Magazine article Marketing

Raymond Snoddy on Media: Neophile Beeb Is Risking Licence Fee

Magazine article Marketing

Raymond Snoddy on Media: Neophile Beeb Is Risking Licence Fee

Article excerpt

The BBC has been boasting about a record month for online listening.

Radio 4's Afternoon Play received more than a quarter of a million online listening requests and there were no less than 1.9m MP3 downloads. Melvyn Bragg's In Our Time put on an additional 38,000 downloads in December and there were more than 400,000 downloads of the Today programme's 8.10am interview.

Great stuff. Clever old BBC to show it can be so successful at enabling people to receive all those programmes on non-traditional listening devices.

But hold on a minute. Listening is one thing - how about television?

Even better. The entire Winter Olympics has been shown on broadband. BBC content on mobile phones? There is no doubt there will be lots of it before the year is over.

Before the trebles are passed around too enthusiastically at the Corporation, is anyone wondering just for a moment whether the BBC is actually preparing to dig a deeper and deeper hole for itself?

The ghost at this particular feast is the licence fee. The government has decreed that the universal licence fee should continue for at least another 10 years from the beginning of 2007. And for a flat-rate tax imposed on television viewers under the age of 75, it remains a remarkably uncontentious issue.

But what if the BBC is day by day undermining the very fee it depends on by encouraging people to enjoy its TV productions on everything from computers and iPods to mobile phones? Within five years, never mind 10, there will probably be an unimaginable number of ways to receive television.

The law is clear. The licence fee applies to television receivers, not just traditional TV sets. Ask BBC director-general Mark Thompson about this problem and he still shuffles a little uneasily before suggesting that the vast majority of homes have a licence anyway, so the more futuristic devices are already covered. And most of people's viewing will be still be on TV sets - a habit that could be underpinned by the arrival of HDTV.

That may perhaps be true now, but will it really still be the case in 2017?

It is just as likely that growing numbers of internet-literate people will simply download material from wherever they can get it onto a wide range of devices, which may or may not include anything resembling a TV set.

It will be really interesting when the first prosecution is mounted against someone for illicitly watching BBC News 24 on their mobile phone. …

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