Yeah, I know, this is some sort of easy going media and telly website. So, you probably don’t want to be reminded that George Osborne is proposing to take 25 per cent out of every public service bar the NHS and overseas aid to make sure Blighty don’t go broke. But it could affect the media biz too, because the BBC is a public broadcaster after all.
When everybody else has to make sacrifices, why shouldn’t the BBC have to as well, reducing the licence fee from its current £145.50 to a more modest £109.13. What would the BBC look like then? Well here’s the place where we ask, just as the Corporation wakes up from its election time slumber to release its annual report (later this month) and generally start defending itself with DG Mark Thompson doing interviews and chairman Sir Michael Lyons doing speeches and all sorts.
So, according to the last set of BBC accounts, the Corporation’s licence fee funded bits spent £2.34 billion on telly; £588 million on radio; £177 million online and £293 million on other stuff (orchestras and digital telly for example). All of which adds up to £3.5 billion quid (the rest is a bit over a billion on commercial services and £295 million in government grants to pay for the World Service).
Let’s start with telly. To knock off 25 per cent would mean saving £584 million. Now, I know you like Top Gear and Newsnight, but you could close BBC Two and solve the problem right there. By contrast the ‘easy cuts’ of whacking BBC Three and BBC Four all at once would save only £186 million, so that’s not an option if you like your Osborne-style BBC pain.
Or, or, you could get your salami slicer and reduce every budget by a bit. That means reducing BBC One spend by £350 million (its share of the 25 per cent pain), which is not that many Jonathan Rosses (£6 million a pop) but a lot of Christine Bleakley’s (£100k before her move to ITV). Or could you be cleverer about it as ITV only spends what £800 million on ITV1, saving perhaps £100 million with 200-300 hours more repeats (that’s an hour a day in peak), walking away from the right sport (F1?) , sacking Linekar, Hansen and Shearer (they must cost a bit) and hoping for the best.
Hmm, it doesn’t sound that easy, come to think of it, although yes, there are no doubt many bureaucrats who could get it in the neck. But are there enough savings to generate £584 million? I doubt it, even if you cut Mark Thompsons’ £834,000 pay. Which means programmes will have to go, although maybe that doesn’t matter if ITV and, say, Sky (having been taken over by News Corp) get bigger to fill up the gap with The Biggest Loser Australia, and so forth.
We can have the same discussion with radio, where you’d have to save £147 million to make the 25 per cent target. There’s an easy way to do that: scrap BBC Local Radio which would save £133 million and allow the private sector to flourish. Except I bet a lot of folks like their local BBC radio station, so the proposal could be about as popular as shutting down a load of Post Offices.
Mind you that would be cheaper than taking £28 million out of Radio 4′s budget, which could only be achieved by sacking one presenter from Today (you decide), plus a panellist from I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue (two versus one from now on eh) and also from Any Questions (possible now as the Liberals have merged with the Tories). But on balance, not easy to achieve either.
Anyway, I know, I know. The Tories don’t want to talk BBC funding till next year. So it may not be so bad. They may value the BBC more than say, the police, army, schools, and anybody else taking a 25 per cent hit. But, then again, should they?