The random witterings of Jonathan Morris, writer.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

I'm Proud Of The BBC

It is a truth universally acknowledged that whenever there’s a story about the BBC on the Media Guardian website, the first half-dozen or so comments will be from pseudonymous idiots moaning about the license fee. I suspect it’s the work either of one obsessive individual or some right-wing affiliation such as the Taxpayer’s Alliance. As the next dozen comments will inevitably be reactions to this trollery, it only serves to undermine intelligent debate, and TBH, the sooner The Guardian installs a paywall and prevents people from posting under pseudonyms, the better.

Two thoughts on the license fee, though. Thought one. I agree that it is a problem that it isn’t progressive, and suggest that it could be made more progressive by making the charge per television set, or by charging more for HD (in the same way that, with the advent of colour, the BBC charged more for 625 definition over 525). Really, the BBC should have charged more for digital, if the government hadn't been so desperate to sell off the analogue bandwidth to telephone companies; as it stands, there are hundreds of hours of BBC 3 and BBC 4 dramas, comedies and documentaries that the vast number of license-fee payers have never had the opportunity to see – many of which deserve the opportunity to reach a larger audience. In the best of all possible worlds, the BBC would be paid for out of general taxation, whilst still having a charter guaranteeing funding and political independence; but that’s not going to happen, not under the floundering lack of leadership from Mark ‘Shall I punch myself in the face, to save you hurting your fist?’ Thompson.

But it’s the civil liberties argument that pisses me off. It trundles predictably along the lines of ‘The BBC should be subscription-only, so only those who watch it need pay for it?’ Which is moronic for two reasons. One, how the hell do you make access to radio and BBC websites subscription-only; and two, in order to enforce a subscription to the television channels, even more resources would have to be directed towards checking up on people, on fixing television sets and digital boxes to prevent access for non-subscribers, that the result would be even more expensive than detecting license-fee non-payment and would result in a greater loss of ‘civil liberties’. No, what this argument boils down to is the one repeated on the internet ad nauseum; ‘I want to get something for free that other people have to pay for’. Nobody is seriously suggesting they would voluntarily stop watching the BBC; they would just do so via their computers, consuming content that other people have funded. (See also: Books, Films, and Music).

My second thought is that both ITV and Sky are examples of how bad the alternative is; ITV because in its ever-more-desperate attempt to chase ratings, it has demonstrated itself to be ever-more crap at achieving them for anything other than soaps and ‘reality’ competitions; and Sky because it’s just such a bloody rip off. I mean, with Sky you pay a subscription AND you get adverts; they must think their viewers are complete mugs. They wouldn’t get away with that in USA. It’s ironic that the guy who runs it complains so much about the BBC, when Sky’s business model is entirely reliant upon the existence of the BBC, Channel 4 and Channel 5; those channels import the first series of the latest US dramas, they take all the risk, they pay the promotional costs, and they build an audience, only for to Sky come in and out-bid them for the rights to broadcast the remaining seasons. Sky’s modus operandi is to poach other’s successes; they cannot originate their own.

And finally, the most basic, cheapest Sky subscription is approximately £120 year. For that, you get a fraction of the content provided by the BBC, and you pay for it all over again by watching adverts. To give you some idea of the value for money, for £120 you could buy box-sets of the latest series of:

Desperate Housewives
True Blood
Stargate Universe

i.e. all of Sky’s top shows. For you to own, watch again and again, with full bonus bollocks and with no adverts, or watch once and sell on ebay. And for the price of an HD subscription, you could buy them all on Blu-Ray and have money left over.