‘To inform, educate and entertain’.
When Lord Reith wrote the BBC’s core principle I don’t imagine he envisaged a future where some £204 million of license fee payers’ money was frittered away on top flight football highlights. But that’s exactly what the powers that be at Auntie did a few years ago for, essentially, Match of the Day. With last week’s tender for TV rights to show the Premier League including another highlights package, now is the time for the BBC to publicly withdraw from the bidding process. There’s a lot to be won by doing so.
Most importantly, our broadcaster would save a bucket load of much needed cash. Realistically, the Premier League, keen to draw many broadcasters into a bidding war, isn’t going to accept less than Auntie generously coughed up last time. Imagine how much new content the Beeb could produce to meet the demands of its varied audience through investing the savings. In an era where creative talent is tempted by Netflix, Sky and Amazon bucks, the nation’s broadcaster could fight back stronger on the drama front. Investing more in new ideas and talent, which once found a TV home on chief cuts victim BBC Three, would please a younger audience. The BBC could and should wave goodbye to Pointless repeats with a boost to the entertainment budget. A schedule full with new content wouldn’t just entertain. It’d enhance the Beeb’s reputation, minimising the kind of Rupert Murdoch driven pot shots we saw recently with The Sun’s criticism of the BBC’s Christmas offering.
In a post truth, user-generated, Daily Mail reading, Sky News watching, Russian meddling world of fake news fed to us by social media, now more than ever we need a strong, independent, alternative, well funded news provider. Credit must go to the BBC for its recent efforts in combating fake news by educating the youth or commiting itself to local radio. Investing in fresh ideas and strong, detailed and objective journalism must be prioritised over football highlights though, especially when the Tory press is so influential and politicians of all colour are so keen to accuse the Beeb of bias. A bigger news budget would only help the BBC continue to claim it’s place as the UK’s most trusted and impartial broadcaster.
With this new tender stipulating that highlights must be free to air, the Premier League has all but admitted it can’t risk going fully behind a paywall. Football fans need not worry. With the BBC withdrawing from bidding, a commercial broadcaster would surely step into the void recognising the value of Premier League rights to its brand, viewing figures and commercial opportunities. The BBC talks the talk when it comes to serving the public interest but it’d really walk the walk by not competing with commercial channels for these rights. Following in the wake of the presenter pay scandal, Auntie would face another backlash from the press, public and politicians if they pipped the likes of ITV or Channel 4 for the highlights.
Of course the BBC would save loads of cash too by not having to doll out hundreds of thousands of pounds to Alan Shearer and nigh on two million quid to a Gary Lineker already handsomely paid by a certain crisp firm and BT. With perfectly capable presenters like Mark Chapman, Dan Walker and Jason Mohammad already on the payroll too it’s especially illogical paying Linekar that much. Many of the overpaid pundits work for other media outlets too or cover other sports. With commercial TV’s penchant for poaching BBC ‘talent’, Kevin Kilbane and co probably don’t have to pawn their medals just yet. Losing Lineker would help take some of the heat off the BBC he generates by tweeting on political issues.
Aware of the Beeb’s commitment to public service and lack of advertising pressures, sports organisations have relied on the Beeb to pick up the less juicy offerings of sports coverage when commercial channels haven’t fancied them or rights holders have been seduced by pay TV’s deeper pockets. One golf bigwig even had the audacity to publicly criticise Auntie for its coverage of The Open, despite it offering mass exposure to his sport through its primetime highlights show. Such contemptuous treatment of the BBC is surely less likely if the corporation had the balls to pull out of showing lesser coverage.
But wait, Townsend’s Tactics Truck and ads, I hear you scream! Well, Andy no longer works for ITV and the station, along with Channel 5, has shown it is perfectly adept at football highlights programmes over recent years. Channel 4, whose pedigree includes Football Italia, has been praised too for its coverage of cricket and Paralympics. The BBC pretty much take a few minutes between each match edit to review most games or plug their own shows so the idea of breaking from the highlights for a few minutes, but in this case for adverts, is hardly unusual. Fans could always record the show and skip the ads, interact with it on social media or make a brew.
With the BBC sports budget being slashed by tens of millions in 2015 against a backdrop of Government pressure to save, it’ll be madness for the corporation to pump millions into the Premier League coffers again. Auntie would be much better continuing to invest in raising the profile of minority sports, which inform, educate and entertain the great British public.