Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The case for a voluntary subscription funded BBC

Brilliant article by David Elstein over at Liberal Conspiracy making the case for a voluntary subscription funded BBC. Worth reading the whole thing but here are some good bits:

"There is a social cost to this process, as well as a financial cost. A large proportion of those prosecuted are single parents on low incomes, for whom the licence fee is a considerable burden. To add to this burden the court-imposed fines is effectively to criminalise poverty. Almost no-one now goes to jail for failing to pay the evasion fine, but the victims of the system are often dragged back to court soon after a conviction, having fallen behind again and now finding themselves on the enforcers’ radar.


As it happens, there is an abundance of evidence that very few people would choose to do without the BBC, at a given price. Moreover, a series of studies has shown that a large proportion of the population would willingly pay more for the BBC than the current level of the licence fee, strongly suggesting that if the BBC introduced a series of channel packages, from, say, just BBC One through to the full array of current channels plus HD options and perhaps a sports channel, take-up of one or other of these choices would be nearly universal, and BBC income would rise, rather than fall, especially as each TV set would need its own smart card, allowing the cost of the cheapest package for a single TV to be as low as £5 per month.

The paradox of the present situation is that people too poor or too unwilling to pay for the BBC are forced to subsidise those who value it well above the level of the licence fee, mostly because that level is a much lower proportion of their net income than it is for the poorest. A tax-based licence fee removes that inequity, but a layered consumer proposition which is entirely voluntary gives the BBC a much stronger connection with its viewers and listeners, real accountability for the first time, and the opportunity to continue developing new services that will appeal to subscribers.


First, there is a well-established public demand for high quality products: without it, publications like The Economist and the Financial Times could not exist, along with a huge array of other magazines.

Secondly, the research that has been done shows that the present balance of BBC output would deliver enough subscribers to maintain the present quality of service: and as the BBC is non-profit-making and publicly owned, there should be no pressure to dilute in order to maximize revenue."

If this policy were proposed it could do well electorally. TaxPayers' Alliance polling (PPT) suggests that the license fee is considered the second most unfair tax (after council tax) and is particularly disliked by the working class.

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