Thursday, 16 August 2007

Is the BBC and the licence fee value for money?

I was watching the TV one night and started to watch a program that I liked, but found out that it was an episode I'd already seen. This annoyed me and while I'm not the licence payer in my house, that person has experienced the same problem too. That got me thinking - exactly how many repeats are there at the moment and that ended up progressing to me thinking about the licence's value for money.

Lets start with the repeat problem. As the licence fee covers BBC channels (a point I'll mention later), I decided to look at the two most watched BBC channels - 1 and 2. One of the reasons they are the most watched is because they are the two terrestrial BBC channels and everyone has that, whereas not everyone has satellite/cable. I also took the figures from two days of scheduling and not one (if all the repeats are on one day and I just happen to pick that one, I'll get an unfair result).

Here are my findings:
DateChannelProgrammesRepeats% repeats
August 13thBBC 130723.3
August 13thBBC 2332060.6
August 14thBBC 1291241.4
August 14thBBC 2312271

The percentages for each day were:
Date% repeats on both channels
August 13th42.9
August 14th56.7

It seems there are many more repeats on BBC 2 compared to BBC 1, but the figures for both channels are awful. It's even worse when you look at the second table. The BBC get plenty of money from the licence fee - you would think they could stop showing repeats and only show original programming. However, their funds aren't just going into developing and broadcasting on the two terrestrial channels - they have a set of additional digital channels too. Those are BBC 3, BBC 4, BBC News 24, BBC Parliament, CBBC and CBeebies. That's quite a lot, but lets see if they are worth the cost by looking at the viewing figures (the following are the average weekly figures - if you click on the link you can also find out average monthly data):
ChannelWeekly reach - 000sWeekly reach - %
BBC 135,94777.5
BBC 226,75057.7
BBC 311,90525.7
BBC 45,54211.9
BBC News 246,58914.2
BBC Parliament2780.6

It seems the only BBC network channels to go past 10m are BBC 1, BBC 2 and BBC 3. I'm sure the corporation could save a lot of money if the removed the other five channels and placed their original content on the three that are more successful. Having BBC 3 would still mean they have a digital presence pre-switchover aswell. For instance, in the morning on BBC2 they show repeats of childrens programmes. If they were to remove CBBC and CBeebies, they could put their original content onto BBC 2 in the mornings and solve that part of the repeat problem.

The worst digital channel in that table has to be BBC Parliament. It doesn't even break into the millions for average weekly reach and the first two BBC channels already have current affairs and political content (although they could have a bit more). The one problem is that there would be very little room in the schedule for things like select committee coverage. However, that could always be streamed on the BBC website and is therefore accessible for those who want it.

It is important to remember that people occasionally miss programmes that they want to see though - that one of the reasons why repeats are broadcast. Instead of putting the repeats on the BBC channels, why not offer them to the likes of UKTV who already show a lot of old BBC programming. Another possibility would be to make them available on the BBC website.

Anyway, as I mentioned earlier I was think about if the TV licence is value for money. It shouldn't really be called a TV licence because it only funds BBC channels. What if you don't watch any BBC content? You still have to pay the licence fee but you aren't getting much value for money.

My next point is about students. I used to be one and I know several other students who had money issues. According to this page on the TV Licence authority's website, they provide several ways for students to pay, but they still have to pay the full amount. I think it would be better if students had a discounted rate to pay - other groups of people such as those in residential care who might not have a huge amount of money are charged a reduced fee. The one good thing if you're a student is that you can apply for a refund if you're not in student accommodation for 12 months (licences are renewed annually).

Then there is an issue for the blind people. According to the TV licence website, they are charged 50% of the full fee. Which fee is that though? Is it the full colour licence (£135.50) or the full black and white licence (£45.50)? It would be unfair if it was 50% of the colour licence because they would still get charged more than the full cost of the black and white version and they don't benefit from having the colour (especially if they're totally blind - which is obvious). It would be better if the charges were made a bit clearer.

According to this article, TV licences cover TVs, VCR, set-top boxes and PC-tuner cards that receive broadcasts. Notice how that list doesn't include radio. I'm sure you could understand that as it's called a TV licence. So why, when I like at the most recent edition of the BBC's Annual Report, do I find that a portion of the licence fee money goes towards radio stations (page 4)? According to this article, just over 22% of the licence fee income goes towards radio. You definitely have to pay less every year if that portion of the fee was removed.

Finally, I'd like to mention the pay of executives. On page 86 of the Annual report, I notice a table which states that no executive director who is still at the BBC got paid less than £100,000. They also get a healthy pension and other remuneration. The total basic pay for the Executive Directors in 2006/2007 was £3,422,000 and the total of the executive board was £3,477,000. Trustees are only supposed to be paid expenses, but the total figure that they got is suspiciously large (I suppose it depends how many trustees there are though). If the rates of pay for people like the directors were more sensible, costs would be cut dramatically and the BBC could put more into things like developing television and radio, as well as discovering new talent.

Overall, I would say that the BBC doesn't always use the money from the the licence fee well (or properly e.g. my point about the radio) and the directors get paid way too much. I also think that there are significant problems with the licence fee charging structure.

So, what do you think?

Technorati tags: BBC, Licence, TV

Friday, 10 August 2007

Is the mobile phone extinct?

According to, the definition of a mobile/cellphone is:
a hand-held mobile radiotelephone for use in an area divided into small sections, each with its own short-range transmitter/receiver [syn: cellular telephone]"
and the definition of a telephone is:
1. an apparatus, system, or process for transmission of sound or speech to a distant point, esp. by an electric device."
So, put simply, a phone is used for calling people. In 1985 the GSM standards included some called the Short Message Service, or SMS and the first commercial text message was sent over the Vodafone network in 1992. As text messaging was part of the GSM standards, you could still call the device a phone.

Things seem to have moved on a bit since those days. Lets have a look at an example of a recent mobile/cellphone - the iPhone:
Modern mobile phone
The spec of the iPhone is:
  • 4GB or 8GB flash drive
  • 3.5-inch (diagonal) widescreen multi-touch display
  • 480-by-320-pixel resolution at 160 dpi
  • Uses Mac OSX as it's operating system
  • 2 megapixel digital camera
  • Can play music formats such as WAV, AAC and MP3
  • Can play multiple video formats
  • WiFi and Bluetooth enabled
  • You can browse the internet
It's quite different from the standard concept. A fairly large touchscreen is a great idea for a phone - if you have a massive contact list then it's easier to navigate and with something like the iPhone you can store more details about each contact. A big memory is useful too if you're one of those people who downloads a load of e.g. ringtones.

Remember the definition of a phone and the GSM standards though. If you go by those phone are for calling and texting people. It states nothing about video playback, cameras, playing music or browsing the internet.

I think that there is no such thing as a mobile phone in production anymore. As there is so much added functionality (like what has been mentioned above), you can't really call them phones, or have any name with the word 'phone' in it. Calling people and sending text messages is a subset, and not a superset like it was previously.

So, what can we call them? It's better to use a generic term like 'mobile device' - something which is also used to describe PDAs. It would be difficult to come up with something more specific as it would end up being too long. Can you imagine an advertising department trying to create something for the 'Mobile-SMS-video-mp3-web phone'? Their brains would explode! It needs to be something much shorter and 'mobile device' is definitely shorter than that.

I'm not saying that they should all go back to a state where you can just call and text people because the big positive to having a lot of functionality on one device is that there's less to carry around. I just think that people who want to produce anything called a mobile phone should stick to the definition and GSM standards.

So, what do you think?

Technorati tags: Mobile Phones, Cellphones, Smartphones, iPhone, Communications