It’s all happening at the BBC these days. 6 Music is to be saved, DG Mark Thompson is finally taking his scalpel to salaries and pensions and even Sir Terry Wogan, safely out of the firing line himself, admits that BBC stars could easily take a pay cut of 10 to 15 per cent.
Sir Terry may well be right, but with commercial TV’s ad revenues on the up, it’s far more likely that big names such as Graham Norton, Chris Evans and Jeremy Clarkson will follow Adrian Chiles and Christine Bleakley across to ITV and the BBC’s other rivals, all of whom can wave much bigger pay cheques than the Corporation.
All of which is just a preliminary to the main debate. With the years of austerity about to roll and plenty of people willing to point out that the Beeb, like the rest of the public sector, is paid for by a universal tax, the Corporation will have to decide what it is really for and what are the core brand values that up till now have made it a powerful and generally admired institution.
For a start there’s a general feeling that the BBC is spreads itself far too wide. The website is regarded as a good thing but it could be much slimmer and the whole adventure into magazines was definitely a wrong route. And why should it produce a whole spectrum of programmes from Eastenders and Total Wipeout to opera and ancient history?
Maybe it should cut down on the kind or TV and radio that is done as well as if not better by the commercial sector. Maybe it should take advertising on programmes that attract smaller but valuable audiences. Perhaps it should hive off some units and make them part-owned commercial operations.
With Lord Reith set out on his original mission to inform, educate and entertain, the BBC was a completely new entity providing a service that had never been seen before. Now there are countless competitors in broadcast and online. The BBC needs to rethink its role and look at whether it can maintain its trusted brand status with a better but smaller service.