‘Help My Rivals,’ Pleads BBC Boss to Government

11 September 2002

In a speech that set media industry insiders speculating as to his motives, Greg Dyke, director general of the state-owned BBC, made an unprecedented plea to the government on Tuesday to cream less cash from his commercial broadcast rivals ITV and Channel 5.

Multimillionaire Dyke, a quondam commercial TV tycoon before taking the helm at the BBC, is not renowned for his generosity toward competitors – and many in the media business believe he could with justification have savaged ITV chiefs for allowing the ITV1 channel’s ratings to sink to their lowest ever level.

Not so. “I have some sympathy for ITV,” Dyke announced to the surprise of delegates at the Royal Television Society’s International Conference in London.

“Its revenue is now back to 1997 levels in real terms. The broadcasting ecology is much stronger if ITV is in good health. But ITV is no longer a licence to print money. The amount ITV and Channel 5 pay to the government each year needs to be questioned. If the money they pay to the government is released so that they could spend it on programming, everyone would be the beneficiaries.”

The monies referred to – amounting to hundreds of millions of pounds – are those paid in fees to the Treasury on a contractual basis following the auction of channel licences in 1992. It is not believed that these sums were extorted under torture.

ITV had been “the big loser” over the past two years, opined Dyke, although he refuted that its ratings slump was due to the aggressive scheduling and populist approach adopted by the BBC since his appointment.

“ITV’s share of commercial viewing is 57% of what it was 10 years ago,” Dyke observed. “By coincidence,” he added shyly, “that is about the same time that myself and Christopher Bland [ex-BBC chairman and his colleague at former commercial franchise LWT] left ITV.”

Data sourced from: MediaGuardian.co.uk; additional content by WARC staff