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In a submission last week to the British parliament’s Culture, Media and Sport Committee, as part of a probe into the future of the BBC, ITV said, “The BBC’s pursuit of audience share regardless of distinctiveness or innovation has been evident where the BBC has rushed to commission or produce almost identical programs to those by ITV.”
Without providing details, it said that this “on one occasion [forced] ITV to reschedule to avoid serious commercial damage.”
ITV also criticized the BBC for airing the British version of The Voice, which had stronger ratings for the third-season opener this weekend. “We can see no obvious justification for the BBC commissioning existing formats, such as The Voice, for the U.K. audience, just as the BBC has recognized that there is nothing particularly distinctive about simply acquiring U.S. content,” it said.
The BBC Trust, the public broadcaster’s governing body, has called for distinctive programs, which BBC executives said they have delivered. But ITV argued: “Nothing has improved, in part because it does not appear that the BBC has put in place any meaningful framework or plan for delivering or assessing the distinctiveness of BBC output. Instead there have been numerous examples of the BBC simply aping (and in some cases trailing) the commercial market as well as aggressively pursuing audience share for its own sake.”
Concluded ITV, “We welcome competition, but what we find difficult are situations where the BBC seems to merely copy the commercial strategies of competitors purely to gain audience share, whilst at the same time enjoying the certainty of a guaranteed license fee income.”
British households pay an annual fee that helps fund the BBC.
The BBC’s current charter is set to expire in a couple of years, with the input from the parliamentary review expected to figure into the terms of a new 10-year charter. ITV said it should include commitments to distinctive programming, such as a minimum number of new shows every year and obligations to invest in on-screen and production talent.
A spokesman for the BBC defended the public broadcaster’s approach, telling Broadcast magazine, “Research shows that not only is there strong public support for the BBC showing a wide range of content and funded by the license fee, but also that in countries where public service broadcasting is strong, commercial broadcasting is also strong.”
The BBC “plays a key role in the life of the U.K. and our creative economy,” the ITV submission also emphasized. “The scale of guaranteed license fee funding is part of the reason the U.K. has a flourishing media sector, which enables the U.K. to punch well above its weight in international trade. However, the BBC is only part of the overall ecology of the U.K. media market, and it is precisely because of the scale and the non market-based guarantee of BBC funding that the BBC and the license fee should be subject to proper scrutiny.”
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