A majority of the UK public would support the BBC abolishing the license fee and replacing it with a private subscription-based model, according to the latest poll by Redfield & Wilton Strategies. Our research finds that 54% would support the BBC becoming a private and optional subscription-based model similar to the one currently used by Channel 4, Sky, and others. Notably, less than a fifth (19%) would oppose this transformation.
Support for this move fits a partisan division. Two-thirds of 2019 Conservative voters said they would support the move to a privatised BBC, compared to just under half of Labour voters, and roughly a third of Liberal Democrat voters.
Support for a move towards privatising the BBC is directly correlated to the perception’s voters hold about the BBC’s value for money. Our poll found that 57% of Conservative voters think the BBC does not offer value for money, a view shared by only 42% of Labour voters and 35% of Liberal Democrat voters.
Overall, a strong plurality of the UK public (48%) said the BBC does not offer value for money, compared to 38% who believe it does. Interestingly, older respondents were significantly more likely (53%) to say the BBC does not offer value for money than younger respondents—indeed, only 33% of those aged 18-24 said the BBC does not offer value for money.
Older respondents had notably more firm views on this issue than younger respondents. Just 9% of those aged 65 and above saying they did not know whether the BBC offers value for money or not, compared to a third (33%) of respondents ages 18-24. It is possible that this indecision is a result of younger respondents being more likely to live at home, and therefore being unaware of the cost of the license fee. Moreover, younger respondents may simply not watch the BBC as much as older respondents.
Another key reason why older respondents to our poll were less likely to say the BBC offers value for money could be the BBC’s recent decision to end free TV licenses for the majority of people over the age of 75. Whereas the majority of the overall sample (52%) disagreed with the BBC’s decision to end free TV licenses for the elderly, respondents over the age of 65 disapproved at a higher rate (68%) than younger ones (40% of those aged 18-24 disapproved).
In addition to concerns about whether the BBC offers value for money, commentators from both the left and right have criticised the BBC for supposedly failing to be impartial in its coverage of current affairs. Notably, our poll found that a plurality (46%) of Britons think the BBC has failed to be impartial in its news coverage, compared to 39% who think it has succeeded at being impartial. Interestingly, respondents in London and the South East were the most likely to think the BBC’s coverage has succeeded at being impartial (46% and 44% agreed, respectively), which is a view held by only 32% of respondents in the East Midlands. In Scotland, only 25% think the BBC’s news coverage is impartial.
Analysis also indicates that voters of both major parties are divided among themselves on whether the BBC has failed to be impartial. Although a majority (52%) of those who voted Conservative in the 2019 General Election view the BBC as failing to be impartial, a strong plurality (38%) think it has succeeded at impartiality. Labour voters are also deeply divided, with 42% saying the BBC succeeds at being impartial, and 44% saying it fails at doing so.
However, despite the plurality thinking the BBC has failed to be impartial in recent years, a majority (51%) still approves of its news coverage. Approval of the BBC’s news coverage was highest in the South East (60%) and lowest in the East Midlands (41%) and the South West (46%). Significantly, approval rates were relatively similar among 2019 Conservative voters (51%) and Labour voters (55%).
Despite a substantial proportion of the respondents thinking that the BBC offers neither value for money nor impartiality, the public remains generous in its overall assessment of the national broadcaster’s coverage. Nevertheless, our poll finds strong evidence to suggest that the public would support the BBC abandoning the license fee and switching to a private subscription-based model that gives people the choice of deciding whether they wish to pay for it, or not.