Should broadcasters welcome a scaled-back BBC?

With the BBC's future under review, would a reduced remit benefit its commercial rivals, Gurjit Degun asks.

The BBC is facing un­precedented scrutiny as changing viewing habits and an evolving  social and political landscape create the perfect storm for the UK’s national broadcaster ahead of the ten-yearly review of its royal charter.

John Whittingdale, the secretary of state for culture, media and sport, has acknowledged that the BBC "remains much-loved by audiences… and an international benchmark for television, radio, online and journalism". He cited its coverage of the Olympics, and shows such as Miranda, Sherlock and The Great British Bake Off, as examples.

However, he has also been vocal about wanting to ask some "hard questions" ahead of the charter review.

The BBC probe recently announced by Whittingdale will, among other issues,
examine the "mixture and quality" of the output that the BBC produces. 

He compared the corporation’s £20 million investment in the talent show The Voice with its shiny-floor blockbuster Strictly Come Dancing, which was developed in-house and then sold abroad.

Some rival media owners have suggested that a recalibration of the BBC’s remit is long overdue.

Meanwhile, the BBC Trust’s own consultation is asking for the public’s views on whether it should "remain a universal and independent broadcaster, which aims to provide something for everyone".

What would a scaled-back BBC TV service mean for commercial broadcasters? If the BBC no longer has half-an-eye on ratings and mass audiences, is this good news for commercial broadcasters?

It would be presumptuous to expect viewers to migrate to com­mercial channels if the quality of the BBC’s programming drops, given the new and fast-developing compe­tition in the digital space.

In this environment, commercial broadcasters will have to work a lot harder to produce shows with the same allure as The Great British Bake Off and look further afield for inspiration.

Many believe that the BBC has a disproportionate share of the market so, as its buying power falls, there will be more room for other broadcasters to move in. But what does our media panel think?

MAYBE Marc Mendoza, founder, 360 Degree Media

"If the public-service remit is genuinely dialled up and audience ‘magnets’ begin to disappear, then mainstream viewing will migrate to commercial channels. It does not mean there will be a commensurate lift in media spend."

MAYBE Deidre MacNair, co-owner, The Village Communications

"For every Voice, there is a Strictly and a Bake Off. Would any commercial broadcaster have commissioned a programme on ballroom dancing or a baking competition? A scaling back could mean a loss of creativity and innovation."

YES Jonathan Masterson, head of TV, MediaCom

"It would level the playing field. The BBC received more than £3.7 billion in licence-fee revenue last year and, as a result, had a TV programming budget of £2.3 billion. Rivals have had to battle a challenging and changing market."
 

MAYBE Emerson Bramwell, head of insight, Vizeum

"A less ratings-oriented BBC would, in the short term, create breathing space for commercial broadcasters. However, the BBC’s competitive pressure and unique funding help keep content standards high and provide rivals with inspiration."
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