back to article The commercial cuckoo hiding in the BBC's global mission

Check the calendar dates and a possible cunning plan emerges. On Thursday 6th May, there was a strong possibility that the UK would elect a Tory government, one that would be eyeing BBC funding suspiciously. On Tuesday 11th of May, BBC director general Mark Thompson gave a speech at Chatham House on "Nation Speaking Peace unto …


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  1. Alastair 7

    My problem with Murdoch

    Isn't that he's opposed to the BBC- I think there's a legitimate argument there about commerical competition. I don't consider myself well informed enough to know the answer, but I know there's a case to answer.

    Thing is, it's not like he's been prevented from raking in the cash- his media empire makes an astounding amount. So he could easily afford to make award winning nature documentaries, current-affairs investigations, dramas, innovative comedies... but he doesn't. So I support the BBC, simply because a world where Murdoch is responsible for our televisual output is a world where I would be forced to put a fist through my television after watching the opening minutes of Celebrity Pop Factor On Ice.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: My problem with Murdoch

      "So I support the BBC, simply because a world where Murdoch is responsible for our televisual output is a world where I would be forced to put a fist through my television after watching the opening minutes of Celebrity Pop Factor On Ice."

      But doesn't the BBC already make and show, on a wall-to-wall basis, programmes precisely of the "Celebritard Chefs Dancing" nature you describe? Sure, there are good natural history programmes, too, but that may have more to do with David Attenborough and friends having a firm grasp of someone's balls in the BBC executive.

      So I don't think it's merely a case of, "That bad Murdoch - I support the Beeb!" What about the distortion of the print business by BBC lifestyle magazines, all carrying advertising? That's a form of advertising by proxy given that the Beeb promotes itself and its products half the time on its own channels.

      What this article rightly points out - although it's somewhat overdue - is that the BBC is two things, and frequently the interests of the cream-skimming commercial side of the organisation are furthered by appealing to the public's sentiments towards the public-service side. Regardless of Murdoch, you shouldn't be letting people pilfer from the tax/licence pot and claim that it's for the good of the nation. If only because you end up paying these people and their chums for stuff you've already paid for.

      1. Anonymous Coward

        Re: My problem with Murdoch

        My problem with Rupert is:

        [a] that he doesn't pay any taxes in the UK - despite the huge amounts of money that flow from his UK subscribers - both in TV and the print media. And yes I know he's not the only one.

        [b] he misuses his media empire to meddle in other countries politics - when he doesn't pay taxes there!

        and, [c] he is happy to spend money here schmoozing politicians to make sure that the BBC is effectively shackled from competing with his TV empire. Check the Private Eye archives for details on which new government ministers he has in his pocket.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      ..And another thing

      Problem is, the BBC, with it's commercial aspirations, has, to some extent, gone down the same road (Strictly come dancing, anything on daytime TV).

      It's easy to slate Rupert, but he is only filling the market with what it demands. Unfortunately, the vast majority like their entertainment spoon fed to them in trashy soaps, so-called 'reality TV' freak shows and similar ilk. This speaks less about Rupert and more about the low-brow state of society.

      Sky does provide the content, in amounts more than the BBC, by funneling the Discovery channels and others. It's less visible because it's flagship channels are purely market driven.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re- And another thing....

        I can't recall who said something like this but "no one ever lost money by underestimating public tastes" and that sadly is what the rush for ratings and the pursuit of the lowest common denominator, as epitomised by News International and BSkyB, is all about. If the BBC is to become a commercial media organisation then no more monopoly fine in terms of the Licence Fee. But be careful what you wish for.

  2. LAGMonkey


    so thats why they effectivly banned the use of XBMC to connect and view BBC iPlayer content.

    They want to be commercial ( and support themselves, which CAN be done by licencing the tech interface to TV/console manufacturers and which CAN'T be done by backroom (or front room) coders.

    Money is money after all.

    Tux? cos i liked my linux XBMC setup for the BBC before, and now i have to fart arround with a workarround that isnt nearly as elegent or passes the "wife test".

  3. LuMan

    Cost of content

    While not really conservatory in many senses, I think the UK should protect the BBC as it fast becomes the last great bastion of our nation. The BBC still carries a huge amount of gravitas on the world circuit and most countries are happy for their broadcast trucks to roll up.

    On top of this, I'm happy to pay the licence fee for the programming we get - TV, radio, internet and otherwise - and I'm very much happier to watch uninterrupted films without repeats of 5-minute long ad breaks every 15 minutes.

    Murdoch ought to shut up until the whole world is ready to pay 50 quid to obtain a service that costs 25 quid a month with an ADDITIONAL payment for the good stuff! He's creaming it in and shouldn't complain (git!).

  4. TeeCee Gold badge

    Old news this.

    I've seen the Beeb's commitment to public service TV as nothing but been a figleaf for the license fee ever since they started crowing about viewing figures "wins" over ITV et. al.

    A genuinely impartial, free, public service broadcaster shouldn't give a shit about viewing figures and certainly should not be trying to compete with the "opposition". Chasing audience share just makes 'em ITV without the adverts, with a 24x7 diet of commercial crud designed to appeal to the great unwashed.

    The worst part of this is it's unfair. If a flagship BBC program goes up against an ITV one and wins the audience it may make the Beeb look good, but it f***s ITV, whose revenue is derived by advertising which in turn depends on audience share. They are then forced to work even harder for mass appeal on an ever lower budget, so the effect of the Beeb's "competition" is to drive down the quality of television overall.

    I guess it's what they get for hiring TV executives to run it rather than civil servants.

    1. Aristotles slow and dimwitted horse Silver badge

      @ Old news this...

      I do agree with your post up to a point. Just to remind you though that the BBCs public service mandate doesn't just cover the requirement to pump out shit TV content (which is certainly the case the majority of the time albeit with a few exceptions).

      The jewel in the BBC public service crown is the E2E local to global news service and this is I feel the REAL sector of the corporation that needs to be protected from both government interference, and actions born from anti-competition complaints from Murdoch and his cronies. BBC news is one of only two (possibly 3) news agencies in the world that have the resources, global reach, and quality standards to make the delivery of that reporting stand up to scrutiny.

      Post Gilligan though, I feel that this soon could be seriously under threat as the BBC will be requiring government to stand by it as Murdochs shouts get louder, and will probably bend it's standards to deliver any message that Gov't asks it to.

      Which will be a shame.

    2. Mike Richards


      When the BBC produces something that does badly in the ratings, the likes of the Times and the Mail come out and attack it for spending money on things that no one watches. The BBC can't win either way.

      And I have no problem with the BBC making money abroad, the money comes back here and gets invested in new programming. Where does Sky's money go? The company doesn't even pay tax here. As far as I can tell it spunks its money up the wall on football rights and overpaying for TV programmes that have built a faithful audience on terrestrial.

      1. The Indomitable Gall


        "As far as I can tell it spunks its money up the wall on football rights and overpaying for TV programmes that have built a faithful audience on terrestrial."

        Grrrr.... yes.

        That is so effing irritating. It's like a weird messed up sort of bait-and-switch where Channel 4 becomes the bait, the viewer is the fish and Sky is a big hairy fisherman who snatches you out on a Lost-shaped hook.

        They also screw you over with the bundles -- it's impossible to buy the channels you want without paying for half-a-dozen Murdoch channels you *don't* want.

        This is where all the money comes from. ITV makes its money from rubbish people watch, Sky makes its money from rubbish no-one watches and funnels it all into a handful of flagship programs everyone wants to watch.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      What a load of cobblers/

      "The worst part of this is it's unfair. If a flagship BBC program goes up against an ITV one and wins the audience it may make the Beeb look good, but it f***s ITV, whose revenue is derived by advertising which in turn depends on audience share. They are then forced to work even harder for mass appeal on an ever lower budget, so the effect of the Beeb's "competition" is to drive down the quality of television overall."

      Am I supposed to feel sorry for a company that operates as a commercial broadcaster knowing that the BBC exists as a publicly-funded broadcaster and which can loosely be considered to "compete" with them?

      Because it's not going to happen.

      If ITV want to get eyeballs on screens, they can do so the same way any broadcaster does it - show content audiences want, whether it's original material or something you've licensed from elsewhere. If that then means they go for cheap lowest common denominator, well, that's the decision ITV's execs have to take.

      Neither the Beeb nor ITV nor any commercial broadcaster has to take any responsibility for "driving down the quality of television overall", because that's a totally subjective and bullshit metric.

      Television is primarily an entertainment medium for the majority of audiences, and as such broadcasters cater to what they think will get them audiences and thus allow them to command higher advertising rates. Let's not pretend otherwise. In that context, I'll take the Beeb over anyone else because they create at least some content that's not rubbish, and I still find the licence fee better value for money than the alternatives on offer.

      As for those folks stating that Murdoch has a point, I've yet to see any evidence that Sky would provide loads of educational/informative quality content at the same overall cost as the licence fee if only those pesky villains at the Beeb would go away. And, well, if they're not going to commit to something like that, why are we listening to their blatantly self-serving arguments in the first place?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: What a load of cobblers/

        "In that context, I'll take the Beeb over anyone else because they create at least some content that's not rubbish, and I still find the licence fee better value for money than the alternatives on offer."

        Hello? It's not about "the Beeb versus others - who will you pick?" It's all about what kind of organisation the BBC is, whether it does pander to commercial interests, and whether it will eventually become an organisation indistinguishable from various "competitors" but with the licence/taxpayer putting up some of the capital, only to be made to pay again for various bits of content via different media which are somehow "not covered" by that licence fee.

        The remark about audience figures is quite right: it should never be about getting more viewers on whichever night, or on Christmas Day, or whenever, unless you think the BBC should maximise its audience for the maximum cultural indoctrination effect. I don't think the Daily Mail readership want that of a state broadcaster, either, although they are presumably oblivious to their own chosen source of indoctrination.

        The BBC are funded by the licence/taxpayer precisely to let the organisation take risks and make supposedly "unviable" content. What motivates the BBC's commercial elements is something entirely different.

    4. OrientalHero

      @TeeCee Viewing figures like sat tests. A measure not a target!

      Heh, imagine if we didn't have to measure how successful the BBC was. It would be like British Rail!

      The issue is the viewing figures are supposed to be a measure not a target for the BBC.

      I'll not elucidate as the concept is quite succinct!

  5. Gavin McMenemy

    I get the impression...

    .... that John Lettice doesn't like the BBC very much,

    What would you prefer John - Fox News?

    1. John Lettice (Written by Reg staff)

      Re: I get the impression...

      John Lettice most certainly does not approve of Fox News. John Lettice does however note that an allegedly public service broadcasting operation is parlaying the BBC's international reputation into a commercial operation that will ultimately be privatised, still bearing the BBC brand. I don't need to have an alternative favourite to know that that's dodgy.

      1. Luther Blissett

        Flog the BBC, then flog it off - long live the intertubes

        What seems to me to be being parlayed is British taxpayers' monies. Thompson & Co. may be hoping/expecting to join the ranks of the super-troughers, but, given that privatizations precede subsidies (and only later when it's apparent the privatization isn't working as it's supposed to), I doubt that the BBC would be allowed to keep the proceeds of its privatization. To this end, I am happy to see the BBC's international reputation being bigged-up every which way, even as at the same time I see it as a propaganda operation. The brand/logo alone must be worth £5bn (or pluck a figure from the airwaves) - and there's nothing to dictate that the logo must devolve to any purchaser of the assets.

        If the BBC carried an IT daily magazine, would I not bother to read The Reg? Of course not. And that is addressing your Fox news point. All news in the media is hyperreal. To begin to get at the facts one needs to see *that which your current point of view prevents you from seeing*.

        It is hardly surprising that the presumed mole thingy narrator in Kafka's The Burrow is so paranoid - you see only a little of the real world from the bottom of a hole in the ground.

      2. Gavin McMenemy

        I am still not certain

        So you are in favour of the beeb remaining in public hands? Maintaining its distinct cultural identity?

        If so we agree. The BBC provides an essential public service. I wish it would stop trying to compete with the likes of SKY (aka Fox). Maybe a different topic though...

  6. Christopher Edwards

    Commercial TV and Radio

    Whatever the arguments one way or another, I'd rather any arrangement without adverts to any arrangement with adverts.

    My time is worth much more than commercial TV and radio are selling it for, and that's enough to win my support for the BBC,

    1. Anonymous Coward

      wholly and exclusively

      Agreed, but when you see election "coverage" from a boat filled with celebrity freetards drinking champagne and the BBC saying it wasnt a party because they were broadcasting from it, they dont help themselves at all.

      Waste such as this should be cut and the license fee reduced or capped for the next 10 years, they dont need to do everything!

      I dumped Sky 4yrs ago and dont miss it at all. BBC is the best there is but they could tighten their purse strings.

  7. Whitter

    UK gov land grab

    "...In the long run it's up to the British government to decide why and whether there's a point to paying for the BBC to speak peace unto the rest of the world..."

    The BBC is not owned by the government, much as they'd like to think. It is a mutal society owned by the license payers. Granted, the legal requirment for a license in the UK makes them very evidently suported by government, but it ain't the same thing.

    At some point, perhaps the BBC board might consider who their actual employers are?

  8. Ned Fowden

    wtf are we paying for ?

    why are we paying a licence based upon this

    "The BBC World Service is paid for by a Foreign & Commonwealth Office grant, while everything else is commercial."

    so we pay for the world service and nothing else ?

    would be interesting to find out if there is transparency regarding how the licence fee is spent

    1. Intractable Potsherd Silver badge

      And the World Service ...

      ... is crap!! A couple of years ago I spent a summer in a cottage in the middle of nowhere, with no internet or TV. I did have a radio, though, so between strange foreign radio stations, I listened to the World Service. It was utter shite - bizarre documentaries on stuff that few could find interest in, and news reports that didn't even mention European countries (I was in Europe), let alone the UK.

      I'm a fan of the BBC, but if the World Service is part of it's mission to speak peace to other nations, it must only be because it puts the buggers to sleep!!

    2. Andrew_F

      Re: wtf are we paying for ?

      Of the BBC's international ventures (BBC World Service, BBC Worldwide, BBC World News and, the first is paid for by the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, the rest are commercial. So License fees aren't paying for any of them. We're paying for domestic ventures.

  9. OffBeatMammal

    without the BBC the UK would suck


    what does the UK export these days?

    besides Top Gear and Dr Who.

    as an ex-Pat living in my second country since leaving the UK I would gladly pay my licence fee to have on-demand access to current and archive shows like those two streamed via my Xbox or some other way to my TV so it's "wife and daughter approved"

    Sure, in the US I can watch BBC America but that's an abortion. Shows are on weeks late, cut up by advert breaks and somehow turned into "Special Presentations" or "Directors Cut" versions which mean they've managed to turn an hour long show into 45 mins to fit the adverts and put all the overlays on to remind us to buy soap powder or watch some unrelated crap

    The BBC has long shown that it can produce quality entertainment. That should be its mandate and legacy. Sure, make money with it outside the UK but if they forget that basic charter then they won't be worth a penny

    1. John Lettice (Written by Reg staff)

      Re: without the BBC the UK would suck

      What does the UK export these days?

      Well, there's The Register...

      1. Rambler88
        Jobs Horns

        What does the UK export?

        The BBC. And, yes, the Reg. And the Economist. In sum, journalism, among other aspects of intellectual culture.

        I'm an American (an ex-pat New Yorker) living in Minnesota, and the first news source I check every morning is the BBC. British journalism at its best is better than the best of the U.S.

        Whatever happens, keep the BBC World Service. I've got nothing to say about the other issues.(Except that we've seen plenty of Murdoch here, and don't think much of him--the people who consume his products are not the sort who are likely to recognize his name. The "respectable" media--e.g., the New York Times--are often little better, so heavily spun that it's not worth the trouble of sorting it out.) The BBC World Service is a tremendous international asset.

        I get my news on the Web now, but I'm not letting go of my old shortwave. As the article points, airwaves are freer than cables. That's not going to become less obvious in the future.

      2. James O'Shea

        Export? Really?

        I think perhaps you mean 'exile'. Or perhaps 'expel'. 'Excommunicate'? Hmmm...

        Mine's the extra-large one over by the back, thanks.

    2. Nev Silver badge

      I'd pay up too...

      I have to pay the French equivalent of the licence fee but never watch French TV.*

      But I would also be quite prepared to pay the full UK licence fee if it gave me access to iPlayer etc.

      from anywhere in the world. (I already watch/listen to the BBC for free. Thanks.)

      *Even though you can now watch some French channels in VO English via the multi-language audio support on the TNT digital channels for certain (mostly American) programmes.

      1. heyrick Silver badge


        I watch UK television from France using a satellite dish, and I would pay the licence fee (approx. £12.12 a month) in order to have access to the VOD services, the behind-the-scenes stuff, and all the content otherwise "not available in your region".

        But this would require the BBC et al to consider what a small subset of their viewers want, as opposed to what the larger number of content licensors want.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      @ OffbeatMammal

      "as an ex-Pat living in my second country since leaving the UK I would gladly pay my licence fee"

      And ain't that the beauty of voluntary subscriptions?

      You pay for what you like, and don't pay for what you don't need. You also get some clout if want to cancel because you don't like the latest series, etc.

      None of this is possible with a compulsory tax, which holds back commercialising it to people like you.

      I agree the BBC is unique but the license fee is past its sell-by-date. Good riddance.

  10. Jacqui Smith's DVD Collection!

    My telly broke 2 months ago

    My telly broke 2 months ago, before that I hardly ever used it. Mainly due to iPlayer, apart from the leaders debates (which I watched online) I don't remember the last time I watched a program made by anyone but the BBC.

    I'm pretty sure I'm not alone in this...

    As for worldwide, just tell em to turn a profit...

  11. Spoonsinger
    Paris Hilton

    I miss the times when...

    you could see naked breasts on ITV afternoon plays. Tiz a sadder blander world from my youth.

    Paris - because....

  12. David Evans

    I'm not sure what this article is trying to say....

    ...any commercial exploitation of the BBC is bad? Or the world service remit should be broadened? Or non-specific beeb-bashing? I'm not getting it.

    My view is the BBC should be sweating the assets commercially as much as possible because the money returned keeps the licence fee down, and screw Murdoch and commercial media rivals because its clear, that it may be "unfair", but our media is better than other countries' media (with obvious exceptions like the bloody Daily Mail) because the BBC curbs the worst of their commercial exploitation instincts. Imagine a UK without a BBC and a free hand for Rupert. If I was in charge of BBC Worldwide I'd offer the an annual sub for foreigners that gave them exactly the same content as they deliver in the UK, for the same price as the licence fee. They'd make a killing.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I'm not sure what this article is trying to say....

      "our media is better than other countries' media"

      Is it? Have you checked? Have you checked all the countries that speak "foreign"? It's not all "Chanel 9" out there, you know.

      The BBC does make good programmes, and that should be encouraged. And if that also lets the Beeb scoop up some revenue in licensing those programmes to other countries, then that's great. What isn't great is when the BBC distorts the market for various kinds of media and publications, especially in Britain, or claims that proprietary streaming is the only way to go, or claims that the huge chunk of cash they get each year doesn't secure elementary rights to the content, and so they have to pay (their chums) again for that programme they commissioned (and paid for).

      And if this deluge of cash from wherever actually paid the people doing real work at the Beeb a living wage, that'd be great, but I guess a lot gets siphoned off into the pockets of the Beeb's strategic pontificators as they push their commercial agenda.

  13. Anonymous Coward

    More impartial than thou?

    "Costs and revenues for BBC World News and are entirely non-obvious, but it's a fair bet that Auntie contrives to spend an improbably large amount for a relatively small net on each."

    Don't let your paucity of knowledge get in the way of dictating what we are supposed to think.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Sounds like...

      You are not familiar with how the BBC actually spends its money.

      Never employ 2 people if you can employ 10. And 10 more on the Compliance Committee.

  14. Anonymous Coward

    if it gets back the old bbc good . . . otherwise . . .

    It seems to me that the BBC is hiring people who don't actually know about journalism but rather repeat copy and press release or even research any points in the article.

    However this seems to be par for the course with media these days, not just the beeb.

    Probably just another an outcome of our consumer lead, short attention span society. . . oops best go, just seen a dog with a puffy tail . . . . hehehehe

  15. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    A commercial venture that delievers award winning original programming

    HBO anyone?

  16. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

    J'accuse ..... and call a spade, a spade and not a digger, for they are definitely not soldiers*

    Whenever you realise that television is used for programming the mind and imprinting a certain manipulated perception and politically very subjective picture into memory [and think of the Gilligan/Kelly/Blair war mongering spat to believe that observation] is the performance of the BBC, which is a reflection of the values and abilities of its controllers/board/trust members/creative directors/senior managers, rarely ever greater than sub-prime and toxic, as is evidenced by its streaming content.

    What is missing from the Formative Operation is Fabulous Imagination for Advancing Intelligence which can present New and NeuReal Beta World Views for Future Building ...... Virtual Phormation.

    The Corporation does not have the leadership at the top with the necessary balls or savvy to lead, which is entirely consistent with it being a pathetic hangout for cuckoos feathering their nests and fat cats fiddling their sad tunes while Rome burns all around them.


  17. helangel

    Please note that BBC Worldwide is self-funding

    It's worth pointing out that it doesn't receive any money from the BBC to run its operations but is responsible for ploughing profits back to the BBC, thereby saving £9 on the licence fee per person....

    And worth every penny - i can't remember I watched anything on ITV, apart from Lost in Austen. BBC4 does great documentaries, often then transferring onto BBC1. Channel 4 is the other channel i watch with any frequency and it also has a public service remit... Friends who've just moved to Australia bemoan the lack of great documentaries over there which they took for granted here and are stocking up on boxsets.

    What people don't seem to realise is just how envied we are for having the BBC and the distinct lack of programmes being interrupted by innane adverts every five minutes. Have you eer tried watching the Berlusconi empire in Italy?

  18. Paddy

    Hey you! Expand the BBC!

    The BBC is doing such a good job on the web it has the paytards reeling. We should be encouraging the BBC to expand its commercial arm and so need less of a subsidy.

    Dave is a great channel. Where would I get my daily Top Gear fix without it?

    Stop the moaning, or we will just end up with more american media imports rather than exporting our fine culture.

  19. Anonymous Coward

    i love bbc

    i love BBC, i would love to have that quality of radio and tv here in Chile...

    you, the uk people, should be proud of what the BBC is. anyone that tells you anything else is lying

    Doctor WHO is only possible there, in the BBC, in uk...

    we would be LOST without him!


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