Half of Britons support a commercial model for the BBC and would like the broadcaster to make its money through advertisements or subscriptions, a new poll shows.
Just one in four says that the current compulsory licence fee system is their preferred way of funding the BBC.
The findings, in a YouGov poll for The Times, come weeks after Boris Johnson questioned whether the corporation’s funding model “makes sense” with the rise of digital media.
During the election campaign the prime minister said that the licence fee could be scrapped and replaced with a pay-to-watch subscription model, similar to Netflix. He also announced that he was considering decriminalising non-payment of the fee, an idea supported by many Conservative MPs. The licence costs £154.50 a year, pegged to rise with inflation.
Lord Hall of Birkenhead, the director-general, pledged yesterday to “refocus content spending” on young audiences to try to win them back from streaming rivals, after Ofcom warned that the BBC risked losing a generation of potential licence-fee payers.
The strategy is likely to mean that tens of millions of pounds is stripped from the general programming budget to create shows specifically aimed at 16-24-year-olds, such as the BBC Three reality series RuPaul’s Drag Race UK.
Asked by YouGov how they would most like the BBC to be funded, 27 per cent of respondents said through the television licence fee. In comparison, 37 per cent said the corporation should generate revenue by running advertising breaks, as ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 do, effectively becoming free to viewers. A further 13 per cent supported a subscription model.
General taxation was favoured by 7 per cent, while 2 per cent chose “something else” and 14 per cent said they did not know. Conservative voters were the least supportive of the licence fee. The poll found that 21 per cent of those who said they voted Tory at the last election chose the licence fee model, compared to 38 per cent of Labour voters and 43 per cent of Lib Dems. Remainers were more likely than Leavers to support the licence fee — 40 per cent compared to 18 per cent. The system cannot be scrapped until 2027, when the BBC’s current royal charter expires. However, proposals to decriminalise non-payment could be tabled before 2022, when a “midterm review” will determine the fee for the next five years.
In response to the poll, the BBC highlighted other research indicating that support for the licence fee had grown significantly since 2004, and was higher than for other funding models. A corporation spokesman said: “Advertising breaks on the BBC are a bad idea.
“Not only would they mean less incentive to broadcast specialist or risk-taking programmes, but would also damage commercial broadcasters by reducing their advertising income. During the last Charter Review, both ITV and Channel 4 said that they didn’t think the BBC should take advertising.”
News from The Times