If you were to design a marketing campaign to save the TV Licence it would not be hard to find good arguments. Politicians tend not to watch much TV or listen to much radio except to catch programmes of professional interest.
That isn’t said critically – it is equally true of many other busy people who work anti-social hours.
The arguments about the BBC’s unique role are obvious enough and will be rehearsed elsewhere. But which of the following might carry the most weight with critics?
- The TV Licence costs 43.5p a day. That’s less than a pint of milk or a bar of chocolate.
- It costs less than a quarter of the price of a typical quality newspaper or a cup of coffee from a high street chain.
- It costs around half the price of most popular newspapers.
- The cost of the licence fee has fallen in real terms – thanks to a freeze between 2010 and 2016.
Yet it arguably offers more value than ever before. In 1975 the colour licence rose from £12 to £18. At this time, there was little daytime TV, BBC Two started at 7pm and Radio 1 and 2 were merged for much of the day.
There are other good arguments about why the licence fee remains “the best bargain in Britain” – another positive phrase once used by the corporation to sell the licence to sceptics.
There is no harm in exploring whether technology may create viable practical alternatives to the licence fee – as long as the aim is to ensure BBC remains a well-funded, commercial-free, mainstream broadcaster free from direct government interference.
Yesterday we explored the fundamental problems with the three current obvious alternatives: advertising, subscription and direct government funding.
Similarly it is important to discuss whether over-75s and others on low incomes should be allowed free licences or a substantial discount.
The challenge for the BBC is to ensure there is a broad public understanding of the overall benefits of the current system and just what good value it represents.
Naturally, it is understandable that those who do not consume large amounts of BBC programming or who actively prefer the commercial channels may resent having to pay a licence fee by statute. It’s easy for those of us whose first choice is the BBC to forget that others feel differently.
Another person might argue that they don’t mind paying for services they use – say BBC One, BBC Two and Radio 4 – but object to paying for Radio 1 and BBC Three.
As long as the services are deserving of public funding, that is rather like saying you don’t mind paying council tax to help towards the cost of collecting the rubbish but that none of the money should go on public toilets.
We all pick and choose the public services we use depending on our needs and interests. Which BBC services you choose is no different.
If the licence fee is to stay after 2027, it is time for the BBC to try to lead the argument.