The BBC is at risk of “stagnation and decline” without a bold new plan for its future, according to a report published on Monday by the Communications and Digital Committee of the UK’s House of Lords .
The “Licence to Change: BBC Future Funding” report was published ahead of further debate in the House this week around the future of the public broadcaster’s licence fee funding model. The idea of freezing the licence fee was discussed in late 2021, and the Conservative government’s culture secretary Nadine Dorries said earlier this year that it was time to discuss new ways to fund and sell “great British content.”
The new report states that rapid changes in media, technology and consumer habits, combined with increasing competition, mean the BBC must better define its role and devise a new vision for how it will deliver for audiences. This must include costed options for future funding models that go beyond the existing licence fee system, the committee said, with the report going on to describe the license fee system as regressive and arguing that “regularly raising the fee to the levels the BBC requires will hit the poorest hardest.”
Some form of public funding remains necessary for the BBC, the report continues, but the authors push for the pubcaster to do more to maintain the legitimacy of public funding by doing a better job of “representing the full range of perspectives and communities that make up our diverse society.”
“The BBC cannot provide content that pleases everyone all the time. Yet we continue to hear that the BBC is not representing widely held perspectives in the UK, which often do not divide neatly along party political lines,” the report states. “The legitimacy of a future funding model risks being undermined by dissatisfied audiences and declining viewing share.”
That said, the report did praise the BBC’s diversity initiatives, and it encourages the broadcaster to continue its on- and off-screen representation work.
The report adds that the BBC needs to expand its commercial operations, and calls for the pubcaster to be open to more ambitious commercial options like domestic or international hybrid subscription services. The committee also put out a call for the UK’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport to extensively consult with the public before any decisions about future funding for the BBC are made, adding that it urges any discussion on this matter move beyond “the binary ‘for or against’ licence fee debate.”
A BBC spokesperson said the organization welcomes the report, adding that the pubcaster agrees it needs to keep reforming as it’s been doing at pace.
“Clearly the BBC needs to keep relevant, and we welcome the report’s finding that a market failure BBC wouldn’t be a good outcome,” the BBC spokesperson said. “Beyond that, we are open-minded about the future and it is right that there is a debate on whether the license fee needs to evolve and, if so, what comes next.”
The uncertain future of the BBC licence fee was noted in the BBC’s recent overall annual report. At present the fee will remain in place until the end of 2027, but with a two-year freeze on increases through 2022 and 2023 and a permitted rise in line with inflation for the remainder of the term.