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Sorting Out The BBC

The BBC is wriggling, writhing and, no doubt, holding hundreds of W1A type meetings trying to figure out how it can justify its massive tax revenues and Royal Charter.

Well, it can’t.

An organisation that cannot run its main TV channel (BBC1 HD) 24 x 7, but rather inserts weird helicopter noises and test cards for half an hour at a time really does not need management consultants or execs on £500k a year to tell it why it is a bad failure.

So, let’s start with technology.

The majority of its channels do not broadcast for 24 hours a day. Indeed, four of its channels pay full dollar, but run for different hours (CBBC, CBeebies, BBC3 and BBC4), so why not merge them into two channels – I make that at least four million a year in savings immediately. BBC News is used to fill gaps in both BBC1 and BBC2 schedules, so it seems that three could become two there also. Another million. The trouble is, this is loose change, or the price of a presenter to the BBC.

Launching a barebones PC in the country who gave us Rasberry Pi when you can’t even run your main TV channel seems to be total madness. All such initiatives should be closed down, saving another ten million or so.

No costs have been appropriated to the iPlayer or to online sites created by the BBC, which often stymie innovation and startups in the UK, but cutting twenty million or so from here can do no harm.

The £100 million spent on trying to launch a media asset management system and, probably, another £100m in privatisation sweetners to the likes of Siemens and RedBee should be substantially reduced.

I think we may be close to totting up £200m on technology that can be saved from the BBC’s current budget with no discernible impact on licence payers.

Next. let’s look at management. Oh Jeez, where do you start. Any company that parody its own management so well must be chuckling all the way to the bank. There’s little doubt that £100m of savings could be found tomorrow by running the BBC the way commercial broadcasters are run.

Then there is programming. Unfortunately, the BBC does not own Masterchef, Downton Abbey or Top Gear (oh, sorry, it does, but the brand is now worthless…). I can’t remember the last decent drama production blockbuster it produced (OK, Poldark, which I hated). But it is a rights factory and BBC Worldwide has done a half decent job of capitalising on its rights and reputation. However, BBC International should be generating billions more in revenues and profits.

Regionally and locally the BBC has stifled all innovation and development and runs a hugely subsidized business whilst local media has collapsed. BBC Alba and S4C should be funded by local government, not the BBC. Another fifty million.

So, there you go, I have saved most people in the UK £1 per week that they can spend with Netflix, YouTube, Apple, Amazon or some other awful US non-taxpaying behemoth. 

BBC Suffers A Death Of A Thousand Cuts

The BBC is probably the most admired broadcasting organisation in the world. When your budget is equivalent to that of all your main commercial rivals and paid for by a Royal Charter based on minimal accountability, perhaps you can understand how this unique institution evolved.
The world’s biggest aspidistra (look it up) exists to inform, educate and entertain, a mandate it has had for nearly a century now.
But of late is has been deaf and stupid, totally ignoring what was going on in the world around it.
Let me provide some evidence of this:
It runs many TV channels that only operate a for a few hours a day such as BBC3, BBC4 and CeeBeebies. What is the point ?
After nearly a decade it is incapable of broadcasting a 24 x 7 HD channel: its local broadcasting laughably falls back to a test card.
It has an enormous bureaucracy and even commissions programmes lampooning its own bureaucracy, such as W1A. This is not self-deprecation, it’s a sign of an organisation totally out of control.
It has become a major real estate developer with the building of billion pound projects in Manchester and central London.
Programming has become weak. ITV and Scandinavian broadcasters have stolen the show in drama. 
Meanwhile, the Conservative Party has won a majority in the UK Parliament and they love to hate the BBC with a passion. (Despite the fact that the BBC’s Political Editor was the ex-leader of the Conservative Union at Oxford University they think that the organization is a left wing hive.)
So, there has been a gradual and insidious attack on the BBC’s finances.
First of all, the BBC was made to pay for a range of new local TV stations along with Welsh language channel S4C.
Next came a freezing of its licence fee.
Then a proposal to decriminalise non payment of the licence at a time when many people were ‘cord cutting’.
Finally, a proposal for the BBC to pay for the cost of licences for over 75 year olds (some would argue its main demographic these days) is on the table.
And in the background is the renewal of its Royal Charter.
The BBC is funded by a tax of around £145 on every UK household that watches live TV. That amounts to £3.26 billion (yes, billion…). It also gets £245 million from the government to run the World Service. On top of this it makes just over a billion selling programmes internationally and collecting licences.
This results in a revenue twice the size of the UK’s biggest commercial broadcaster, ITV.
The company directly employs over 20,000 people to run four full time and four part time TV stations, around six national radio stations, an online video and audio player and a network of local and national stations that you cannot watch on HD, but can listen to on DAB. Commercial rivals operate on this scale with a fraction of the budget: I estimate that a commercial organisation would employ around a third of this number of employees to run this type of service.
The iPlayer has been a great success, but I will happily offer to run it for one tenth of the current budget with better performance and more features. Like most broadcasters, the BBC keeps on developing its own technology where far cheaper off the shelf solutions exist.
So, that’s the situation. The trouble is that everyone at the BBC wants to preserve a status quo in the era of Big Internet – Google, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Hulu, Netflix. There are no successful UK internet companies of any scale. We’re hugely successful at content production and format development, but ITV is the last remaining major UK owned and backed producer. So what do we do with the BBC ? Surely it is time to redefine it as an organisation rather than just chipping away, piece by piece.