5 ways to solve BBC’s money worries

As George Entwistle prepares to take over as BBC director general at a time of cost-cutting, media commentators at Edinburgh International TV festival give their opinions on how they would save money at the corporation.

1. Abandon expensive talent and sports

The argument was put forward by City University's professor in television journalism Stewart Purvis because "they are big pots of money".

His suggestion is by no means a surprise and reflects a trend at the BBC. This year's annual report shows talent fees were reduced by £9.5m in the financial year 2011/12. The BBC have also lost horse racing rights to Channel 4 and shares Formula 1 coverage with Sky.

2. Ditch in-house production quotas

At the moment 50% of TV programmes have to be made by teams within the BBC. But commentators questioned whether this is competitive and therefore cost-effective.

Former BBC One controller Lorraine Heggessey put forward the idea that in-house production wouldn't do badly from having fewer, more creative people, saying "the confidence has been knocked out of in-house".

It proved a controversial suggestion, prompting Pat Younge, who is in charge of BBC Vision's in-house production, to stand up from his seat in the audience and argue that there is no proof that in-house production is more expensive than independent productions. He said morale is low because of pay caps but argues that, despite this, a third of this year's Bafta awards were won by programmes made in-house.

Purvis also pointed out that BBC Worldwide wouldn't have as much content to sell, and consequently return profits back to the BBC, if in-house production was reduced.

Former director general Greg Dyke recommended Entwistle to keep a close eye on in-house production saying "ownership rights are becoming more and more important so the BBC gets rid of in-house production at its peril".

3. Cull the commissioners

Changing the commissioning system is something Dyke said he wished he did while he was director general. "It's a convoluted difficult system' he said. He suggests giving more people, who are lower down the pecking order, the power to commission, meaning the BBC wouldn't need so many commissioners.

Heggessey echoed his sentiment that it was a complicated system "with so many players". "You have too many people," she said.

As well as suggesting a few less commissioners, she also put forward a less drastic option: fewer meetings.

4. Charge for the iPlayer

Purvis said that in the long term the next director general should ask what the roll-out of high speed broadband will mean for the future of the BBC. He suggested that, when 90% of the population have access to the internet as the government are aiming for, the majority of people could start viewing all shows on the internet instead of tv.

Added to this, media commentator Steve Hewlett pointed out that while the licence fee covers broadcasts, you are not required to pay if you watch shows on iPlayer.

So, a subscription service should be "seriously considered" according to Left Bank Pictures chief executive Andy Harries. Heggessey suggested a less extreme approach - giving people an option to pay to watch programmes after the current seven-day window of availabilty.

But caution on building subscription services was expressed by Dyke. "The key thing about the licence fee is universality of access. If you start subscription services, you take that away."

5. Abandon the licence fee settlement

Discussion about money saving roots from 2010, when the current licence fee settlement was agreed between director general Mark Thompson and the government. Frozen at £145.50 until 2017, the BBC is now having to make 20% savings (£700m per year).

So, some argue scrapping the settlement could address the issue of where you save money in the BBC.

A u-turn on the licence fee settlement is not unforeseeable according to former director general Greg Dyke. His argument is that there have been u-turns by the government before.

But Purvis implied that, rather than a u-turn, by agreeing to pay for broadband roll-out and local TV among other services, the agreement may lead to the government asking for more services to be paid for from the licence fee revenues.

'Has a precedent been set,' he asked 'by moving the funder from the tax payer to the licence fee?'

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