Cutting remarks 

20 October 2010 tbs.pm/1221

Given the pro-BBC lobby’s near-meltdown at the merest thought of yesterday’s licence fee settlement (not only frozen but with additional expenditure tacked on as well), it’s rather perplexing to still have the BBC Trust showing an admirably brave face in its official statement on the settlement.

Either the Trust is showing solidarity with BBC management out of plain necessity, or alternatively both it and the BBC know something of great significance that we still don’t, namely that the BBC must already have further major cutbacks planned in order to adequately deal with this future deficiency.

(Having said that, a significant reason why the BBC Trust could be pleased with itself is because it has been saved as part of the deal.)

Or has BBC management been far-sighted enough to include such savage cutbacks into its current financial projections?

My guess is that there’s already a mid-term plan in place for such an eventuality – BBC Three and/or Four/News Channel being axed are strong logical possibilities – and these cuts may be scheduled for the next service review when it is judged that increased iPlayer usage means that there’s less of a need for traditional television channels.

The BBC News Channel in particular may be judged to be obsolete in the next few years, because broadband video now means that you can watch the latest headlines without having to wait for them to appear, and continuous broadcasting of news is an expensive luxury that a cash-strapped BBC may not be able to justify in the future.

(Indeed the BBC’s financial support of broadband internet services in rural areas may also be a key trigger in this regard.)

Additional newsworthy events of moderate importance (such as a press conference) can be featured using live streaming video on the BBC News website, and any major breaking news stories (planned or otherwise) are already simulcast on BBC One or BBC Two anyway.

It’s also readily apparent that a standard definition News Channel will soon appear to be out of date with no bandwidth imminently available on Freeview for a HD equivalent, therefore expect the News Channel to cease broadcasting within the next five years unless a miraculous excuse can be found to keep it on air.

Certainly the major BBC services cannot cope with any further budget cuts – BBC News in particular is already at breaking point and 2010 hasn’t finished yet – so additional cost-trimming of existing BBC services is out of the question unless you’re clinically insane or have a death wish.

Then there’s the intended “partial takeover” of S4C, which has naturally provoked discontent from S4C and various sections of the Welsh broadcasting community; this is likely to either be a precursor to the Welsh Assembly being forced into directly co-funding S4C or alternatively for S4C to ultimately turn into a Welsh version of BBC Alba.

All of this means that the general air of ambivalence that accompanies these official statements from both BBC management and the Trust is both worrying and reassuring at the same time, especially when combined with an air of mystery as to what exactly will happen next.