The BBC has diverged significantly from its founding principles

by Freya Stear, operations assistant at the TaxPayers' Alliance


Yesterday marked 57 years since the launch of BBC Two in 1964. The channel represents only a tiny part of the BBC’s extraordinary growth since its 1922 inception. From its first television programme in 1932, to opening Radio 1,2,3 and 4 in 1967, to iPlayer’s launch in 2007, its expansion has been vast. 


Table1: Major developments at the BBC since its inception in 1922



Founding of the BBC - launch of radio 2Lo


British Broadcasting Corporation established by Royal Charter


BBC World Service launches


First experimental television programme


BBC Television Service opens


Dedicated news service




Radio 1, Radio 2 (replacing The Light Programme), Radio 3, Radio 4 (replacing Home Service)


Colour television on BBC One


Radio 5


BBC World Service TV News


BBC News 24


BBC Four


BBC Three


BBC iPlayer


BBC Three goes off air


Britbox UK launch



As the table above shows, the BBC is no stranger to technological advancement, new innovations and expanding its horizons. Having vastly outgrown its original remit to fulfil basic functions as a public service broadcaster (PSB), the BBC has morphed into a huge media empire. It is able to muscle out competition due to its sheer size and unique ability to raise funds through the licence fee. As the largest PSB in the world by number of employees (employing around 22,000 members of staff) and with an annual budget in the region of £4 billion, the BBC is able to dominate the market. One only has to look at the decline of small independent local radio stations to see this in action.


The BBC’s growth is certainly impressive. It made many pioneering and exciting developments - especially in the ‘60s - beginning with the launch of BBC Two in 1964. Not content with its market dominance however (despite a lack of innovation since the mid-2000s), the BBC has waded into the realm of streaming services - launching Britbox jointly with ITV in 2019. Many would argue this was a floundering (and all too late) response to the growth in popularity of streaming services like Netflix. 


But with subscriptions starting from £5.99 a month, and a huge library of content to choose from, the BBC believes it to be excellent value. One would hope so, given its huge budget funded by the taxpayer. The BBC clearly believes its content is worth the money. So why not go one step further? It should ditch the licence fee and compete properly on an opt-in subscription basis with the likes of Netflix and Amazon, rather than clutching its current comfort blanket. 


Given how technology has completely changed how people access entertainment and broadcast, the BBC could serve itself well by embracing change. As Table 1 shows us, it’s not like the Beeb has historically ignored technological change, albeit when it has been in the interest of expanding its media empire. Subscription services are the new frontier, but it needs to engage fairly. It’s unthinkable that the corporation be allowed to compete in the subscription market while maintaining its income from a TV tax - it seems however, that this is exactly what it intends. 


Love it or loathe it, there’s no denying the mission creep. The BBC has diverged significantly from its founding principles, becoming a huge media empire which maintains itself thanks to taxpayers. If we accept its new endeavours into the streaming service age, then it must do so on a level playing field, without a draconian funding model. To make that happen, please help us to Axe the Tax. 

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