Channel Four’s Gardam Claims Share of BBC Licence Fee

16 April 2003

OK, so architects watch TV like the rest of us - but quite why the Royal Institute of British Architects invited Channel 4 director of television Tim Gardam to give its annual lecture is a mystery on a par with the Great Pyramid at Giza.

Nonetheless, Gardam seized the offer of a pulpit with enthusiasm, calling on the government to share out the BBC’s licence fee among other public service broadcasters – notably Channel 4 but also to a lesser extent ITV and Five.

Channel 4, like the BBC, is publicly owned; but, unlike the BBC, attracts considerable revenues from advertising. Both broadcasters have a remit to produce original and public service programming, as do commercial channels ITV and Five.

Because such output attracts smaller audiences than mass-market programming – and therefore less advertising income – Gardam argued that ratings-chasing channels have little incentive to devote resources to public service output.

In the light of increasing competition from digital, satellite and cable channels, commercial broadcasters’ market share is under erosion. “What will be at risk is not Channel 4 itself,” Gardam said, “for Channel 4 is a tough, commercially competitive beast, but the financial flexibility to explore our remit with the freedom we would wish.”

He stressed he was not seeking to deprive the BBC of its licence fee, arguing instead “that its future has to be set in a broader context than just the BBC's.”

It is probably no coincidence that Gardam’s argument waters a seed sown in February by Granada chairman Charles Allen who, addressing the Royal Television Society, called for 10% of the £2.5 billion ($3.93bn; €3.64bn) TV licence fee to be handed to the commercial sector to develop “new, additional public service programming on commercial channels”.

[It seems both Allen and Gardam suffer from an identical memory lapse. Specifically that the bid tender for their respective broadcasting franchises requested detailed submissions for providing these public services. Not only were the costs of doing so factored into their bids, but the florid prose describing how such services would enrich the national psyche would have done credit to a mobile-phone copywriter.]

Data sourced from: BrandRepublic (UK); additional content by WARC staff