Last week I saw an ad on TV. A beautiful ad, an inspiring ad, the
sort of ad that really reaches out and touches you.
It was an ad for the BBC. Not as good, undoubtedly, as ’perfect day’,
but nonetheless the sort of ad that convinces you, for a moment or two
at least, that you’re incredibly fortunate to live under the beneficent
beam of the BBC.
The ad, created by Leagas Delaney for BBC Education, relates some of the
ways in which the BBC has enriched people’s lives. It’s all beautifully
shot with a real warmth and humanity.
In many ways, the film sums up for me the issues underlying the whole
debate about ads on the BBC. The corporation has the potential to
provide a focus for quality entertainment, information and education for
the nation well into the next century, a precious commodity that we
should strive to protect. How to fund this is the dilemma facing the
But the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising is absolutely right in
suggesting that to ask how to give the BBC more money is like starting a
sentence in the middle. First we must address the issue of if and why
the BBC needs more money, and that means addressing exactly what its
role and status should be.
Of course, the BBC shouldn’t be making its own versions of Who Wants to
be a Millionaire? or Blind Date. But it should be living up to the
promise of its many excellent ad campaigns with a broad range of
programming - which provides superlative quality and real choice - and a
diverse range of services that really do touch many aspects of our
Only when this has been formally agreed upon, and an independent body
established to ensure it is adhered to, should we begin to look at
whether the BBC can achieve it within the confines of the current
The BBC will certainly need deep pockets if it is to deliver in the
digital media world of the 21st century. The Incorporated Society of
British Advertisers has suggested that the BBC be allowed to take
commercial money in order to fund quality and growth. But the mere
suggestion of ads on the BBC is guaranteed to attract the sort of
knee-jerk emotional response that dogged ITV’s attempts to move News at
Ten. Not surprising, when commercialism is so often associated with
dumbing down and an erosion of quality.
Of course, the BBC’s own track record in failing to stick to its
Extending Choice remit won’t help ISBA’s case. All too often it has
competed against the commercial channels, rather than complemented
Which brings me back to the ad. If (and only if) we start with a desire
to protect all that’s great about the BBC and to get back to the
principles of Extending Choice, with a real regulatory mechanism to
police it, then achieving this goal with a degree of commercialisation
seems at the very least something we should consider for the future.