Spending spree 

12 May 2004 tbs.pm/610

BBC’s £15m advertising under attack

The last few months have been a particularly tough time for the BBC, so any fresh criticism of what the BBC does is likely to reverberate rather more than it would have usually done, even allowing for a touch of anti-BBC spin applied along the way. Unfortunately the BBC makes an easy target when it comes to accusations relating to value for money – even though the sums involved are miniscule compared with other public spending requirements – but yet again it is the licence fee that is responsible for both the increased expenditure and the resulting criticism.

Let’s look at this from a BBC perspective: you have a charter review on the horizon and many viewers have the choice of far more TV and radio channels, therefore some people are now beginning to question the validity of paying for a TV licence in order to fund a BBC which they may make use of less often than they used to. Faced with this new dilemma, it is instinctive for the organisation that is funded by the licence fee (ie. the BBC) to try and justify its source of funding so a natural inclination is to remind people of the value of the BBC’s programmes and services.

The increased usage of poster advertising isn’t that surprising either, since the BBC may feel that this is the only way of promoting the value of its licence fee-funded programming and services to those people who hardly ever watch or listen to BBC services; direct advertising on its commercial rivals may be out of the question so poster advertising is the next best alternative and has the additional advantage of catching people ‘out of context’. Factor in the requirement to promote the BBC’s new digital channels as well as the Freeview platform (without which the Government would have been in serious trouble relating to its analogue switchoff plans) and the increased promotional spend makes sense.

Here’s a quote from Labour MP Andy Burnham (a former government media advisor) which illustrates a misunderstanding: “I can think of better uses of licence fee payers’ money than spending it to tell them the FA Cup is ‘great drama’. Most people already know that”. That quote contains an extract from the BBC’s promotional material which has been taken out of context; the FA Cup is actually “great drama from the BBC”, and since we know that the FA Cup is dramatic (to football fans, anyway) it is the omitted “from the BBC” part that is important in this case.

Although being independent from government gives the BBC a great deal of freedom, it would help the BBC if it was publically supported by the current administration to a greater extent than at present, therefore resulting in less money having to be spent on promotional activity and more money spent on programming. At some point the BBC will have to reduce the amount of self-promotion since ultimately it could end up as being self-defeating as well as being a drain on its resources, though it would be immensely helpful if the BBC was supported more by politicians in public despite any private misgivings they may have.

Ultimately the current government may support the BBC’s cause (despite its love-hate relationship) but it is doing the BBC no favours by publically appearing to be impartial for the benefit of the commercial sector; the media industry (and politicians) benefits either directly or indirectly from a strong BBC so it’s about time the BBC was properly supported for being the valuable resource it has become.

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