Cordelia

I love the BBC; my father worked for the BBC, it fed me, clothed me, some of my fondest childhood memories are of sitting quietly in the corner of an OB truck bathing in the adrenalin of a live television broadcast.

My father, Aubrey Singer, ran Features Group in the BBC. Out of that came Alan Yentob's Arena, Horizon, Tomorrow's World, Civilization, and Ascent of Man. Because I was a dyslexic, school-phobic child, these programmes were my education. It's a pity the BBC never did an arithmetic version of Civilization, as I might have understood Telewest's debts better.

Our house was a twenty-minute walk from Television Centre, where BBC execs would drink and discuss corporate politics, and at dinner parties Bronovski would pull the prettiest girl with the intensity of his intellect. I could never quite work out where the BBC ended and my father started. And here lies a metaphor, cause I don't think any of us can quite workout where the BBC ends, and the rest of British media starts.

The BBC exists because those scarce analogue waves belonged to us all, and it made sense to pay a 'receiver' tax to create programming. And for 75 years those British analogue valve economics worked brilliantly.

Today spectrum is abundant and cheap. Five years ago a transponder on the Astra satellite cost 4million a year - it is now less than 500,000 and falling. There are no barriers to starting a television service; any one can do it. Television is now a mass publishing medium and every new channel is an ant at the picnic of traditional broadcasting.

In the last twenty years these arriviste channels have not created a single programme to rival the glory that was BBC Features Group, but in the way that the printing press mass-produced the bible, Shakespeare and Principia Mathematica, but also created pulp fiction, likewise multi channel television has unashamedly created pulp television.

After almost twenty years of cable and Satellite television, only 45% of UK homes have multi channel TV. In other words roughly half UK homes are receiving their signal through private spectrum, and most of those multi channel householders are under 50 years of age.

The BBC, through its marketing of Freeview, will eventually make sure that not long after 2006 at least 75% of UK homes will have digital service through satellite or cable or Freeview.

Nobody likes this, but the nature of British television - its shape, its form, its economics, the how of TV as opposed to the what - is being driven by Gordon Moore's accurate 1970 prediction that chip capacity will double every 18 months until at least 2018. Ever more powerful chip sets have allowed digital compression, cheap bandwidth, cheap satellite TV, which in turn have changed UK television, not least by spawning the BBC 's 6 new additional TV channels. We are only 10 years into the digital revolution: it's going to get a lot worse.

ITV is buggered because it did not understand the economics of digital TV, UK cable is buggered because we were too long and slow in understanding our distribution economics. Don't let the BBC get buggered through sheer strategic overstretch, and ten new public services for 3G phone users.

I feel when discussing television with a group like this it is a renaissance conversation; we always deal with the Mona Lisa and the Sistine chapel, and seldom the frightening stuff i.e discussing celestial mechanics with the Vatican.

If you want the BBC to survive you must understand the technology that sets the context for the BBC's survival.

But nobody wants to do that, oh nasty transistors, so the key question for the BBC is what are its boundaries: how do you define it?

All television can be encompassed by the rhetoric of public service. If news is too important to be left solely to commerce, and children's television is too important to be left to commerce, and drama too important be left to commerce, surely the same applies to sexuality, and BBC 69 should be the new public porn service promoting safe non-commercial sex.

What are the limits of the BBC? Where is the Hadrian who by stopping expansion and fixing the boundaries of the Roman empire preserved it for another two hundred years?

There is an interesting oxymoron at the heart of the BBC; can a monolith provide plurality?

In a multi-channel fragmented audience world, Channel Four cannot long survive in its current form without help, should they have not access to part of the license fee to ensure plurality and diversity?

On a lesser level, why should the BBC transmit a commercial called Top Gear to ensure their magazine of the same name is the leading publication on cars? Is it that fair on emap or Haymarket?

Why should the BBC use public air time to promote their 'low brow' history magazine and in turn harm the public-service-worthy, intellectually rigorous, diverse voice of History Today?

Should a publicly funded broadcaster ape the commercial products of its competitors with poor copies like Fame Academy, and attempts at cloning C4's property shows?

I have a favourite game called 'how quickly can you spot the Discovery funded programme'. I pay my licence fee to have that which the commercial sector can not create, and yet the BBC waters that down by taking American money, the price of which is programmes diluted to suit the taste of a US commercial broadcaster.

In a way these are trivial issues, they occur because there is no definition and they are symptoms of a public service broadcaster turned media mogul manqe.

But this amoeba-on-steroids strategy of the BBC, trying to engulf everything, is absolutely the right strategy. What they have done is right.

If, as we have, we encourage them to believe that survival rests on audience share, and reach, and maximum utilisation of the service, then they can only compete in a burgeoning world of channels and broadband distribution by expanding to get as much shelf space as possible.

However, every time they increase their output, add another radio, TV, or internet service, you and I proportionality use less of the BBC's output, and I start to resent paying for the increasing amount I don't use.

So here lies the dilemma: the BBC expands to survive, and keeps going till it bursts. Which would be tragic, as we have something unique in the BBC. Or we define the BBC, limit its growth, and reassure it that it will be protected if it is less mass entertainment and more illuminating.

But at that point, some commentators will say, well, if it is less mass market and being used less why are we paying for it?

It is a dilemma, but we need to solve it, not duck it, we need to define public service broadcasting if we are to keep it significantly beyond 2006.

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