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Jan. 18, 2022, 12:26 p.m.
LINK:  ➚   |   Posted by: Sarah Scire   |   January 18, 2022

The U.K. culture secretary tweeted over the weekend that the license fee model the BBC relies on would end when the current deal expires in 2027. (“It was an interesting way of announcing it,” the BBC’s director-general noted.)

“This licence fee announcement will be the last,” culture secretary Nadine Dorries wrote on Twitter. “Time now to discuss and debate new ways of funding, supporting and selling great British content.”

Though Dorries softened her claim that the license fee — paid by almost all TV-owning households in the U.K. — would definitely be abolished when the current deal expires in 2027, she confirmed the public broadcaster’s funding would be frozen for two years. The BBC said it will will be forced to cut programming due to the shortfall and its director general, Tim Davie, warned that “everything’s on the agenda.”

So what are these “new ways of funding, supporting, and selling” the BBC? What could replace the license fee? Suggestions have ranged from a levy on broadband subscriptions, an annual grant from the government (like the one used to fund Australia’s ABC), introducing more advertising (the BBC currently only allows advertising from outside the U.K.), and creating a special income tax (as seen in Sweden) to … abolishing the BBC altogether.

One of the alternative funding ideas that’s gotten the most attention, though, is the call for the BBC to turn into a subscription service.

“This is the rallying cry of many Conservative MPs who see the enormous popularity of Netflix and wonder why the BBC could not adopt the same model,” The Guardian’s Jim Waterson noted. Dorries herself said the BBC now had to be “forward looking” and adapt so it can “thrive alongside Netflix and Amazon Prime.”

The Guardian is quick to point out one tiny problem with this analogy: “While Netflix offers a single product — an app and website that are easily password-protected — the vast majority of BBC content is still consumed through free-to-air television and radio broadcasts that are impossible to put behind a paywall.”

Beyond the obvious, possibly-intractable technical challenges are existential questions for the world’s largest public broadcaster. Converting the BBC into a subscription-based operation would transform its content and mission, Davie said in an interview with BBC Radio 4 on Tuesday.

“Once you’re trying to serve a subscription base and a commercial agenda — and, believe me, I’ve run commercial businesses — it is a completely different situation, because suddenly you are doing things that are there to make profit and make a return to a specific audience,” he said.

He added, “The principle of universality is absolutely the debate here.”

Davie said that a conversion to a voluntary subscription-based model would mean the BBC “will not do what it does today.” He added, “Do we want a universal public service media organization at the heart of our creative economy, which has served us incredibly well? And if we want that, we have to support a publicly-backed and not a fully commercialized BBC.”

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