A view from Ian Darby

The bloated broadcasting corporation must reform

Cannes has spawned some great creativity. Much of it far removed from the south of France.

The www.insteadofalion.com website (created by the Amsterdam-based pair Michael Middelkoop and Sharif Abd el Mawla) seems to have especially caught the imagination. It points out, with some witty visuals, that the €18.5 million spent by agencies on entering awards at Cannes could instead have bought 11 tropical islands or 1.3 million water kits for struggling families in war-torn countries. This is smart thinking but about as likely to translate to reality as Google donating 20 per cent of its UK profits to the homeless.

While we’re on the subject of squandering cash, recent reports of the BBC writing off close to £100 million on an aborted digital archiving project should raise more than a few eyebrows among us taxpayers.

This doesn’t reflect well on the BBC. More than one contact has since suggested to me that now is the time to act on the bloated broadcasting corporation. That it should be broken up and its entertainment arm closed to leave a robust, tax-funded news and current affairs service.

These reports don't reflect well on the BBC. More than one contact has suggested that now is the time to act

It’s easy to dismiss such ideas as the ramblings of right-wing privatisation freaks, yet some of the BBC’s recent behaviour is hard to stomach. New station directors at BBC Radio seem intent on running countless puff pieces to please their lunch companions at BBC Television, and the broadcaster seems to increasingly inch itself into commercial territory with events such as the Radio 5 Live Big Day Out (a music and comedy event in Liverpool that appeared to have little public-service value).

Then, last week, the Advertising Producers Association raised the issue of the BBC’s attitude towards the commercials production sector. To call this approach anti-competitive would be generous to the fat cats running the corporation and Red Bee Media, the production company that the BBC sold to the Australian bank Macquarie in 2005 with a nice, fat, exclusive ten-year contract to make the broadcaster’s trails and commercials.

Quite rightly, this sticks in the craw of production companies, which are only able to work on BBC ads under the condition that they lend their directors to Red Bee for around £5,000 a day. The majority are unwilling to do this, so the BBC misses out on the best directing talent and its agencies – Karmarama, in the most recent case – suffer.

The latest BBC music commercials will apparently be set to the Beach Boys classic God Only Knows, a song title that could easily apply to the BBC’s leadership and the need to address its casual arrogance towards the advertising market. It needs to dismantle its unfair systems, for the sake of advertising but also to save itself from break-up.

ian.darby@haymarket.com
@darbs73