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A valueless British Leyland share certificate: Will the BBC go the same way? (credit: W Leiter)

A depressing feature of our national life in recent decades is that organisations with the prefix "British" tend to flop or even disappear. Examples include British Shipbuilders and British Leyland, and in 2011 even British Airways merged with Iberia to form the International Airlines Group. Could that also be the fate of the British Broadcasting Corporation later in the 21st century? 

For many people the BBC is not only the vehicle of their favourite television programmes, but also the epitome of national culture. Like Labour's deputy leader Harriet Harman, speaking to the Oxford Media Convention in 2012, they believe that "the sheer scale" of the BBC makes it "the world's biggest broadcasting organisation". According to the BBC's head of public affairs, Andrew Scadding, an October 2013 Populus survey in 14 countries rated BBC "highest on quality" out of 66 major TV channels. The BBC may not be part of our unwritten constitution, but surely it will be a fixture of national life for decades to come. None of the major political parties, including UKIP, seems keen to attack the main elements of the BBC's legislative framework. 

However, the BBC is already a challenged and anxious organisation beset by major strategic uncertainties. In a Standpoint ebook, published this month, I argue that, without a drastic redefinition of its role, the challenges and uncertainties will increase over time. 

Most fundamentally, the advance of technology and the emergence of a worldwide market in media products will render obsolete the BBC's current institutional structure. The licence fee should be abolished and the BBC privatised, to enable it to compete head-on with foreign competition,  and to help Britain be prosperous and successful in the 21st century. 

Harriet Harman is fantasising if she thinks the BBC is still "the world's biggest broadcasting organisation". In the UK itself the BBC's revenues are now much smaller than BskyB's. In the year to March 31 they amounted to £5.1 billion, with more than 70 per cent coming from the licence fee, whereas in the year to June 30 BskyB's were £7.6 billion, roughly 50 per cent higher. Globally, the BBC is a minnow compared with Time Warner, CBS and Murdoch's 21st Century Fox. 

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