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Raymond Snoddy 

Pissing off hundreds of thousands of licence payers is not a good idea...

Raymond SnoddyRaymond Snoddy on the BBC cuts: Blank screens late at night would not be a good idea. You have to show something. The last person who tried blank screens was Prime Minister Ted Heath during the miner's strike and it didn't get him very far

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At long last the BBC has done the decent and rational thing by putting forward a list of possible cuts into the public domain for discussion.

Yesterday's announcements, though far from complete and comprehensive, at least set out some sensible options for the difficult task of taking 20% out of the BBC budget by 2016 in inflationary times.

The piecemeal leaking of often preposterous and inflammatory suggestions had started to become damaging to the BBC.

Dropping Wimbledon coverage? Right. Nice One.

Chopping all but a few hours a day of the distinctive, public service broadcasts provided by the BBC's mainly speech, low cost, local radio stations? Brilliant idea. Spot on.

It's entirely reasonable to have brain-storming sessions and ask "what if " questions at the outset but equally there rapidly comes a time to impose some sort of discipline on the process before the leaks and rumours become self-fulfilling.

It would also be good to discard as quickly as possible what BBC director-general Mark Thompson described yesterday as "the chaff" to prevent the need to go out to do battle against straw men - the things that are definitely not going to happen.

A few important themes, or organising principles, have however emerged clearly from behind the list of 21 proposals.

Thompson is increasingly confident that he will be able to avoid major service closures in contrast to the approach of the outgoing chairman of the BBC Trust Sir Michael Lyons who thought they would be difficult to avoid.

The experience with 6 Music, and even more embarrassingly with the Asian Network, would suggest that pissing off hundreds of thousands of licence payers by closing existing services with loyal followers is not a very good idea unless it is absolutely necessary.

Equally it is not a great idea to try to keep everything the same by salami slicing budgets so that the output starts to look down-at-heel. If anything there has probably been too much of that already.

If not that, what?

It is entirely rational to concentrate your financial firepower on peak-time and look to see whether serious money can be saved during daytime and overnight when the numbers available to view or listen are relatively small.

Thompson also re-emphasised yesterday that things are not quite as bad as they look. This is not a zero sum game.

The predicted growth in the number of households, cutting both the costs of licence fee collection and evasion, increased commercial revenue and existing cuts should increase revenue by 10% by 2016.

That additional 10% should pay for the new commitments agreed with the Government - the World Service and the Welsh Fourth channel.

As for the other 10% there are a number of positive, creative ideas, which will also save money while offering a greater diversity of programmes.

Should the BBC consider sharing nations' TV programmes across the network? Absolutely.

The BBC has becomes a little less metropolitan in recent years at the urging of the BBC Trust but is still weak overall in explaining the preoccupations of the Scots, Welsh and Northern Irish to the rest of the UK.

After all, if BBC Northern Ireland had not done so well with the Iris Robinson saga - a story that went round the world - BBC pickings at the Royal Television Society's news and current affairs awards would have been thin indeed.

That Spotlight programme did receive a national network slot but there must be many more decent programmes made to high professional standards from the nations of the UK, which could be more routinely shown nationally off-peak.

Should the BBC share original journalism across BBC services more effectively and indeed move towards one integrated news gathering service? Yes and Yes.

There have been attempts at better co-ordination but the unseemly and costly sight of different BBC outlets fighting over essentially the same story and pictures is a luxury that can no longer be tolerated.

Taking responsibility for the World Service in the next few years is the obvious opportunity to create a more integrated, if not totally monolithic, news-gathering service.

It is equally obvious that there should be more showings of the marquee BBC One dramas and natural history series soon after the initial outing.

You miss the start of a new drama, find out via the press or word of mouth that it is good, but by then it is too late. Why not, indeed, have further showings across the BBC portfolio of channels BBC Three and Four.

But it might be better to institutionalise the process and make BBC 2 the formal "another chance to see channel" during the daytime and after Newsnight.

Blank screens late at night would not be a good idea. You have to show something. The last person who tried blank screens was Prime Minister Ted Heath during the miner's strike and it didn't get him very far.

It is also time to think again about acquisitions, which now account for only around 2% of the licence fee.

Originated BBC programmes have become the Holy Grail under pressure from politicians who never watch television anyway.

The BBC could actually extend its creative range by acquiring more programmes from public service broadcasters around the world for next to nothing. The prize lists from international television festivals such as Banff would be a good place to start.

As for protecting BBC local radio how about asking culture secretary Jeremy Hunt for a £10 million rebate from the local television fund wrung out of the BBC under duress?

Local radio after all ostentatiously contributes to local democracy and it is becoming clearer why there is so much apparent interest in Hunt's local television proposals. Some lust after the £40 million the BBC will have to contribute to launching and sustaining the scheme. Others see an imaginative wheeze to launch a new national Channel 6 with a prominent slot on the electronic programme guide with a little local telly on the side.

But however bitter the arguments get at the BBC over the next few months over cuts and jobs just remember things could have been so much worse. There are strong hints around that chancellor George Osborne wanted a 40% cut imposed on the BBC - not a mere 20%.

Your Comments

23 March 2011, 16:33 GMT

"Make BBC 2 the formal 'another chance to see channel' during the daytime and after Newsnight."

What a genius idea! The BBC will probably say, 'but we've got BBC iPlayer for that' but BBC iPlayer is not really a solution.

Firstly you can't watch programs on HD and nobody wants to watch lavishly produced shows on a tiny PC monitor.

Secondly many homes have got no internet or shoddy broadband so you get the situation of the programme pausing for the broadband to catch up, which is really frustrating.

Thirdly, the BBC iPlayer mostly only retains programs for a week so if you miss it in the week you miss your chance to watch it.

Having 'another chance to see channel' would mean that those who have Sky+ or a DVD recorder could record shows that they've missed recording the first time around and watch them in their own time.

Jali Henry
Marketing & Administration Executive
Outdoor Media Centre
23 March 2011, 17:51 GMT

The BBC is already pissing me off [a licence payer] by shortly closing 648mw World Service, which I can currently listen to on my portable radio in North London. It incurs no extra origination costs but will adversely impact the BBC's reputation in Western Europe.

There is also the floated plan to swap Radio 5 live from Medium Wave to FM to get around the embargo on closing MWave until a larger percentage of the UK has access and is using the digital networks.

But then if Mark Thompson gave up his inflated salary and closed a BBC TV channel (not analogue BBC2) it would pay for all local radio and 648mW transmissions. (How much is the re-branding of Radio 7 to Radio 4 Extra costing?)

Note that during the night on Radio 4, the BBC actually waste money and actually originates special jingles to advertise times as am and pm. Is not using GMT or CET good enough? British Rail has used 24 hour clock since 14 June 1965. Indeed programming on 648 and Radio 4 (FM/LW) between 0058 and 0519 is actually often different. And the programme listing on analogue ceefax page is 648 different again.

If BBC2 showed more of BBC World News in the UK would the BBC have the transmission rights?

Donald Smith
Retired Chartered Engineer
Previously worked for a UK Telecoms Business
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