Briantist's 38,844 posts GB
Martin Baines
10:34 AM

An amusing set of articles but I think quite biased to the conservative (with small c) view that there can be no change in the BBC and that we still need it in some way to deliver quality broadcasting.

The US has shown with its subscription channels (HBO, Showtime, AMC et al) that quality drama can be very profitable and even produce better output than the so called gold standard of the BBC (where is a UK equivalent of something as innovative as The Wire or Breaking Bad?). There is clearly no need for it for mass popular programming - yes its programmes are popular but in no way distinctive from commercial channels and is a criminal (or even civil) sanction really necessary just to fund Strictly Come Dancing?

That just leaves News where the BBC is stuck in a soft left editorial line domestically that purports to be balance domestically while internationally its services are losing ground where it matters to channels like Al Jazeera.

Now none of that means I think the BBC is bad - I just think forcing people to pay for a broadcaster with strong arm tactics (whether by threat of prison as it is today or by sending in bailiffs it it s converted to a civil penalty) is ludicrous in today's multichannel and on demand world.

Unlike this article, I think that if the BBC were turned into a commercial public service broadcaster (or broadcasters - it might be better split up) it might even make more money. Of course the possibility of mistake is there - the scenario you describe here would be the worst case of just simply turning the old BBC into one big subscription service that pays for everything is still old school thinking. How about instead a mix of packages and free to air advertising supported services and on demand PPV? A core "quality" subscription a lower than today's licence fee for what is now BBC2, BBC4 and Radio 3 and Radio 4 with all programmes also available to all on demand (for a fee for non subscribers). Then a "popular" channel mix (BBC1, BBC3, Radio 1 and 2) supported by advertising but perhaps also with the option of an advertising free version available by subscription and similarly all available on demand with PPV option if no subscription.

Similarly Children's programming could be a similar hybrid model (free to air with advertising, subscription without, on demand with PPV for non subscribers).

Sport: well frankly I think the BBC only survives here because the market is stacked in its favour, but if it is as good as myth has it then surely it would be able to compete with its own hybrid funded channels as described for the popular channels above?

That just leaves News which is a simple decision - do we want to fund what is basically a propaganda service from taxation - probably yes for international services but does that make sense domestically? Or is the BBC News gathering organisation as good as myth has us believe? In which case it ought to be able to easily compete with the likes of Reuters, CNN and Al Jazeera not to mention Sky or ITN in the market.

Incidentally there is another change I would like to see in the UK market and regulation - that would be to separate channel production from distribution. This would mean splitting Sky (and possibly Virgin too) into two parts like happened for BT with OpenReach. The distribution and conditional access business being completely separate from content. This would mean content owners would not be locked into Sky's terms if they wanted to use its satellite CA. It would also likely drive down Sky's end to end pricing as other providers would be able to offer similar bundles at competing prices on the same equipment.

link to this comment
Martin Baines's 14 posts GB

12:57 PM

Martin Baines: Thanks, I am very pleased to hear that you found them in the spirit that I had intended.

The "small c" I was going for was "comprehensible": I had originally planned some hybrid articles, but I thought it made it difficult to understand what the point was.

I did leave out some of the more outlandish ideas: for example, the new BBC plc being so cash rich that it did a hostile takeover of the satellite broadcaster to become BBCSkyB!

I did mention the HBO model in the BBC plc, 2017. The new CEO decides between ITV and HBO | BBC 2017 | - 11 years of independent, free digital TV advice article.

The issue I have with the "a criminal (or even civil) sanction really necessary" point is true for so many things. This includes things from the likes of non-payment of Council Tax payments to prostitution and drug possession.

The problem is that "fair play" is as much in the character of the British people as its antithesis "blagging". We do have a rather bankrupt political process that promises "everyone can have more services for less taxes", despite all the evidence to the contrary.

By putting forward these articles I am not advocating any of them. I'm just trying to avoid the common "knee jerk" reactions by trying to think them through logically.

The only point I really think I have made a decision on is that the public should decide between keeping the over-expensive regional news networks or having better programmes over more genre-based channels.


I went to one of those Ofcom panels Home - Communications Consumer Panel events and I asked that very question to the floor.

It fell on stony ground: I suspect that Sky's people have kept the idea that they are a "plucky upstart" in important people's minds.

link to this comment
Briantist's 38,844 posts GB

5:47 PM

Martin Baines: When you use phrases like 'soft left editorial line' & ' do we want to fund what is basically a propaganda service from taxation', I think your ideological slip is showing. And that is perhaps the problem.

In all these discussions there is the idea that the BBC licence fee is 'archaic', 'undefensible' or ''unworkable'. However, looking at the alternatives, the licence fee actually ticks the most boxes, and once people take out the ideologicial hand-waving, for about the next decade, its perfectly workable.. Although the Westminster Villagers might see the end of the licence fee as inevitable, none of the alternatives you outline really work.

Advertising? Every single commercial broadcaster would fight tooth and nail to avoid this (even Sky gets £440m a year from adverts - perhaps the definition of chutzpah is charging people to watch adverts...). Its not going to happen. Niether, by the way, is the idea of Sky splitting production from distribution - they wont like it, although when you think about it, Sky is very largely a distributor of other peoples wares.

Suscription - fine, but when, how and how much? The Beebbox would cost (although if the Freeview channels were sensible, they'd all pitch in together), so if someone want this to happen, please provide a sensible long-term plan. I dont have a problem with the BBC becomeing subscription as a whole. Rather than 'old school', its the easiest and most straightforward system. Two tier system? Messy and probably unworkable. And how is subscription supposed to work for radio?

Speaking of subscription models, you mention HBO, AMC, etc. Often excellent product (and worth reminding Sky fans that Sky bought it in, since its an HBO production), but these are cable channels in a market where the overwhelming majority of viewing is done via cable (and consumers are not happy about the state of the cable market), which makes subscription not only easy, but allows broadcasting without adverts and grownup dramas which might not appeal to advertisers (does this sound familiar?). BTW, Much as I like The Wire, Mad Men and Breaking Bad, I also like Line of Duty, State of Play and Bluestone 42.

And if this subscription model you suggest was to have stuff that wasn't 'mass popular programming' or something that commercial channels could do, that would mean very little would be broadcast at all - no drama, comedy, light entertainment, childrens TV, etc. Strangley enough, the 'mass popular programming' you dont think the BBC needs to supply keeping trying to be copied by other channels (Sky's 'Gotta dance' , 'Dancing on Ice', etc) - so obviously someone things that the public wants to pay for such programmes.

Can we please get over the idea that draconian powers are granted to the BBC, and people who forget to pay their licence are banged up? I know that if you read anti TV licence websites you read phrases like 'Gestapo', 'Thugs' and 'Vermin', but if you look at the number of people prosecuted (185,000)), some 155,000 were found guilty. If you have TV, then just pay the fee (or charge, tax, whatever) and enjoy. Sky also has powers to prosecute, under the Copyright Act BBC News - Pirated Sky TV sold for £10 a month , which includes up to 10 years in prison and unlimited fines. And if you are a pub landlord not paying what you should to Sky, they can even try to take away your licence Fighting Fraud – Sky Business . So if its alright for Sky to ultimately send someone to prison for not paying back what they owe, why not the BBC?

As for news, you seem to have your own view of the market, but Al Jazzera seems to claim about 40m viewers 9and I actaully quite like the station), whereas BBC Arabic and Persian channels reckon they get 43m viewers - so hardly being beaten in the market. CNN is largely rubbish, and Sky is OK....ish. But I note that a load of overseas radio channels use the World Service feed, so they must be doing something right.

Personally, I understand if people who never use the BBC, or even any broadcast media at all dont want to pay. However, this is a vanishing small number of people, and I suspect that the bulk of the people who claim that they never use any BBC services are basically wrong (they are either forgetful or worse).

For most people, I suspect the question is 'how do I get the most for my money?' And if you are not in thrall to a uber free-market worldview, and are not hung up on 'THE LICENCE FEE IS A TAX' type thinking, then the current system works pretty well. Its not broke, but someone is seemingly doing its best to break it.

Brianist: Love 'Druid World'. Can I assume that this is the result of government wanting to privatise English Heritage as well? If they do, can they roof it over? I had to guide a load of Americans around it once in November, and its was raining and freezing...

link to this comment
MikeB's 2,579 posts GB

9:44 PM


Hear Hear! The current method of paying for the BBC (TV and radio as well as internet websites) is reasonably good. But it is in need of modernisation to allow for the newer and different ways of receiving programmes and of watching them on different equipments. It does not need to be scrapped at all, just brought into line with how people watch programming on a screen these days and the different methods now available to deliver the entertainment, news information, education, etc.

link to this comment
MikeP's 3,056 posts GB

9:49 PM

MikeB: I'm sorry to say that 'Druid World' was generated by another site...

link to this comment
Briantist's 38,844 posts GB
Friday, 28 March 2014
Martin Baines
8:18 AM

MikeB et al: I deliberately took an "idealogical" line that was provocative because one of the real problems the BBC faces is that it only really has the trust of parties of the left. I don't think it is hard line left wing, more its internal culture is hugely biased in favour of state led, non market based solutions to things and this seeps through to its editorial, choice of story and interview approach. Ironically the other thing it is heavily biased towards is a the Monarchy - about 20% of people in the country support abolition of the monarch but you would never know it from its output (well not unless you listen out for a tiny sound bite for "balance" in an otherwise implicitly pro -royal broadcast).

Outside that though, I do think the idea of a compulsory payment for to fund just one broadcaster in a free market has two fundamental problems. One is simple - forcing people to pay a licence fee, whether by criminal sanction or bailiffs, seems just immoral to me. The other is that because of its large funding it heavily distorts the market and makes it more difficult for others to operate.

Think of it like this. Imagine it was decided that we needed a public service Mobile Phone because Apple and Google are not British so we made every one who had a mobile phone pay a licence fee that went t fund it. We then gave one of those phones to everyone regardless of whether they wanted it or already had a phone they preferred. Would that be fair t the other manufactures? You might say that it would be ok because the other Eastern companies are evil American and Far Eastern Companies that do not understand British needs, but then what if a great British manufacturer wanted to get in the market (say an amazing Dyson Phone)? They probably would not even try or if they did would have an even bigger hill to climb in their home market than just what is globally a very competitive market.

But putting aside the question of whether we want the BBC at all in its current form there are other ways we could fund it that are not from a licence fee. Probably the easiest would be a levy on broadband connections and/or CA payments but things like a levy on turnover of companies delivering content in to the UK (this gets harder and harder to define though as be move away from linear OTA broadcasting).

link to this comment
Martin Baines's 14 posts GB
10:56 AM

I will probably get slated for this but the BBC really get on my nerves sometimes.
Yes they have produced some amazing drama, comedy and factual programming over the last 50+ years but they need to sort out their finances.
I really despise the fact I have to pay £150 a year to them under the threat of prosecution, then you see how much money they waste.
£6 million a year for Mr Ross, BBC Newsreaders on £200.000+ a year and that includes most of the regional Newsreaders too.
The lavish expense of Media City and the other dept in Scotland, they spunk money quicker than Kerry Katona after a line of Cocaine!

Yes everyone deserves a good wage but most of the BBC "talent" and management are on incredibly high salaries (not too mention the pensions and benefits!)
If the BBC addressed this issue and stopped siphoning off money via BBC Worldwide (International TV rights) then the license fee could be £100 a year or even cheaper.
And they should certainly digitize their archive for UK residents as we have already paid for these shows via the license fee, so why the hell should I have to buy a DVD of a show I have already paid for?

The way I see it, traditional TV broadcasting will be gone in the next 20 years, everything will be online, on demand when you want it.
The BBC will either be disbanded or simply have to become a subscription service.
After all the whole digital TV switchover now means all the TX's support packed digital bitstreams , they are essentially a wi-fi network and will become that imo

Dare I mention SMART meters and the SMART grid :).

link to this comment
bob's 1 post GB
Select more comments
Page 1

Your comment please
Please post a question, answer or commentUK Free TV is here to help people. If you are rude or disrespectful all of your posts will be deleted and you will be banned.

Privacy policy: UK Free Privacy policy.