On Wednesday I met leading BBC people at the Commons. They told us of their commercial successes with Dr Who and Strictly Come dancing, and tried to whet our appetite for their Christmas schedules with a long advert for their leading programmes.
I asked them how they defined public service broadcasting? They said they saw their popular commercial shows as a crucial part of that, yet these shows could just as easily have been invented by ITV and shown on a commercial channel. Many are sold to commercial channels elsewhere in the world to be shown. I am still at a loss to know what their definition of public service is, and how it differs from Downton Abbey or ITV News. Why is East Enders public service, and Coronation Street commercial?
The BBC has always experienced a difficult dilemma over public service definitions. If public service is educational or uplifting programmes for a minority, it runs the risk of the majority no longer wishing to pay for it by a tax. If it is very popular programmes to keep the majority on board, it is difficult often to distinguish these from commercial product.Why does that need a poll tax?
I raised with them a more interesting issue which has often been raised here. How do they think tv will evolve in the years ahead, as more and more programmes and content is delivered by internet? Will they reach a point where many more people no longer watch any live tv, and so they will claim they should not have to pay a tv licence?
The BBC management recognised the issue, and said come the next dialogue about the licence fee they might need to reconsider the definition of the taxable service. That should be an interesting debate.