"The best part of the story is that the BBC’s competitors — namely The
Guardian, in the guise of the British Internet Publishers Alliance
(BIPA) — being upset by this decision. The Guardian also gets a decent
chunk of its online traffic from outside the UK,
so this move will bring them strong new competition. But BIPA claims
it’s not upset over the prospect of lost revenues, but rather that this
move will undermine the BBC’s "worldwide reputation for integrity and
impartiality." How sweet of them to look out for the Beeb like that."
This makes a point that I’ve made before quite succinctly: the BBC is constantly assailed by commercial companies which, having failed to compete by producing enough original quality content, think they can complain to the government that it’s all "not fair".
Of course, a decent, bullish BBC director general, being a leader (as opposed to manager) would be manning the ramparts and pointing this out. Nothing would give me greater pleasure than for a BBC DG to come out and say "Actually, ITV, The Grauniad et al have spent millions trying to get online right, and none of them have got within a light year of the work we do. Will someone please call them a waaaaahmbulance?" Sadly, Mark Thompson isn’t the man to do it.
One of Nate’s other comments, though, is well wide of the mark:
"The Beeb, of course, can’t run ads in the UK, where they already
collect a licence fee on every household with a TV. But despite
collecting I think 3 billion pounds in free money each year, the BBC
still claims it’s got a 2 billion pound shortfall, and they recently cut 2800 jobs. (This seems to be primarily the result of bad planning and silly, wasteful decisions. 18 million pounds last year to have Jonathan Ross lisp bad film reviews on Friday nights? Surely you’re joking.)"
Actually, it’s got a lot more to do with the fact that the government has shafted the BBC over its involvement in the switch over to digital TV. Not only does it have to bare its own costs (including launching flagship digital channels which it otherwise wouldn’t have to create), it also has to spend large amounts ensuring that every over-75 year old person in the UK can get digital TV; finance the body which is doing the marketing for the scheme (Digital UK); and actually build the DTV infrastructure country-wide. It is now even being forced to pay £14 million to cover the switchover costs of Channel 4, one of its main competitors. Channel 4 chief Andy Duncan was, unsurprisingly, "delighted" about this.
The whole lot comes to about £800 million over seven years, and amounts to about a 1% increase on the license fee. The BBC’s recent license fee settlement was for 3% in 2008 – which effectively means that the BBC has been given no increase at all once you account for digital switchover costs and inflation, while being expected to introduce new services like iPlayer, podcasts and so on. In future years, the picture actually looks even more grim, with 2% increases in 2009-11 and something between zero and 2% in 2012, depending on the final costs of digital switchover.
A 2% year-on-year increase in the element which provides the majority of your revenue would be viewed by any large commercial organisation as the kind of figure which is unsustainable if you want to grow the business. If inflation increases, it will wipe out that figure entirely – leaving the BBC with no money to fund pay increases, which in an organisation based on a model of collective yearly incremental increases with no money to fund them.
The BBC is, overall, not a great company to work for if you want money – virtually everyone I’ve known who has worked there has been paid quite a bit less than the commercial rate for their job – and if its pay rises fail to keep in touch with the rest of the industry, it will lose even more of its talent.
And I’m not talking about the Jonathan Ross’s of this world here, but the ordinary employees – the ones who have been producing the quality content which The Guardian and others have been complaining about.