House of Lords issues warning about BBC

Committee sees need for public service alternatives

LONDON -- An "increasingly dominant" BBC spells trouble for actors, independent producers and suppliers, an influential Parliamentary committee warned Tuesday, saying the pubcaster is in danger of becoming the monopoly supplier of programming that commercial broadcasters increasingly can't afford to make.

In its report on the future of public service programming, the House of Lords Communications Committee has recommended setting up a limited "contestible" fund to which commercial broadcasters and independent producers could apply for production finance.

"We believe that there is a continuing need for public service alternatives to the BBC. There would be dangers if the BBC were to become an even more dominant provider of public service broadcasting," the report reads. "Intervention is justified to ensure sufficient public provision that the market will not provide free for the public."

The report will feed into Culture Secretary Andy Burnham's review of the broadcasting sector -- due in the summer -- which will address the future for broadcasters including government-owned Channel 4 and commercial players ITV and Five, which are suffering from advertising revenue downturns predicted to be more than 15% this year.

The House of Lords did not detail how much money the fund would have, but said that the cash should come from cash left over from the government's digital switchover spending program, a portion of the BBC's license fee and revenue from the sale of the analog broadcast spectrum.

The report welcomed a series of partnership proposals between the BBC and other broadcasters but said the measures will not shore up the problems broadcasters face here. It rejected the idea of a merger between the BBC's commercial arm BBC Worldwide and Channel 4.

"We do not want to go back half a century to a time when the BBC was the monopoly provider of public service broadcasting," the committee said. "That would be bad for the public and bad for the BBC."

The report comes a day after a separate parliamentary review called for the BBC's commercial division, BBC Worldwide, to curb its expansion program and commercial activities.