Mark Thompson, director general of the BBC, says he’s upbeat over government negotiations to renew the £3.5 billion ($5.5 billion) licence fee. Talks over the next 4-year licence fee settlement, which runs 2013-16, are due to start next summer. The BBC has been having a bad time of it lately, rocked by scandals over executive pay and the amount it pays stars. Thompson, interviewed at today’s Royal Television Society International Conference in London, denied public perception of the Beeb has been damaged. If anything, he said, the public’s estimation of the BBC has gone up. The coalition government may still cut 2012’s licence fee, while the Beeb would like a 2% rise. It’s already offered to freeze this year’s licence fee. Right now every UK household pays for BBC service through a TV licence fee of £145.50 ($227).
Thompson suggested Brit TV viewers may be able to buy programmes through its new internet TV YouView service, which is due to launch spring 2011. The one-week window when viewers can watch BBC shows for free via the iPlayer will stay, Thompson said. But the director general said viewers may be able to download programmes to keep, much as you can buy BBC DVDs in shops today.
The BBC boss said the Corporation would not provide even more local news coverage. Thompson said the Corporation needs to make services it already runs better rather than expand further. Thompson was responding to UK culture secretary Jeremy Hunt, who earlier today raised the possibility of the BBC improving its position on electronic TV listings providing it enhances local TV coverage. What the BBC could offer hyper-local TV news providers — such as newspaper groups — said Thompson, were things like training and studio space. Talks on providing local news with ITV foundered last year because the BBC couldn’t justify any of the licence fee going to its commercial rival, even if it was just sharing buildings.