AUNTIE BEEB is receiving heavy criticism after announcing it will scrap the free licence scheme for over-75s next year.
The scheme was brought in back in 2000 under Gordon Brown (dispelling the myth that it has 'always been this way') but under Tory austerity plans, the burden of these licence exemptions, previously covered by the national purse, is being shifted to the BBC itself.
Under the new rules, only pensioners on Pension Credit will be entitled to apply for a free licence. Visually disabled people will still be able to apply for half-price licences. The BBC has stated that the other option for the cash strapped broadcaster would be swinging cuts, likely to mean the closure of at least one service, possibly more.
The news comes at a difficult time for the BBC. The licence fee which has served it well for so many years is looking increasingly outdated as more and more viewers switch to streaming services. Although the corporation now boasts multiple commercial income streams, including its global channels and sales of shows to the likes of UKTV and Netflix, there is still a huge hole in the corporation's finances and a growing resentment to pay for them.
In the past, any attempt to shutter BBC services has led to mass protests. BBC Three (as a linear channel), BBC Four, BBC 6 Music and BBC Asian Network are amongst the tv and radio channels that have previously been earmarked for closure but saved (in some form) by public outcry.
More significantly, the BBC News Channel has seen significant cuts to its budget (and it shows in the technical competence of its output), and BBC Two has been reduced to a few hours a day, with the rest being taken up by repeats and simulcasts.
But many are arguing that the removal of the pensioners' discount could lead to increased loneliness and isolation, mostly cited by grown-up children for who it hasn't occurred that £150 a year is something they could probably manage to cover on their parents' behalf if they really thought about it.
Senior politicians have waded into the argument with even outgoing PM Theresa "countRY…I…LOVE" May begging the BBC to reconsider.
The problem, as it so often is, is that nobody has any better ideas. The same people will complain if the free licence is cut if services are cut and if the BBC were to take subscriptions or (shock horror) advertising.
Unless the British people realise how lucky they are to have the BBC, for all its faults (and we admit there are many) and campaign for it to be properly funded instead of complaining when it has to make difficult decisions, it could be lost altogether.
The issue here is that the Licence Fee is irrelevant in the current climate of on-demand, catch-up and streaming. In a sense, it hasn't really worked since it was decided that it should apply to anyone watching a UK domestic service, not just the BBC itself.
Another huge burden is the cost of enforcing the licence fee, which the BBC currently farms out to sub-contractor Capita. The BBC was handed the keys to running TV Licensing by the government in 1991 and although the days of ‘TV Detector Vans', (which most experts now believe were far less capable of detecting evaders that claimed) long gone, chasing lost revenue from the TV licence could net £1.55bn of BBC money for Capita over the course of its 15 year contract.
We're not saying that there shouldn't be a BBC - quite the opposite. But this story shows the increasingly impossible situation for the corporation - the digital age has made the landscape for broadcasters almost unrecognisable, and this is just the start.
Just recently, the BBC had to apply to Ofcom for an extension to allow its iPlayer service to offer longer catch-up periods and more box sets - something no other broadcaster would have to do.
As an extra income stream, it is working on bringing its US streaming service Britbox to the UK in association with ITV, and people are already moaning about 'paying twice' for programmes (how is that DVD collection of yours, by the way?).
Like the NHS, everyone loves, or at least values the BBC, but very few people are willing to come up with a fair way to pay for it.
Given that the cost of spreading this burden around amongst everyone would cost us a few pence a year each, maybe the government needs to bite the bullet and take back responsibility for the TV Licence, whilst at the same time, reforming it for the digital age.
If the BBC can't find a way to support its services without being dumped on by successive governments, and at the same time be unshackled from the rules that don't allow it to compete on a level playing field in terms of streaming, the future looks bleak for Auntie - and there'll be tears before bedtime if they have to take the CBeebies Bedtime Story away. μ
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