BBC should offer subscriptions on top of licence fee to avoid decline

BBC should offer subscriptions on top of licence fee to avoid ‘relentless decline’, says former boss

  • Ex BBC boss said paid for content should be introduced on top of TV licence fee
  • Mark Oliver thinks the broadcaster faces irrelevancy without new funding model
  • Top entertainment such as sport and drama could be charged for to boost funds

The BBC should move to a ‘top-up’ subscription model as its reliance on the licence fee has left it as a ‘stagnating organisation’, the broadcaster’s former head of strategy has said.

Mark Oliver, who held the role at the corporation from 1989 to 1995, warned that if the BBC ties itself just to public funding it could ‘at worst’ face ‘gradual but relentless decline and irrelevance’.

He suggested that ‘extra quality’ programming could be provided by a separate top-up service which viewers would pay extra for.

This could see some high-end dramas aired on this rather than the traditional BBC service.

The BBC (headquarters pictured) should not have such a heavy reliance on the licence fee and should introduce a ‘top up’ subscription service according to the broadcaster’s former head of strategy

Former culture secretary John Whittingdale (pictured) recently weighed in on the licence fee debate

Speaking to the House of Lords communications and digital committee, Mr Oliver, who now runs his own media advisory business, said such a move was needed so the BBC could ‘continue to grow and attract talent and be vibrant’.

He added that there may be a need to shift more resources to younger audiences ‘to serve them a bit better’.

If other parts of the audience still wanted more from the BBC ‘they should pay extra for it’, Mr Oliver said.

Former culture secretary John Whittingdale recently suggested the licence fee could be replaced by a Government grant, with viewers also able to pay a top-up voluntary subscription for sport and entertainment. In January, the current Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries signalled that the licence fee is likely to be axed when the current charter finishes at the end of 2027.

Mr Oliver told the committee: ‘The BBC as an institution needs a source of income, I think, that’s growing and the problem about the licence fee, it’s still here, but resistance to its growth has been enormous, which leaves the BBC as a stagnating organisation funding itself through efficiencies forever.’ It needed a ‘more buoyant source of income’, he said.

Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Nadine Dorries has been critical of the current £159 TV licence fee

The media executive added that any new service needed to have ‘heft’, claiming: ‘I think there are a number of people who would pay for a top-up service if it was sold in the right way.’

Mr Oliver added that such a move could be combined with more progressive public funding through a household tax.

The former BBC boss said he thought ‘some type of top-up subscription fee’ was ‘necessary’ for ‘a different kind of BBC’.

He added: ‘Because if it doesn’t, if it ties itself just to any form of public funding… I think at best it’s looking at a stagnant future and less relevance and, at worst, it’s looking at a gradual but relentless decline and irrelevance.’ 

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