More than two-thirds of those originally opposed to paying the £145.50 licence fee changed their minds after being cut off from BBC services for a nine-day period, according to a study commissioned by the corporation.
Seventy families across the country agreed to have their access to the BBC’s television, radio and online services suspended, as part of a “deprivation study” designed to test the reactions of those who said they would prefer not to pay the licence fee.
Of the seventy households, 48 had initially said that they would prefer either to pay no licence fee and have no BBC access, or pay a reduced licence fee. After nine days without any access to the corporation, however, 33 of the 48 families, or 69 per cent, declared that they were now happy to pay.
Mike O’Donnell, a retired sales manager, and his wife, Pat, were among the families who were initially opposed to paying for the BBC. “I just thought the licence fee was another tax, and not good value for money,” said Mr O’Donnell, who admits to being a fan of EastEnders and 5 Live. “But being without the BBC was absolutely dreadful, just awful. I just didn’t realised how much we watched it.”
Many of those who took part in the trial said that they became frustrated by having to watch adverts on commercial TV channels, and the O’Donnells were no different. “The adverts just drove me nuts,” said Mr O’Donnell. “I lost track of what I was watching.”
A perceived lack of quality from the BBC’s rivals was also a common complaint. Mr O’Donnell said: “The weather on ITV is Mickey Mouse. You can tell that the person who’s reading it doesn’t understand it. Whereas when you watch it on the BBC they clearly know what they’re talking about and put the script together from the research they’ve done. It’s quite a profound difference. I now think the BBC is incredibly good value. I’d probably willingly pay even more. I’m actually quite a good ambassador for the BBC now.”
The BBC commissioned the study to dig deeper into existing research that suggests that around 30 per cent of people are opposed to paying the licence fee. It would appear to confirm suspicions held at a high level in the corporation that many viewers do not realise how much they depend on the broadcaster’s output.
Sonia, a local government worker in Bristol, who did not want to give her surname, was a case in point. Before the study she was opposed to paying the licence fee and said she “found it hard to imagine what as a family the BBC gave us that we can’t get anywhere else”.
After nine days without the BBC, she had changed her mind. “It was shocking in that we realised how much we did watch BBC programmes,” she said. “I think we just took it for granted.”
A further 22 of the 70 households had initially said that they were happy paying the licence fee. After the study, 21 said that their views were unchanged.
At the conclusion of the experiment, families were given £3.60, a rebate for the nine days of BBC access they had foregone. For many, that was a watershed moment. “That’s what, £12 a month,” said one unnamed participant, who was initially against the licence fee. “And we pay £70-odd a month for Sky. That’s a bit of a shock to be honest.”
Read further details of the report in the new issue of Radio Times magazine, on sale from Tuesday 25th August