The licence fee is “morally on the way out” and the BBC should be required to make much of its money through optional subscriptions, the chairman of the culture select committee said.
Julian Knight, the Conservative MP, said the corporation’s sprawling size had done lasting damage to the media industry, arguing that commercial publishers could not compete with the “behemoth” BBC website.
Mr Knight suggested that a reduced form of public funding would continue to be required to sustain a “basic BBC”, including its flagship TV and radio stations. He argued that the corporation should charge viewers for access to premium services, such as iPlayer, meaning people who do not wish to use them would not have to pay.
Tim Davie, the BBC’s new director-general, is preparing to open negotiations with ministers on its future funding. The TV licence system is guaranteed until 2027 but the level at which the levy is set will be determined in a mid-term review of the BBC’s royal charter due to start next year.
Mr Knight warned that technical difficulties would make it politically dangerous for the government to replace the licence fee with a Netflix-style pure subscription model. Channels such as BBC One and BBC Two cannot be “switched off” on Freeview, which is how tens of millions of Britons, especially older people, receive their TV. This would mean the channels would have to be taken off free-to-air services and put behind a paywall.
“We’re going to end up with lots of elderly constituents’ TVs being turned off as a result. I can guarantee that’s one way to ensure that we are not forming a government next time,” Mr Knight told a webinar on the future of the BBC organised by the Institute of Economic Affairs, a free-market think tank. But he added: “There needs to be some form of subscription. We need to see a reduction in the money that is paid out in the licence fee, reduced over time, and other income streams brought forwards.”
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September 10, 2020 at 01:59AM