BBC must keep quality threshold high to justify licence fee

Stephen Carter - the new government minister for communications, technology and broadcasting - has claimed that future decisions around digital, broadband and mobile and public service funding are now even more important due to the global financial crisis.

Sue Unerman, chief strategy officer at MediaCom
Sue Unerman, chief strategy officer at MediaCom

Carter's report Digital Britain is due in January, and it is likely to set the direction for the industry for the next few years.

The chair of the BBC Trust gave a speech at the Broadcasting Guild arguing, as you would expect, for the continued protection of the BBC's licence fee.

Sir Michael Lyons said: "Ofcom's own research shows that 87% of people recognise that the licence fee pays for the BBC ... a reason why the public has such high expectations from the BBC."

I'm one of those people who would happily pay the licence fee for Radio 4 alone, but even though I highly value its regular, quality output, the BBC must realise that all its high-profile output is going to come under scrutiny in the current economic climate.

Let's mention September and October's Saturday early evening show on BBC1, Hole in the Wall.

Hosted by a frantically grinning Dale Winton, the show consists of two teams of minor celebrities dressed in shiny, matching one-piece outfits trying to force themselves through odd-shaped holes in a polystyrene wall. If they fail, they fall into a small pool of water.

TV critic Simon Hoggart sums the show up nicely. "Until they come up with Pro-Celebrity Pin the Tail on the Donkey, this must be the most pointless, witless and dreary show ever invented ... I agree completely that the BBC must be populist ... but surely there can be good rubbish, lively rubbish, inventive rubbish and not this demeaning nonsense."

Let me go on record now to say that if this is just a first step back to a remake of It's a Knockout with D-list celebrities, then it would not be welcome.

In Germany, increasing numbers are refusing to pay the licence fee, arguing that state TV is not fulfilling its obligations. This month, the 88-year-old renowned literary critic Marcel Reich-Ranicki handed back his lifetime achievement award in disgust and ranted against the poor quality of German TV - a diatribe that is well worth viewing on YouTube.

The BBC should take care with its brand in a world where there is an over-abundance of choice and where direct action by consumers could cut through the delicate negotiations surrounding the licence fee.

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