Future BBC could be subscription based, former culture secretary says

A subscription-based BBC could be what the “future looks like”, the former culture secretary has said.

John Whittingdale, minister for media and data, told a conference that public service broadcasters must “adapt” to the changing TV landscape.

“One of the issues for debate, in the longer term, not the next year, is the funding,” he said.

“We have a model where the BBC is maintained by the licence fee.

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“We’ve already begun to see evidence that people are questioning whether they need to pay the licence fee…

“That means there is going to be a debate about the licence fee but that will be for the end of this decade,” he told Ofcom’s Small Screen: Big Debate virtual conference.

The current licence fee model is guaranteed until December 31 2027, the end of the current charter.

Asked about a subscription model, Mr Whittingdale said it had “proved very successful” for other broadcasters.

He said: “We’re still some way away from making the public service broadcasters subscription-based but all of that is something which will be part of the debate as to what the future looks like, perhaps in 10 years time.”

Channel 4 has come under financial pressure in the pandemic
Channel 4 has come under financial pressure in the pandemic

He said there were “already concerns about the sustainability of Channel 4” after its advertising revenue was hit by the pandemic.

“The funding around the public service broadcasters is something we will consider as part of the overall review of public service broadcasters,” he said.

“In the longer term we will be looking at the sustainability of Channel 4 in the same way as we are looking at the sustainability of the BBC and the other broadcasters”.

Mr Whittingdale also suggested that the issue of means-testing payment of the licence fee for pensioners was not closed.

“I recognise it was going to be difficult for the BBC either way,” he said of the Government handing over responsibility to the BBC.

“I think this will be an ongoing debate.

“We will be having a discussion with the BBC within the next 18 months about the next licence fee settlement.

“The Government has also said we do look to the BBC to … provide for elderly people and this, I think, will remain under review.

“But I do accept it is the BBC’s decision.

“We gave it to them and the cost does mean that it is unlikely they will be able to restore the full concession for all over 75-year-olds.”