Millennials are constantly being accused of “killing” things. Not people, thankfully, but the auto industry, lunch, marriage.
Here’s another for the ever-growing list: in between never owning a home, avocados on rye, and leeching off my parents, somehow I find time to not watch the BBC.
An Ipsos MORI poll for the Beeb warns that young people spend far more time watching Netflixthan all BBC television combined (including iPlayer), raising questions about its long-term relevance and funding.
That’s right folks: Millennials Are Killing The TV Licence. And good riddance, too.
But where does this millennial apathy to our state broadcaster stem from? Naturally “Points of View and Chill” lacks sex appeal, but there’s more.
It’s partly about choice. My generation created and revolutionised, respectively, the gig and subscription economies. Both offer alternatives to the status quo, engendering genuine consumer choice through global, tech-based solutions.
The same applies to the BBC. Viewing habits have changed dramatically, and each year it grows harder to justify forcing people to pay a premium for what is, in my opinion, mediocre content.
Sure, in between shows about moving house and Eastenders are peppered a few gems. But paying £12.50 a month to watch Blue Planet and the 10 o’Clock News is a remarkable expense. For £5.50 a month, Netflix offers so much more. And you won’t end up in the dock if you fail to renew your subscription.
Of course, the BBC knows that were it to switch to a subscription model tomorrow, people simply wouldn’t sign up, due to a feedback loop of intergenerational inequality in programming.
Most BBC viewers are now 61 and above, many of whom are exempt from paying for a TV licence. Essentially, younger people are paying for the elderly to watch television. And because the elderly watch more television, broadcasting is geared towards them, pushing younger people towards platforms they actually want to watch.
Which brings us to the BBC’s second problem. It simply cannot compete with agile tech firms whose first priority is generating shareholder value through producing quality, popular television, to keep subscription dollars pouring in.
Tied to the state, the BBC lacks the privilege of raising capital to make bold television that will make it more relevant to younger audiences.
Indeed, the big budget series this year (Troy: Fall of a City – a racy, £16m adaptation of the Iliad in the Game of Thrones vein) was a partnership with Netflix. The show averaged just 1.6m viewers during its primetime Saturday night slot on BBC One. Meanwhile, Netflix has exclusive rights to distribute the show internationally.
Lord Hall’s fears of the BBC appearing “increasingly analogue in a digital world” are justified.
The corporation’s funding-by-diktat looks increasingly parochial to a generation which happily (at least until recently) exchanges data for “free” news and content, and pays subscriptions for on-demand media.
If only to amplify how anachronistic this nonsense tax truly is, consider the fact that you can still purchase a black and white TV licence for a reduced rate.
Further, it’s worth noting that you can claim to not require a TV licence at all, if you do not watch or record live TV programmes on any channel or use the BBC iPlayer. Already, nearly 3.5m Brits have stopped paying the fee altogether. As we watch less live television, this number will inevitably rise, leaving the coffers empty.
The BBC needs more cash to invest in remaining relevant to the younger audience its future relies on. It simply cannot compete with Netflix wages or match the quality of programming in The Crown with tax money. Netflix is investing $8bn in original content this year alone. The BBC isn't even close.
The days of the licence fee are numbered. The BBC needs to start thinking of alternative, or complementary, funding models if it wants to survive.