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How can the BBC engage students in order to ensure its survival?

When looking for my next programme the BBC waits patiently behind the louder and flashier streaming platforms of Netflix and Amazon Prime.

Why is this? Growing up, settling down to watch the television at the end of the day always bought us to the BBC. Whether it was Doctor Who, Casualty or Strictly, the BBC permeated my life. But this all changed when I moved to university.

Over the years, the BBC has made attempts to entice younger viewers, most recently in its revamping of BBC Three in hopes of attracting more viewers aged between 16 and 34.

Nevertheless, it is fettered by the age of its audience and its reliance on the TV licence fee. This hypothecated tax is the primary source of funding for the broadcaster, and made up 75.7 per cent of its income between 2017 and 2018. The TV license is controversial, and is suffering from waning support by the British public, especially considering the cost-of-living crisis that looks set to hang over society well into 2023.

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There could be calls for the BBC to take a page out of the playbook of its French counterpart, which announced in August that it would be scrapping the TV license fee in order to help households through their own cost of living crisis. The French Senate even went as far to say that the fee was “obsolete” as a result of a general societal shift to online streaming services like Disney+ and Netflix, especially by younger generations.

This shift away from traditional media consumption has affected the entire structure of the multi- media world and undeniably stretches beyond the BBC’s own crisis of identity. However, as our oldest national public broadcaster with its founding in 1922, it strongly reflects a metamorphosis in the way we interact with media. Moreover, it could play a role in the bigger question of publicly owned and publicly-servicing corporations, and their place in a society that can arguably be defined as more individualistic. But that is another question in itself.

As the next generation, we students are the driving force behind this change. So how can the BBC engage with us in order to survive? As students, paying for a TV license on top of crippling tuition fees and staggeringly high electricity bills seems like an impossibility. So, what can the BBC do?

Scrapping the TV license is currently unachievable until after the next general election in 2027. Nevertheless, prominent figures like the new culture secretary Michelle Donelan want to scrap the BBC licence fee. Writing in 2019 for the Melksham Independent News she wrote:

“I think the licence fee is an unfair tax and should be scrapped altogether – but that is a different debate.”

The licence fee is something that overshadows the BBC, but we all need to pay for the streaming services we use. Attempts to reduce the fee could be one way to engage students with the vast degree of
content offered by BBC channels.

The idea that the BBC can try to entice students relies on its content and how it measures up to those of its competitors. While other streaming services like Netflix have felt the same effects of our
tightening purse strings, the BBC needs to do more to keep its current viewers.

The big question facing the BBC is how it can accommodate for such a widely spread aged audience – and if it should even be trying to. When the BBC moved its younger focused BBC Three channel online in 2016 due to budget cuts, there were those who supported the move towards a more streamlined BBC. But gathering support for the channels’ regular broadcasting has prompted the BBC to make plans to reintroduce it back into linear television in 2022. BBC Three is a prime example of how students are being lured back by the broadcaster – with programmes like Fleabag and Normal People garnering acclaim from a wide range of viewers.

But the BBC’s future is not entirely fatalistic. Before the time of on-demand and online streaming platforms, the BBC was fundamentally a public broadcaster. This has not changed. When tuning in to watch the state funeral of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II a staggering 19.5 million viewers chose to watch the event on BBC One alone; comparably Sky News only attracted 934,000 viewers. To stake on these figures that the BBC will be around for the foreseeable future is an odd that even the hardiest of gamblers might tentatively make – but the BBC is not dead in the water just yet.

Image ‘BBC’ by Yukiko Matsuoka is licensed under CC BY 2.0.