Last week, Cultural Secretary Nadine Dorries relaunched a public debate when she announced that the Government had decided to ‘undertake a review’ of the BBC’s current funding model and would freeze the licence fee at its current price of £159 a year until April 2024. The licence fee will then rise in line with inflation for the following four years, until the expiration of the current Royal Charter that sets out the BBC’s funding arrangements in December 2027.
The latest research conducted by Redfield & Wilton Strategies looks at what the public thinks about this announcement and the BBC’s funding model more generally.
Overall, more than half (54%) of Britons polled disagree that BBC services are worth the current £159-a-year licence fee, compared to 29% who agree that BBC services are worth this price. In light of these attitudes, the Government’s decision to freeze the licence fee for two years could prove to be a popular one, especially amidst rising inflation.
Older Britons are more likely to think that the BBC provides adequate value for money. 39% of respondents aged 65 and above agree that BBC services are worth the yearly £159 licence fee, compared to 29% of 18-to-24-year-olds and 23% of 25-to-34-year-olds who agree, for example. Even among the oldest age group, however, disagreement (45%) remains the plurality position.
At 59%, 2019 Conservative voters are particularly likely to disagree that BBC services are worth the current £159 licence fee, though 47%—and thereby a plurality—of 2019 Labour voters also share this view.
These attitudes are not new. In July 2020, for instance, 48% of Britons polled thought the BBC did not offer good value for money, compared to 38% who thought it did.
Consequently, significant portions of the public are in favour of scrapping the licence fee completely, rather than just freezing it for a number of years. In a 16 January 2022 tweet, Dorries herself claimed the current licence fee settlement ‘will be the last.’ Though the Cultural Secretary has since softened her rhetoric on the matter by saying the decision to abolish the licence fee in five years’ time has not yet been made final, support for such a decision would nevertheless be sizeable: 63% of Britons polled—including 72% of 2019 Conservative voters and 57% of 2019 Labour voters—would support the Government abolishing the BBC licence fee in 2027, while only 16% would oppose it.
In fact, when asked how they think the BBC should be funded, only 18% think the licence fee is the best option. The potential alternative of funding the BBC through Government tax revenue also attracts little support. Though it is more popular with 2019 Labour voters (20%) than with 2019 Conservative voters (8%), Government tax revenue remains the funding mechanism Britons judge least desirable overall, with only 15% thinking the BBC should be funded this way.
50% of Britons overall instead think the BBC should be funded by advertising or subscriptions—an option that is preferred by both 2019 Conservative voters and 2019 Labour voters, though it is more popular with the former (62%) than with the latter (41%).
Indeed, 50% of Britons overall explicitly support getting rid of the BBC licence fee and having the BBC switch to a private subscription-based model as used by Channel 4, Sky, and others—something which 22% would conversely oppose.
Support for this option has remained relatively stable over time: In July 2020, for instance, 54% supported and 19% opposed getting rid of the BBC licence fee and having the BBC switch to a private subscription-based model. In both February and May 2021, support stood at 56%, while we recorded opposition at 19% and 18%, respectively.
With views on the value of BBC services largely critical and support for the abolition of the BBC licence fee widespread, the Government’s recent announcement is likely to find favour among voters—though it would likely not deflect from the Government’s present woes elsewhere.