BBC boss Lord Hall has said he believes the licence fee is here to stay – even if the broadcaster is no longer the nation’s “Auntie”.
The end of the licence fee has been mooted by the Government, with a threat to turn the BBC into a subscription service.
It was later said, by a Downing Street spokesman, that Prime Minister Boris Johnson does not want to scrap “all licence fees” at this stage.
Director-General Lord Hall hit back at a suggestion that the BBC is redundant following the rise of streaming services like Netflix and Amazon.
The licence fee model means that “you’ve got to give something to everybody. I think that is a fantastic creative challenge”, he told a conference.
“I hope we are developing and continuing to develop a much warmer relationship with the British public which is less the ‘Auntie’ of two or three decades ago and much more something which is interwoven in people’s lives.
“We are there in people’s lives.”
Lord Hall went on: “People say things like ‘What’s the point of the BBC when you’ve got the streamers?’
“The BBC is not Netflix, it really isn’t … Netflix don’t do sport, they don’t do news, they don’t do a whole raft of things.
“It’s really important … to see what the BBC does in the round,” he said.
“The licence fee, I think, beyond 2027 (when the BBC’s charter comes up for renewal) will still matter and will still be phenomenally important for the BBC.”
The broadcaster, which celebrates its centenary in 2022, is believed to have got its “Auntie” nickname because of an “Auntie knows best” image in previous decades.
Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden told the Media And Telecoms 2020 And Beyond conference that the BBC had “missed” or been slow to pick up on many of the key political changes and trends in recent years.
He called for “genuine diversity of thought and experience”.
The BBC needs to be closer to, and understand the perspectives of, the whole of the United Kingdom and avoid providing a narrow urban outlook,” he said.
But Lord Hall said the BBC had “constantly reformed itself” from radio, to television, 24-hour news, online, as well as iPlayer and BBC Sounds, and that reform would be “continuous”.
“Constant reform is what the BBC is about.”
He said the BBC is still “the most trusted news source”.
But he added: “We should always listen to what people say to us about our impartiality and we should be open to people criticising what we do.”
He told the conference: “There is more of a need for the BBC today than at any point in our history … It’s the best antidote to fake news”.
He said BBC culture had changed dramatically since he first joined many years ago, when “on my first day I was asked to sign that I’d read the Official Secrets Act”.
The Government is consulting on proposals to decriminalise non-payment of the licence fee and ministers have suggested it could be abolished altogether when the BBC’s charter comes up for renewal.