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My BBC DQF Proposal

Another day, another proposal under the BBC’s Delivering Quality First (DQF) – aka, what significant cuts can we make as painlessly as possible?
We’ve had plenty of them to date including the gutting of BBC Local radio, stopping late night or daytime broadcasts. Just today, the BBC News channel (or BBC News 24 as it’s just about universally still known) is the latest in line. I would like to see a few more reports from the BBC nations and regions on BBC News – they’ve been edited up and packaged already. There’s a half-hour programme just waiting to be made, probably requiring a single editor/producer. But enough of that. Allow me to introduce my proposal.
To make some key savings, you’ve got to look to television. Radio is just too small. Unless you attack the budgets of Radio 3 or Radio 4, both as culturally important to UK society as any other thing, then there’s not really a great deal to go for.
Of course Radio 1, Radio 2 and Five Live have budgets every commercial station would kill for. But in the scheme of things, we need to look bigger. I assume it was this thinking that has led to a reprieve for the Asian Network.
One of the proposals mentioned today was taking BBC Parliament online. That would save £6.5m pa according to the most recent BBC Accounts. A parliamentary channel is never going to be popular, but it’s an important part of our democracy. Saving a trivial amount of cash to deprive those who are not on the internet (that’s a lot of people, disproportionately biased towards the elderly) of that answerability, and at a time when libraries are shutting, seems futile. If the BBC can make central Government pay, that’s a possibility, although there is still journalistic rigourousness required, so it might be better being at arm’s length from the government.
I’m concerned about cuts surrounding daytime. While the over reliance on shows based around selling off antiques and doing up homes needs some serious addressing, we need to consider very carefully our elderly. Daytime repeats of primetime shows might be the way forward to save some cash here. I assume same week repeats don’t incur repeat fees for performers?
But enough of what I wouldn’t do. What would I do?
Move BBC Three online.
And by that, I mean cut vast amounts of what it does, and leave the remainder online, cutting distribution costs. Essentially, BBC Three would become a red-button service.
Allow me to expand. BBC Three costs £118.6m pa according to the BBC report and accounts (page F32).
Of that £87.5m is on “content“, with £6.8m on distribution (so very similar to BBC Parliament), and £24.3m in infrastructure and support.
Compared with that, BBC Four costs £74.0m and BBC Two £575.6m.
Quite why BBC Three and BBC Parliament’s distribution costs should be nearly double BBC Four’s at £3.8m I’m not sure. On Freeview and Sky, BBC Three and BBC Four, timeshare a multiplex with CBBC and CBeebies, while BBC Parliament is 24/7. Anyway, that’s a question for another day.
I’d chop that “content” fee right down. BBC Three is the least original of the BBC’s digital offerings, with elements of it replicated by commercial rivals including E4, ITV2, Sky One and Sky Living. It’s biggest ratings come from narrative repeats of popular BBC One and BBC Two shows like Eastenders, Doctor Who and Top Gear.
While it has broken some new comedy, for every Gavin & Stacey, there’s a White Van Man. BBC Two and BBC Four could easily fulfill this need. Dramas like Being Human could happily sit on BBC Two. And nobody at all would miss programming like Snog, Marry, Avoid.
BBC Three does produce a few decent single documentaries that make accessible relevant issues to a younger audience. And it’s this programming that I’d put behind the red button. In the same way that various sports highlight packages and concerts employ bandwidth under the red button, I’d have these programmes on a permament roll. Some would fit in that awkward post-news BBC One slot early in the week. You find exactly these BBC Three docs showing in that slot anyway.
Some of the comedy elements would exist in an online world only. I envisage a YouTube-style comedy environment to encourage new writers and performers.
BBC Two and BBC Four would widen their remits a bit – the former for drama (which it’s doing anyway) – and the latter for more comedy (something it’s seemingly about to back away from).
Freeview would gain an extra red button channel – something it really needs. CBBC could extend its hours to 8pm.
I’d run Doctor Who repeats on CBBC in the 7pm hour. Eastenders repeats could go on BBC One in the afternoons – perhaps with edits.
While I’m changing everything, I’d move children’s programming back from BBC Two to BBC One, running to at least 5.30pm. Then run something like Eggheads for the next half an hour. Hiding kids programming away only on the kids’ channels isn’t a good idea in the long term. The BBC really shouldn’t be caring about audience sizes at that time of day. Who cares if C4/ITV has bigger shows between 5 and 6? It doesn’t matter. While you could keep Anne Robinson on BBC Two, I’d look to archive or films filling the 4-6pm slot on BBC Two. Then maybe a quiz format like that Alexander Armstrong one through until 7pm.
I reckon you could save at least £80m in this way. That’s the sort of levels the BBC’s trying to achieve isn’t it?