Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60-65)




  60. I would like to follow up Mr Keen's questioning. I have to say that I was feeling pretty well-behaved today until I heard this kind of fantasy land that Mr Dyke was leading us into right at the end. He says that BBC1 and ITV are the two principal channels and are liable to go on dominating. Each of them now has got about 27 per cent of the audience, give or take the odd percentage. Mr Dyke himself says that the BBC will settle down with about 30 per cent of the audience, which may or may not be so. Alan was talking about the change in the landscape. When the predecessor to this Select Committee was conducting its inquiry into the new Charter, which very much was framed in line with the recommendations of that Select Committee, the lines of questioning we have had this morning would never have occurred to most people. We have moved exponentially into a new area in a very few years and we are now on an exponential trend still further. You have got three-eighths of the audience now on all your channels. Mr Dyke, quite realistically, says 30 per cent. Your Charter expires in under four and a half years. If you have got a third of the audience by then you will be doing very well indeed. What I want to know is how you can justify the continuation of the funding of the BBC by a regressive tax on the basis of having 30 per cent of the audience, if you get that?
  (Mr Dyke) If you go back—and I do not know if I have got the sheet with me—we have done a sheet looking from 1956 onwards—BBC1's share of the audience today is roughly where it was in 1959, and the major change over the period since then has been the decline of ITV's audience into other commercial channels and some decline in the BBC's share in recent years. You can look now at what is happening in digital homes. These are people who have got 100 channels available to them and therefore their viewing tells you something about what future share would be. If you say how do we justify the BBC and what it does, I do not think we should knock that around in the last five minutes of this session. We would be very happy, if that is what you want, to come back and give you the rationale of where the BBC is going in future, what it supplies, what it does and what value it gives to society. I do not think we want to do that in the last five minutes of this session. That is a long debate. If you want to do it, it is a very serious debate about the BBC's role in the digital age. It is interesting and some of us would have different views, but I would hate to get into that at this time.

  61. That is all very nice, Mr Dyke, but the fact is that we are living in a world that is changing in a manner which few of us could foresee. We read in today's newspapers of the way in which Premier League football is coming onto the computer, for example. We are only at the beginning of convergence and yet both you, and I have to say the Government, appear to believe that the best future of the BBC is to preserve it in some kind of aspic. What is your strategy? What I have never seen, and in your document today I do not see it, is the strategy you have for the convergence age to justify your being funded by a regressive tax.
  (Mr Davies) Can I just make a couple of comments, Chairman. First of all, we are not preserved in aspic. We have just launched a large number of digital channels. We are going to launch more, the Government has given its permission. We introduced one of Britain's leading web sites, if not the leading web site, and we have been very active in that area. We are normally criticised for doing too much rather than too little to change the structure of the BBC and its channel content. I share with you a concern that forecasting the future is very, very difficult at a time of large technological change and I do not know how it will work out, but the question that we have to ask ourselves (for a longer term than the next Charter) is when these technical changes have occurred, will people still feel that at maybe around 30 per cent of their viewing they are getting value for money for £109 a year? It is very feasible that people will still consider that that is very good value for money. If you compare what they are paying for the BBC with what they are paying for subscription channels, they are very much more expensive with much smaller shares of viewing. As Greg says, if we look today at what we are doing in the digital homes and the share the BBC is managing to sustain, are those people still getting value for money for their licence fees, and my answer to that at the moment is yes, but I am not sure how it will change in future.

  62. Mr Dyke is quite right to say that it is inappropriate and unsuitable to enter into a large-scale debate in the closing moments of your appearing before here, so I would say two things: first of all, people who subscribe to the other agencies which provide broadcasting do so voluntarily —
  (Mr Davies) Absolutely.

  63. Secondly, I put you on notice that it is extremely likely before the end of this Parliament that we shall be conducting an inquiry into the renewal of the Charter. Perhaps we can all think more about how we will approach that, but no doubt we shall be seeing you again before that.
  (Mr Davies) I rarely think of anything else, Chairman, so I am ready when you are!
  (Mr Dyke) As a final line in a profound philosophical debate, do not under-estimate the massive importance of universality. The ability of everybody to receive is incredibly important. Secondly, do analyse what is happening today in the commercial market-place. The real problem of fragmentation is who pays for the original programming in a decade's time if you are not funding the BBC, because the great danger is that the world gets dominated by American programmes.

Mr Bryant

  64. 50 per cent of the BBC is not accessible now.
  (Mr Dyke) It will be universally accessible when Government, not us, decides to switch off the analogue signal.


  65. My father in his last illness was encouraged by our saying to him, "Look at the man next door, he is in a wheelchair," and my father said, "I am sorry for him, but it does not make me feel any better." The fact that ITV is undoubtedly in a shambles is not some argument for saying that all is well with you.
  (Mr Dyke) It is not about the management of ITV or anything else. It is what happens to advertising revenue in a fragmented market-place; it fragments. That is what is happening to ITV. The only response as a commercial organisation to that is to reduce what you spend on programming; it is your only response.

  Chairman: As you said, this is the start of a new debate. Thank you very much.

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