BBC director general Tim Davie has marked the start of the corporation’s centenary year with a strong defence of the BBC licence fee, arguing that its funding mechanism allows it to take risks and to play a crucial role helping the UK creative industries to thrive.
Writing in The Times this week, Davie said that the BBC’s role as an organisation solely serving the public has allowed it to take the risks on which innovation in the market depends — from the birth of TV and radio to the first steps into the digital world, with Ceefax and BBC Micro, and breakthroughs such as iPlayer, which blazed a trail for global streamers and created a new market for video on demand.
Davie said: “Today, as the BBC reaches 100, the UK’s creative industries remain some of the most vibrant and successful in the world. This is a sector that, before the Covid crisis hit, was growing at four times the rate of the UK economy as a whole, and in all parts of the UK. It employed over two million people and was generating goods and services worth £116 billion a year.
“To put this in context, that’s more than the automotive, aerospace, life sciences and oil and gas industries combined. With TV in particular, we punch way above our weight. Even in the face of the pandemic, UK TV exports made a staggering £1.48 billion worldwide in 2020 — up 6 per cent year on year.”
Davie wrote that sustained investment in British content is backed by a mix of funding models: advertising, subscription and public money. “All this has led to a sector in which talent can thrive. Strong public-service broadcasting and a competitive commercial sector deliver huge mutual benefits and complete a virtuous circle of brilliant British creativity. The result is one of the jewels in the UK’s economic crown. It is something that we must invest in and fight for.”
He said the BBC’s focus in the year ahead would be on innovation and reforming to ensure it can keep delivering value to audiences in the digital world. “This means redoubling our efforts in the areas where we are unique and precious: British storytelling, impartial journalism, areas such as education, local news and research and development. These things are made more, not less, relevant by the digital age.”
Davie’s comments come at a tricky time for the BBC. The government is likely to agree on a new five-year licence fee settlement for the corporation within the next few weeks, with reports suggesting that the £159 a year fee is unlikely to increase in line with inflation.
The centenary of the BBC, which was launched on October 18, 1922, is being marked by programmes such as David Attenborough’s The Green Planet, and special editions of shows such as Strictly Come Dancing, Doctor Who and Top Gear.