Has the time come for the BBC to adopt limited programme sponsorship?

February 26, 2010


Apparently the BBC is to close two radio stations and scale back its web presence to make £600m in savings, according to a report in the Times newspaper.

According to the broadsheet, BBC Asian Network and 6 Music will be closed under the proposals.

asian-networkThe Times claims the measures are part of a plan, due to be made public next month, to reduce the BBC’s services and focus on quality over quantity.  However there is a counter argument that the output of  BBC Asian Network and 6 Music is very much about quality and fulfills a very relevant function and niche within the BBC’s portfolio of services.

6-musicIs it not the case that the BBC is cutting services, not necessarily because it wants to, but as a public broadcaster feels obliged to? In the current economic climate, the BBC cannot be seen to go cap in hand to the government and taxpayer to increase the licence fee.  The problem with the licence fee is that by definition, it will only ever raise a nominal tariff which cannot possibly sustain a  global broadcasting institution in the twenty first century.

Surely the time has come for the BBC to amend it’s charter to allow a finite amount of income to be generated through commercial vehicles such as sponsorship and product placement? Although alien to the culture of the venerable public broadcaster, in order for the BBC to continue to produce programmes of such high calibre and diversity, the time has come for it to embrace restricted commercial revenue streams in the form of programme sponsorship and product placement.

By definition, the commercialisation would need to be tasteful, subtle and low key, in order to draw a distinction between the BBC and the commercial channels : ITV, Channel Four and Five and Sky. The right products would not necessarily compromise the integrity of the BBC. Who would object to London brewery Fullers having a branded beer pump in The Queen Vic on Eastenders, or Panorama being sponsored by The Citizens Advice Bureau or Specsavers?  Would it really cause offence or undermine the credibility of Antiques Roadshow if it were sponsored by Brasso or Pledge, or equally Radio Four’s Desert Island Discs if it were in association with Thomas Cook?

The  key to successly implementing this seemingly radical plan and gaining acceptance and approval in the court of public opinion, would be to ally traditional, trusted brands to programmes, but only if there is a natural synergy between sponsor and platform. Inevitably there would initially be great resistance from the BBC employee, viewer and listener alike. However confronted by the prospect of the dilution and eventual demise and destruction of the BBC’s wide and diverse output of authoritative programming, we would all eventually come round and embrace change and evolution. The alternative doesn’t bear thinking about – a world devoid of a relevant, dynamic and creative BBC!!

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