Mind boggling 

23 April 2008 tbs.pm/887

Privatise Channel 4, says Big Brother mogul

Want a lively debate combined with a whole host of potential contradictions? Then hire Peter Bazalgette as a guest speaker as what happened with the Royal Television Society last night, so brace yourself for a deluge of buzzwords and policy ideas that have been rejected by the Conservative Party.

Firstly, the subject of radio. There are more differences between the national BBC radio stations and the commercial stations than many people realise; all because BBC Radios 1 and 2 play a handful of identical popular music tracks doesn’t result in the fact that privatisating them will preserve their character.

Plus the modest amount of money saved by privatising Radio 1 and Radio 2 would be far less than the immense damage such a move would inflict on the already embattled private radio sector. The commercial sector works to a radically different set of objectives when it comes to playlists, audience appreciation and commissioning new content.

And whilst it’s true that the commercial radio sector has been too complacent and needs a shakeup, having a major new competitor will cause them to raise the white flag higher as opposed to upping their game, since a very popular private national commercial popular music station would have immense commercial power.

The resulting fight between two large commercial radio networks versus the rest would create a bitter battle between the radio incumbents, with the listener being the loser as a result because they would naturally concentrate on scrapping amongst themselves for advertisers (and listeners) as opposed to serving the listener.

That’s the radio argument dealt with, so what about privatising Channel 4? We’ve been here before with trying to preserve public service commitments – and that strategy failed miserably with ITV – so why should doing the same thing to Channel 4 be any more successful in the long term?

Indeed Channel 4 subjectively went downhill at the very point when it became responsible for its own advertising sales, so giving it even more responsibility isn’t going to make things ‘better’ by any means if it relates to the issue of public service remits.

Then there’s the very appropriately-named ‘Boggle’, which is Bazalgette’s take on the “public service publisher” idea; this time sidestepping the public-private subsidy issue by concentrating on existing public arts institutions for the cash. Do I detect a conflict here between this proposal and the notion of “shaking up the establishment’?

The extreme irony is that the commercial sector has been well placed to produce 26-part documentaries about World War 2 in the shape of Discovery Networks or National Geographic, so getting a bunch of art galleries and museums to do something similar would result in a string of terribly worthy documentaries that few people would watch.

Which let’s face it wouldn’t exactly be value for money.

Combine everything together and you would end up with two new powerful commercial radio networks doing precious little in the terms of public service content, a severely weakened local commercial radio network, a Channel 4 even more dependent on Big Brother and a handful of Egyptian Art documentaries on YouTube.

Way to go, Peter.