COBA calls for BBC governance reform

COBA has called for the BBC’s governance system to be rebalanced, so that Management must prove the value of proposals to expand BBC services.

Decision to extend CBBC hours highlights need for BBC reform

The Commercial Broadcasters Association (COBA) today called for the BBC’s Public Value Test (PVT) to be rebalanced, following the BBC Trust’s decision last week to extend CBBC’s hours despite opposition from the public and industry.

Amongst other reforms, COBA has proposed that, when proposing a new service or a change to an existing one, there should be an onus on the BBC to prove the additional public value convincingly and demonstrably. Where there is little or no public value created by a proposal, then the priority should be to avoid a negative market impact, rather than permitting expansion for the sake of it. In addition, the ultimate authority for a decision with a market impact, such as a PVT, should be a genuinely independent, external body.

COBA highlighted how the BBC Trust’s own audience research for the proposal to extend CBBC hours from 7pm to 9pm found that: “respondents were, on the whole, opposed to extended hours.”[1] Members of the public voiced a range of concerns, including fears that the proposal could disrupt family routines, the fact that it will show only repeats, and the increasing choice already on offer for children from alternative options such as on-demand services or other channels.

Furthermore, the Trust found that “the provisional conclusions attracted near unanimous opposition from industry stakeholders.”[2]

Adam Minns, COBA’s Executive Director, said: “COBA supports the licence fee, the BBC’s vital role as a cornerstone of the UK broadcasting sector, and indeed the Public Value Test system in principle. But extending CBBC’s hours shows that aspects of the Public Value Test need reform to avoid expansion for the sake of it. Industry opposes this decision, the public opposes it, and it doesn’t save any money: it is hard to see who it benefits.”

COBA supports the overall Public Value Test framework but has set out a range of ways to improve the system:

  • A new emphasis, where there is little public value created in a proposal for a new service, on avoiding negative market impact.
  • Granting the governing body powers to review proposals that do not meet the threshold for the Public Value Test.
  • Requiring BBC Management to submit detailed proposals to the governing body within a reasonable timeframe after formally announcing them.
  • The governing body should also assess market impact as part of the five-year service reviews.
  • Decisions that impact on the market, such as a Public Value Test, should ultimately be made by an independent body.

[1] Public Value Assessment, BBC Trust, Section 10.5.1
[2] Final Decision on the Proposals for BBC Three, BBC One, BBCiPlayer, and CBBC, BBC Trust, Section 6.5.4.