Alex Massie

BBC Asks for Increased Subsidy Shocker!

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Unsurprisingly, the BBC wants the government to increase the number of sporting events that have to be shown on "free-to-air" [sic] television. But it's hard to see why there needs to be any list of "protected" sport on terrestial television in the first place, let alone why that list should be expanded. Here's the BBC's argument:

The BBC insists the protected list should be retained and its submission argues that "to limit access to those willing and able to subscribe to pay-TV would threaten the fabric of our sporting and cultural nation".

Dominic Coles, chief operating officer, BBC Journalism and director of sports rights said: "The BBC believes the list works well and delivers a healthy mix of pay television and free to air sport; plurality which preserves key sporting moments for the whole UK public, encouraging sports participation whilst delivering sufficient funding into UK sport to deliver the extensive range of great sport we enjoy.

"In an increasingly fragmented society, the ability to broadcast, freely available to all, those major events that can unite communities and deliver social value cannot be underestimated.

"Imagine the London Olympics, or perhaps a 2018 World Cup hosted in England, not being universally available for the whole UK to enjoy irrespective of individual financial circumstance."

This is, as you might expect, special pleading of the worst kind. Anyone who remembers what TV sport was like 25 years ago can only be thankful for the satellite revolution. Where once there were only two bidders - BBC and ITV - for sport, now the number of buyers has risen to include: BBC, ITV, SKY, Channel 4, Five, Eurosport, ESPN. Plus, there are the specialist channels such as ESPN America and the Racing Channel. And those channels all provide better coverage than either the BBC or ITV did in the bad old days.

As readers know, I'm a sports fan. But that doesn't mean that the BBC should be able to screen events at artificially low prices (depriving sports bodies of much-needed income incidentally), nor that the majority of the country that isn't interested in any given sporting even - including, incidentally, the Olympics and the World Cup - should have to subsidise the television preferences of the minority that does.

In any case, one way or another, SKY is available in something like 12 million homes these days, to say nothing of the pubs and cubs that subscribe to its services. The percentage of the population genuinely interested in sport that has little access to sport on TV must be pretty small.

If the BBC wants to show more sport then the obvious solution would be for the Corporation to run its own dedicated sports channels, paid for by consumers who want to watch sport, just as SKY and ESPN currently operate.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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