Commercial broadcasters have won political backing for their opposition to the bbc’s digital expansion plans in the U.K.
The influential House of Commons Select Committee on Media and Culture has argued that the BBC should not receive any extra funding from the public to support its plans to launch more digital channels. The corporation already earns £2.2 billion a year from license fee revenues and significant income from its commercial arm BBC Worldwide.
The select committee claims existing digital services like BBC News 24, which cost £54 million a year to run, are a waste of money. It also rejects a recommendation in the Government-initiated Davies Report that subscribers to digital television should pay a £24 annual levy to fund the BBC’s digital growth. One Member of Parliament said ‘their digital channels are expensive and dull. Yet the BBC has the gall to ask for £700 million. They must be crazy.’
The select committee does not have any power over the British Labour government, but its negative reaction to the Davies proposals will put extra pressure on media secretary Chris Smith.
Smith has already been bombarded with criticisms that a BBC digital tax would slow down digital/on-line’s growth in the U.K. There are also complaints from commercial rivals which claim the BBC is moving into territory already served by private sector investment.
News 24, for example, goes head to head with Sky News – which operates on a budget of less than £20 million. The BBC’s new children’s channel has also drawn an angry reaction from the likes of Nickelodeon, Fox and Disney who believe it is at an unfair, competitive advantage. The BBC is also a dominant player in on-line, merchandising, video and publishing.
It is not clear whether the government will back Davies’ call for a £24 levy, but Smith is sympathetic to the pubcaster’s cause. He is keen to ensure that the BBC’s international role is not diminished by its inability to compete in digital. However, even original channel ideas, such as BBC Choice, have yet to find a meaningful audience on digital platforms.
The digital debate is new director-general Greg Dyke’s first major challenge. In his debut outing as DG, Dyke outlined his ambition to put education at the forefront of the BBC’s remit going forward. The pubcaster is currently channeling substantial sums into a digital/on-line service called BBC Knowledge.