Culture secretary John Whittingdale has said the Government will “begin to think about” the possibility of a premium BBC service for voluntary subscribers when it’s technically viable.
“That’s an option,” Whittingdale said on The Andrew Marr Show on Sunday. “It may come in time and at that time it’s possible we could adopt a part-funded compulsory fee and part-funded by subscription. We’re not there yet but we think it’s right that we at least begin to think about that question and whether or not that’s a direction we wish to move on in 10 years’ time.”
A voluntary subscription funding model isn’t currently possible because many homes lack the technology that would allow the BBC to turn its channels and services on and off.
Whittingdale also said he was “a little surprised” that the BBC had attacked the green paper, which was announced on Thursday in the House of Commons and will examine the corporation’s scale and scope.
“Firstly because, as you say, it’s simply a series of questions with no answers as yet decided,” the culture secretary told Andrew Marr.
“Secondly – I produced a report as chairman of the Select Committee in the last Parliament, which set the terms of the debate. We tried to ask the questions in that paper and the questions in the green paper are very similar. The BBC welcomed the select committee report so I was a little surprised they didn’t seem able to welcome with the same degree of enthusiasm the green paper.”
Whittingdale again argued that the BBC’s output should be ‘distinctive’ from other public service and commercial broadcaster, but said that didn’t mean it couldn’t also be popular. “The ideal outcome is that you have a programme that is both public service and gets a very high audience rating.”
Prior to becoming culture secretary, Whittingdale said in The Guardian that it was “debatable” whether there was a public service argument for the BBC making Strictly Come Dancing. However, he told Marr that the light entertainment show was “admirable”.
“I think the BBC there took a risk”, he said. “It paid off well and it has achieved a mass audience and that seems to me admirable if you can do all those things.”
Asked whether he loved the BBC, Whittingdale replied: “I do, I’m a huge admirer of the BBC. I think at its best the BBC is the finest broadcaster in the world.”
“But every 10 years the BBC’s charter expires and that’s the right time when we should look at what the BBC does, how it’s financed, how it’s governed and consider whether or not changes should be made. And that’s even more important this time because of the enormous change that’s taken place in the whole of the media since the last charter was renewed.”
Whittingdale also said the Government wanted to hear from the public as well as the BBC and other broadcasters.