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Published on September 16th, 2010 | by Christian Cawley

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Where Are The Savings?

A freeze on the price of the television and radio licence fee has been announced by the BBC – a factor that could have consequences for various aspects of the network’s broad output.

The BBC Trust has cited cited “the exceptional pressures that the current economic climate is placing on licence fee payers” as reasoning – a decision that while saving money in the pockets of TV owners wil lead to an estimated £144m shortfall in the BBC’s  budget.

No one knows at this stage what the cause of this will be on drama production; obviously we’re more interested in the effects this might have on Doctor Who rather than on Holby City or EastEnders, but it would be safe to assume that the BBC will be planning to scale back on outsourcing tasks they can perform in-house such as training and PR, as well as either scale back their web service or close down BBC Three (a channel that could easily exist exclusively online with virtually no loss of audience.)

Sports programming may also suffer – a few seasons of football are worth £144m, for instance – but we’re pretty certain that the drama we see on screen on BBC One will not be adversely affected.

We reckon Doctor Who is safe.

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About the Author

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A long-term Doctor Who fan, Christian grew up watching the show and has early memories of the Graham Williams era. His favourite stories are Inferno, The Seeds of Doom and Human Nature (although The Empty Child, Blink and Utopia all come close). When he’s not bossing around the news team, Christian is a freelance writer specialising in mobile technology and domestic computing, and enjoys classic rock, cooking and spending time in the countryside with his wife and young children. You can find him on Twitter, Facebook and Google+.




7 Responses to Where Are The Savings?

  1. avatar 23skidoo says:

    And this is where someone like me in Canada can’t make sense of how the BBC does business. OK, something with, at best, regional interest like the Graham Norton Show, or the dog trials, or documentaries about Cornwall, might have limited commercial appeal beyond the UK (no offence meant to Graham Norton, dog-lovers and people from Cornwall). But Doctor Who, along with other shows, are moneymakers. The BBC brings in a ton of money from sales overseas, DVD sales, book sales, merchandising licenses, etc. In theory if the licence fee disappeared (and putting aside the continued operation of the BBC – let’s assume it magically stays on the air) Doctor Who should self-perpetuate based on those revenues alone. And if not completely, they could always co-produce like they initially did with the CBC, or like is being done with Starz and Torchwood.

    So why should a freeze be a concern? If what I outline above isn’t the reality, then maybe it’s time for the BBC to realize it’s the 21st century and change its practices a bit. Yes, the licence fee makes a lot of things possible, but where is all this other money going if it can’t be channelled back into production of Doctor Who?

    And it’s not just Doctor Who, of course. Merlin just started airing Series 2 on Space Channel here in Canada. They didn’t get it for free. And certainly a percentage of the cost for the Being Human Series 1 DVD – not to mention the licensing rights for the US remake – had to go somewhere. How much is the BBC making from the licensing of the Merlin backpack I just saw advertised in DWM? Isn’t any of it going back into production of Merlin?

  2. avatar Paul Cavanagh says:

    23skidoo: I think what a lot of non-UK residents don’t realise is that the BBC is not as self-governing as many other media organisations are. It exists by government charter, and is fairly unique. A handy little summary of the Charter is available on wikipedia here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BBC_Charter

    So, the BBC has firm obligations. In return for upholding those values, it has a guaranteed income, paid for by the licence fee. Your question about where the money from sales goes is a valid one. The answer is: the money is used to fund some of the less fashionable obligations. The charter insists that the BBC provides quality regional content – so you get stuff like Welsh langauge programming. That’s hardly going to sell (no offense to the Welsh! We wouldn’t have a show without you guys!) but it is a very important aspect of what the Corporation does.

    Things are changing at the Beeb right now. The fees paid to the ‘talent’ are being capped for starters – that could save a lot of money. Some less popular radio channels have been facing the axe. And the BBC will need to scale back its large (and frankly, excellent) online content. The good news is that it is unlikely they will do what ITV did, and take the knife to quality drama production. ITV realised that they can spend a lot less, and raise a lot more from producing talent/reality shows. Britain’s Got Talent and The X-Factor really pull in audiences, and cost a fraction of a full-scale drama production. I don’t think the BBC will go down that route, and we know that Doctor Who is a flagship show, so I think the future for the Doctor is safe. At least safe from huge budget cuts, if not from extra terrestrial threats.

  3. avatar Charlie says:

    Skidoo, I think the BBC has already taken into account your various points when considering your budget.

    As you rightly point out, if the BBC were to cease to exist tomorrow, heaven forbid, then Doctor Who would continue as it is such a money spinner.

  4. avatar krumstets says:

    The BBC could make massive savings on a lot of their regional and radio programming for example,without falling foul of their charter.
    Many daytime shows and websites could be axed without any problem whatsoever.
    In the past the BBC have used cutbacks on some of their most popular programmes as a propaganda tool to increase sympathy to their cause,when they could have cut elsewhere they deliberately chose popular programmes to get he publics back up.
    In the late seventies/early eighties the BBC ran adverts for the lecnece fee accompaned by several DR Who monsters asking `Will the viewers exterminate DR Who before they do?’
    I am for the BBC and public service broadcasting,but there is a limit to what they should be concentrating on.


  5. krumstets, where do you live?

    The reason I ask is simple – I live in Teesside, on the tip of North Yorkshire, a place that has little or no regional broadcasting focussed on it.

    We have BBC Radio Tees, which does a stirling job – yet anyone who doesn’t listen to the radio would think we were a suburb of Newcastle. BBC in the North East over the last few years has already been merged with the Cumbria department, leading to a massive, catchment area within which it is impossible for journalists to report on and for viewers to be responsibly served.

    The BBC’s regional programming is already heading int he direction of ITVs – who put cats stuck in trees in Newcastle before 5 car pile-ups in Middlesbrough – and any further cuts in this area of broadcasting will be far more damaging than your post suggests.

    As I’ve said in the main post, the under-performing BBC Three should be the main target. Virtually no one watches when Doctor Who repeats/DWC aren’t on, and the majority of its programming could, like Henry 8.0, be piloted online.

    (http://www.bbc.co.uk/comedy/clips/p005xgp5/henry_80_straight_outta_greensleeves/) if you haven’t seen any

  6. avatar krumstets says:

    Most of what the BBC produces these days is replicated on the internet. I apreciate that some local radio is valuable to it’s area, but on the whole I don’t think it is worth it.
    You can access news,music,programmes,tv shows and a millions of factual websites on the web.
    The BBC was created in another age,that age doesn’t exist anymore.
    The BBC produces some of the best and of course my favourite TV show’s, but it really needs to move on.
    Cut anything they like but NOT DR Who.

  7. avatar Paul Cavanagh says:

    krumstets – it’s very easy for us to forget that not everybody has internet access. The licence fee is a television licence fee. Worth remembering that. There are lots of people out there who have zero interest in the world wide web, but would be lost without their televisions and radios. The BBC was indeed created in another age, but I would argue that it has moved with the times – after all, we have got all that wonderful online content, and iplayer too. How, precisely, do you propose that the Corporation ‘moves on’? I don’t really see what you think the BBC is doing wrong?

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