PERSPECTIVE: We must consider the role of the BBC before ad revenue

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.

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

Davies Committee.

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

licence fee.

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.

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