1.The Committee undertook a visit to the BBC and two public roundtables to inform this report.
2.On 12 May the Committee visited the BBC in MediaCity UK, Salford. In attendance were Baroness Stowell, Lord Griffiths, Baroness Harding, Baroness Rebuck and Lord Young. The purpose was to engage with the BBC outside of London to better understand its future priorities and efforts to address long-term challenges. The Committee received briefings from BBC executives and technicians.
3.The Committee then held public roundtable discussions with groups of students and young adults in Salford. The aim was to hear from younger audiences about their views on the BBC, its future and how it should be funded. Participation was open to those who had registered to attend. Publicity was targeted to local community groups. Each member sat at a table and facilitated discussion assisted by committee staff and staff from the engagement team. This was followed by a short plenary discussion. A summary of the discussion follows.
4.Participants voiced a general appreciation of the BBC’s work and value, and highlighted the benefits it provided to different communities. Many said that they regularly used educational services such as Bitesize. Others felt that they did not engage with many of the BBC’s services on a regular basis.
5.We heard that the BBC provided good services for children and adults, but that there was a lack of content for teenagers. Some participants thought this group were better served by other providers such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, Disney+ and various social media channels. We also heard that younger viewers might grow into the BBC when they were older, but that at the moment it was not a main source of entertainment. Most participants said that they tended to engage with content on a variety of digital devices, though a few said that television was their main source.
6.There were mixed views on the principles that should underpin future funding decisions and the best way of funding the BBC. Some thought a subscription service for premium content could be an attractive option. Some thought it was important to maintain a service that everyone could access, and believed the license fee represented good value when compared to other services they purchased. Others said adverts would be a good source of revenue, and accepted adverts as almost inevitable in today’s world. However, we also heard views that advertising might be frustrating, and that the absence of adverts was currently one of the BBC’s attractive features.
7.The Committee held an online roundtable on 25 May with members of the public. The aim was to hear perspectives on the BBC from individuals located across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Participation was open to those who had registered to attend. Publicity was targeted to local community groups. Following introductory remarks, participants were divided into virtual breakout rooms to hold discussions facilitated by members, committee staff and staff from the engagement team. This was followed by a short plenary discussion. A summary of the discussion follows.
8.We heard a range of views on the BBC’s purpose and how it should be funded. Some participants felt that the BBC’s purpose was becoming less clear in a fast-changing world, while others believed that the corporation continued to play an enduring and important role in bringing the nation together. We heard general agreement that the BBC could improve on its work in representing the whole of the UK in its coverage. Some also felt the BBC’s coverage was insufficiently impartial, though others felt that the issue was complex and nuanced.
9.We received mixed views on the BBC’s future funding. Some believed that the licence fee was becoming obsolete, and that viewers were increasingly opting to not pay for it. Others felt that it offered good value for money and was no worse than alternatives. Some participants felt that an advertising or subscription-based model could provide a viable alternative, particularly given that other platforms use these models. Other participants felt that introducing advertising might deter viewers, and that charging for the BBC’s services would be controversial.