The BBC’s Head of Television, Danny Cohen, has complained that the corporation “just couldn’t compete” with the global financial might of Netflix, losing out on a pitch for what he says was “a classic BBC subject”.
Cohen, speaking ahead of the Edinburgh TV Festival, said the BBC could not match the wealth of Netflix, the American streaming service, and lost out when bidding for the right to make The Crown despite the subject’s strong British connection, reports The Daily Telegraph.
With a reported US$100 million budget The Crown is set to be the most expensive Netflix drama to date.
The new royal drama will be shown over six seasons, documenting HM The Queen’s life since 1947, says The Independent. It is being written by Peter Morgan, a return to the subject for the man who wrote the Oscar-winning film The Queen.
Cohen explained the BBC’s share of total TV revenue has fallen sharply, from 22 per cent in 2011 to 12 per cent by 2021, and will continue to do so along with BBC licence fee income because young people increasingly fail to see the need to own a television. He said:
“Sky, BT, Disney: they’re all much bigger than the BBC. And we’re looking more and more at that global competition.
“We know we’re living in a world where very big companies can distribute their revenues and content around the world, and monetise that content.
“That’s a very big challenge for a national broadcaster. We keep asking ourselves what to do to keep up and manage that.”
The problem for Cohen is the unique way the BBC is funded – a source of pride for the BBC and its supporters, but a hindrance in the global market.
If the BBC bit the bullet and became a fully commercial enterprise then it would be free to generate huge sums of money. Instead, it is saddled with state interference such as shouldering the £600 million cost of exempting the over-75s from the licence fee.
Worse than that, when it did have a money generating cash cow the corporation failed to keep hold of the team behind it. Top Gear was the world’s most popular factual television programme and a huge revenue generator for the BBC, making BBC Worldwide around £50 million every year. Unfortunately the politically incorrect content of the show did not sit well with certain BBC executives – Danny Cohen himself chief among them.
They helped drive Jeremy Clarkson and his team into the hands of U.S. on-demand giants Amazon where they now enjoy a £160 million budget. The chances of the revamped BBC Top Gear competing with the global brand headed by Clarkson, Hammond and May are very slim indeed.
Ominously the BBC seem to have their eyes on a new money grab hinted at in The Guardian.
With the trend among younger people to watch on-demand only, which can be done legally without a TV licence, the BBC will attempt to work with the government to use the next funding deal to close the so-called ‘iPlayer loophole’.
In other words, rather than compete commercially on a level playing field the BBC wants to extend its unique licence fee into whole new areas. Quite how this will be policed without resorting to Orwellian levels of internet surveillance has not yet been explained.