Toby Young Toby Young

The BBC’s future is hanging by a thread

Tony Hall (Getty Images)

Reading the speech Tony Hall gave to the Edinburgh Television Festival, I was struck by his upbeat, confident tone. The outgoing director-general of the BBC talked about how its reporting of the coronavirus crisis had brought its core mission as a public service broadcaster into sharper focus and boosted its popularity, particularly among 16- to 34-year-olds. He said his goal when he arrived at the BBC was to reach a global audience of 500 million by 2022, its centenary year, and this target has now been revised upwards to a billion by the end of the decade. ‘But it needs extra investment from government and that bid is with them right now,’ he said.

Doesn’t Tony Hall realise that the BBC’s future is hanging by a thread? The corporation struck a deal with the government five years ago whereby it promised to cover the cost of providing free TV licences to the over-75s in return for hiking up the licence fee, and it has now reneged on that deal. As of this month, three million pensioners will have to fork out £157.50 a year if they want to watch television — not just the BBC, but any live TV at all. In response, Oliver Dowden, the Culture Secretary, said the government would look seriously at decriminalising non-payment of the licence fee. If that happens, the BBC is toast. Who in their right mind is going to pay a voluntary fee to the BBC just for the privilege of owning a television set, particularly when they’re already subscribing to Sky, Netflix, Amazon Prime, Apple TV, Disney+ and God knows what else?

Doesn’t Tony Hall realise that the BBC’s future is hanging by a thread?

Seemingly oblivious to this iceberg hoving into view, the cheerful captain boasted about the £100 million he has ring-fenced in the commissioning budget to pay for ‘diverse and inclusive programming’ and the 20 per cent ‘diverse-talent target’ he’s put in place — as if that’s going to save the ship.

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