Tim Blair


New Criterion



Tuesday, July 22, 2003
LIKE ANY POWERFUL MONOPOLY, Auntie is not disposed to compromise, least of all with her shareholders.

Time for Minister Alston to get busy with alt-ABC.

I hope that [British] Ofcom and whatever inquiry team the government sets up to consider the renewal of the BBC charter will lift their eyes to the digital horizon, and not think only about the past few years of analogue broadcasting.

according to Barry Cox in the Guardian, with some relevant thoughts on promoting quality broadcasting in the digital age.

By the time the government switches off analogue television - say, in 10 years' time, though it could happen sooner - the majority of homes in Britain will effectively be electronic retail outlets...

[French channel] M6 has, in 15 years, turned itself into the second largest commercial broadcaster in France. It has a strong appeal to the 16-34 age group, and uses a significant number of its programmes to promote and support its own record label, its cinema and DVD distribution, its magazines, its merchandising, its home shopping and its events.

Programmes that don't fit these criteria - expensive drama, comedy and documentaries - will, in my view, rarely find a place on free channels in the digital era.

The choice in future will be either to let expensive TV shows tap into that pay market on a commercial basis - or see them confined to the BBC. This is what the BBC both expects and wants.

But the BBC chairman, Gavyn Davies, argued three years ago that in the kind of market I described at the beginning it would be difficult to justify the current position of the BBC. ..."If the broadcasting market were ever to approach the condition of the book publishing market it would be much more dubious whether the BBC and the licence fee could be justified in their present role."

In short, the BBC is, in its current form, a cultural tyranny - a largely benevolent one, admittedly, but a tyranny none the less. ...the BBC has great creative strength across the whole range of programmes, and understands the tastes of many different audiences. And that strength is precisely why it can and should afford, in the digital world, to rely on our willingness to pay for it voluntarily.

In Australia's case Auntie should give up her ambition to build a dominant role in digital channels on tax-payer funding.