The television license is a tax in everything but name but advert-free, non-profit television should always be an option for consumers. Turning the BBC from a government-owned corporation into a consumer-owned cooperative would mean nothing about its current high quality content would change – just the unfair aspect of how it is funded.
As it is currently structured, the funding of the BBC creates a lot of losers. I love BBC programming but I rarely watch any BBC channels beyond BBC One and Two. I hardly ever watch sport and do not have access to BBC Three and Four. If you only use your TV to play video games and watch X-Factor on ITV, the license fee means you lose out entirely.
Many regard spending £145.50 year on television as frivolous spending they would never normally do unless made to do so – especially in an economic climate where a great deal of us are watching the pennies more closely. As a consumer I should only have to pay for the services I use. Likewise other people should not have to pay for television I enjoy and value if they don’t enjoy and value it themselves. That is unfair.
In many respects the BBC is broken. It is wasteful and has no incentive to cut back on that unnecessary spending. In recent years I believe that a lot of legitimate criticism of the BBC would have been avoided had the BBC taken more time to appreciate what their audience wanted. This would certainly have prevented instances where the BBC overstaffed events, such as Glastonbury and the Dale Farm Eviction.
Currently 20% of BBC funding comes from sources other than the license fee. Those sources could be expanded and this other revenue – coupled with efficiency savings – can take care of niche channels like BBC Parliament and other innovation and experimentation.
Were the BBC a cooperative, members would pay a yearly fee for the service in lieu of commercial advertising. Logistically speaking this may mean the small matter of having a BBC box in your living room. But rather than a flat license fee for everyone this would allow for a variety of membership options, ranging from cheap ‘Basic’ and ‘Student’ options to expensive options with more channels or packages specifically geared towards your interests.
Being a cooperative would mean the BBC would be owned by the individuals who choose to be members rather than being the jurisdiction of the Department of Culture, Media and Sport. The members would be democratically enabled thus; the BBC would be more accountable to its audience. I predict that this would result in the content of the BBC becoming much higher quality and the organisation itself becoming leaner and more efficient.
Turning the Beeb into a cooperative is a win-win situation. If you were given the opportunity to preserve something that you enjoy and value, whilst at the same time making it more fair, efficient, democratically accountable and – most importantly – more liberal – it would be silly not to do so.