The greatest argument in favour of the license fee

Yesterday Ofcom criticised the BBC’s hugely promising project to get its content online and accessible on demand for free. According to Ofcom, project like BBC iPlayer “would not be in the long-term public interest”. Not too long ago a similar attack was made against the BBC’s use of podcasts.

This is the BBC using modern technology to make content more available to everybody. These are programmes that have already been paid for, being made available to more people in a much more convenient format. You would be able to watch or listen to programmes whenever it suits you. Unquestionably, license fee payers would be getting more value for money.

But apparently, the BBC doing great things like this hurts the commercial sector. I think not! Does the BBC’s iPlayer prevent ITV from creating their own similar service? Hardly. In fact, Channel 4 are already out of the blocks with their 4oD service.

The fact that more commercial broadcasters haven’t taken the same step, though, is rather telling. The problem with commercial broadcasters is that they all just roll around moaning about the license fee instead of actually thinking about what the audience wants. As the boss of (commerical) Radio Pembrokeshire said last year,

…If only other small commercial stations would stop whining about the [BBC] and offer engaging content, like us, then the commercial sector would be in less of a sorry state.

The commercial broadcasters churn out their samey middle-of-the-road rubbish and refuse to take advantage of the new technology that threatens the very existence of television as we know it. The BBC, meanwhile, is taking all of the innovative steps that are dragging the mainstream media into the 21st century.

If the commercial sector is in trouble, they ought to take a good look at themselves rather than just pointing at the BBC. As things stand, the greatest argument in favour of the license fee is not the quality of the BBC. It is the shoddy state of commercial broadcasters, with their utter disregard for viewers.

Meanwhile, Ofcom should be embarrassed. To criticise the BBC’s ambitions to drag television into the modern world and benefit viewers as a whole makes them just look completely out of touch, particularly as they claim that such a scheme would not be in the public interest!

All the while, Ofcom turn a blind eye to — if not positively encourage — phone-in quiz shows that pollute commercial television stations. These are genuine dangers to the public interest. They don’t serve the viewers one iota (apart from the relatively decent Quizmania, which has been axed), and they downright swindle the poor people who phone in.

See also Ryan Morrison’s post. Meanwhile, Mike Power puts it more succinctly.


  1. Seems to me like Ofcom are behind the times, and (as they very often are) the BBC are ahead of them, in technological terms. Silliness.

  2. I couldn’t agree more. BBC produce some of the finest entertainment on television at the moment (the only non-sport/live event programme that I watch regularly on non commercial TV is Soccer AM). ITV has become diluted rubbish, Channel 4 is getting rid of it’s quality programming at an alarming rate to replace it with Big Brother knockoffs, and Channel 5 is…well….Channel 5.

    On the beeb there is something for everything. ITV is basically the same old, same old.

  3. BBC is the cutting edge. By the way:

    “Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face, Great chieftain o’ the Puddin-race! Aboon them a’ ye tak your place, Painch, tripe, or thairm: Weel are ye wordy of a grace As lang’s my arm.”

    Hat tip Colin.

  4. […] Tonight is Burns Night — a fact that my dangerously nationalist self keeps on forgetting. I had forgotten once again until James Higham left this in a comment: Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face, Great chieftain o’ the Puddin-race! Aboon them a’ ye tak your place, Painch, tripe, or thairm: Weel are ye wordy of a grace As lang’s my arm. […]

  5. […] I have written before about this “trial” stuff the BBC always has to do. I hate the way the BBC has to tiptoe around everything, instead of actually getting on with it. Clearly the technology is there, and the demand is obviously there. But clearly making sure the commerical sector doesn’t piss its pants is more important. […]