How the BBC outsources its complaints system

Towards the end of last month, one of our readers referred in the comments section to an article by Peter Hitchens concerning the BBC’s complaints system:

“I have many times battled my way through the futile outer defences of the Corporation’s complaints system. This was long ago outsourced to an outside contractor, Capita.

I get the strong impression that Capita is there solely to soak up the anger of viewers and listeners. I can get no straight answer from the BBC about whether complaints made to it are even passed directly to the programme-makers involved.”

For those unfamiliar with the background, Capita plc is a London-based business process outsourcing and professional services company. In 2009 the BBC announced that Capita had been re-appointed as “the service partner that will deliver the Corporation’s Audience Services”.

“The BBC’s existing agreement with Capita, which began in 1999, expires in late 2009 and the contract was put out to tender in October 2008.

The company was selected by the BBC after an EU-regulated procurement process with 38 companies initially applying for the contract.

After a rigorous evaluation process, Capita scored highest balancing quality and cost and helping the BBC to fulfil its commitment to value for money and increasing audience accessibility via the web.

The new contract will commence in January 2010 and will run up to March 2019.

The contract is central to the corporation’s relationship with Licence Fee payers as Audience Services is responsible for handling all complaints, comments and enquiries that the BBC receives via phone calls, emails, SMS and letters.” [emphasis added]

According to Capita, that contract “is worth in the region of £5m annually”.

The qualifications required for Capita staff handling sometimes complex complaints from the public include “ideally 6 months consecutive call/contact centre experience” and “educated to GCSE level” as well as “strong media and current affairs knowledge”.

Capita is also the company to which the BBC outsources (for a fee of £58 million a year) collection of the TV licence fee and in February of this year, following a report in the Daily Mail, the BBC’s Director General was obliged to address allegations that vulnerable people were being targeted by Capita employees promised bonuses.

The meaning of the BBC’s Audience Services contract with Capita plc is of course that at the first two stages of the complaints system – 1a and 1b – members of the public are in fact not dealing with the BBC directly but with a commercial entity.

With the current contract set to expire in March 2019, the coming year presents an ideal opportunity for the BBC to consult its funding public on the question of whether nearly twenty years of outsourcing of complaints has – from the point of view of the people who ultimately pay for it – been satisfactory.




BBC licence fee payers fund more charter review PR

It was difficult to miss the BBC’s latest charter review PR efforts on social media on August 25th.

Deprivation study tweet 1

Deprivation study tweet 2

Deprivation study tweet 3

Unfortunately, despite the claims in those Tweets, the link provided does not lead to the ‘full study’ but to a press release put out by the BBC which was also amplified in the Radio Times and through video.

In that press release we learn that:

“Nationally, seven in 10 households say that they are content to pay the current level of the licence fee or more in order to receive BBC services. This study mainly focused on the minority who say the licence fee is too high or, if it was down to them, they would forgo the BBC.”

However, it later emerges that over 31% of those who took part in the exercise (and no information is provided regarding how they were identified or recruited) were not among “the minority who say the licence fee is too high” at all.

“Of those taking part,

24 households originally said they would prefer to pay nothing and not receive the BBC;

24 households originally said that they would be willing to pay less than the current licence fee for the current BBC;

22 households originally said that they would be willing to pay the licence fee or more.” [emphasis added]

Notably, the BBC’s promotion of the results of this study focuses on specific messaging:

“Thirty-three out of the 48 households who originally said they would prefer to not pay at all and not receive the BBC, or who wanted to pay a lower licence fee, changed their minds and said they were now willing to pay the full licence fee for the BBC.

Twenty-one out of the 22 households who originally said that they were happy to pay the licence fee or more still held this view, and 15 of these households believed this even more strongly than at the beginning of the study.”

No graphics were promoted on BBC Twitter accounts quoting the 15 households who did not change their minds and the BBC’s press release reveals nothing about the household who originally supported the licence fee and apparently had a change of heart.

In 2013/14 there were 25,419,296 licences in force in the UK and trends would suggest that the number would have risen since then. If, as the BBC claims, 70% of households are content with the current arrangement, that places well over seven million households in the category termed “the minority who say the licence fee is too high”. The sample size of this BBC commissioned study is obviously therefore far too small to provide results with any statistical relevance. 

It is once again unlikely that the people who paid for this study will be able to find out how much it cost. But if the BBC is keen to persuade its funding public that they are getting value for money, then surely a very basic step would be to avoid wasting resources on ‘studies’ which fail to meet the minimum standards of statistical credibility.

Funders of BBC advert can’t find out how much it cost

Long-time BBC Watch readers will be familiar with the phrase “for the purposes of journalism, art or literature”. It is the clause cited by the BBC to justify its refusal to release the Balen Report and it was used when a member of the public submitted a Freedom of Information Act request concerning the number of complaints made to the BBC.

Now that phrase has cropped up again in relation to a two-minute filmed advert promoting the BBC – made by the BBC. The ‘Media Guido’ blog explains:for all of us BBC

“Last month the BBC produced a cinematic advert to “celebrate the unique role that the BBC plays in all of our lives”. […] Guido fired off a Freedom of Information request to the notoriously opaque Beeb, asking how much licence fee payers stumped up for the very expensive looking advert. To our complete lack of surprise, the BBC are refusing to reveal the cost:

“The information you have requested is excluded from the Act because it is held for the purposes of ‘journalism, art or literature.’ The BBC is therefore not obliged to provide this information to you and will not be doing so on this occasion.””

The upcoming once-in-a-decade BBC charter review would suggest that the timing of the appearance of this advert is not coincidental. In fact, readers may recall that back in 2013, the Telegraph reported that the BBC’s Director General raised the possibility of using funds provided by the obligatory licence fee to persuade the public to carry on paying it.

“The BBC must “get aggressive” about selling its virtues to the nation, director-general Lord Hall has argued, as he disclosed the corporation will be using its own airwaves to convince viewers it is good value.

Lord Hall has said the BBC must be “less British” about telling the public the £145.50 licence fee is worth paying, as he insisted it is “quite wrong” to accuse the corporation of dominating the media.

His statement raises the possibility that the BBC could place advertisements or trailers on its own channels in the run-up to the licence fee being considered in 2016, spelling out its benefits to viewers.”

Apparently though the BBC – which purports “to operate as transparently as possible” – does not believe that the people who funded this advert are entitled to know how much it (or the rest of the corporation’s considerable efforts relating to charter renewal) cost.


DCMS chair says BBC licence fee unsustainable

Towards the end of last week several UK media outlets reported on remarks made by John Whittingdale MP concerning the future of the compulsory licence fee.TV Licence

The Guardian, for example, reported that:

“The BBC licence fee is “worse than the poll tax” with non-payment “almost certain” to be decriminalised, according to the chair of the Commons culture, media and sport select committee. […]

“I don’t think there is any serious possibility of the licence fee going this charter renewal,” he said. “I think in the longer term we are potentially looking at reducing at least a proportion of the licence fee that is compulsory and introducing an element of choice.”

Whittingdale added: “In the long term it is unsustainable. When I say unsustainable in the long term, I’m talking about over 20, 50 years … I don’t like the idea of a licence fee, I would prefer to link it perhaps to some other tax, and I think decriminalisation is almost certain to happen.

“Most people already accept that the licence fee as it is currently structured needs some tweaking to deal with anomalies, like the fact on catch-up you don’t need a licence fee, whereas live streaming you do. People’s viewing habits have changed and we need to reflect that.”

Broadcast‘ added:

“The DCMS chair had been “disappointed” by comments made last week by newly appointed BBC Trust chairman Rona Fairhead that the licence fee “does not need fixing.”

Appearing before the DCMS select committee, Fairhead said she assumed that the licence fee works, is effective and “the public broadly supports it”.”

So where did the new head of the BBC Trust get that idea? The Telegraph may have provided some insight into that question in its report on the topic.

“He [Mr Whittingdale] added BBC-commissioned research showing the public overwhelmingly support the licence fee had been the result of the corporation setting its own questions, as he called for a wider “package” of options to be presented to viewers.” [emphasis added]

Can we presume that the apparently problematic BBC-commissioned research showing ‘overwhelming’ public support for the licence fee which is now being used to promote the case for the continuation of the compulsory licence fee was funded by none other than the people who are obliged to pay the licence fee? 


BBC Two’s ‘Daily Politics’ airs an alternative view on the licence fee

Credit where credit is due: on April 2nd the BBC finally came up with an alternative view on the subject of the licence fee.

Appearing on BBC’s Two’s ‘Daily Politics Show’, Nick Ross said:

“Risk aversion is driving the BBC into a dead end… Replacing this poll tax with subscription would liberate the BBC. […]

“If we were honest, said Ross, “my view is we could get more revenue freely without sending people to prison or court because they do not pay their licence fee.”

BBC presenter Jo Coburn challenged Ross’s claims. She said: “The BBC is convinced it would lose money on the evidence and the polls they have done, people would not pay if they were not forced to”.

But Ross, best known for presenting the BBC’s Crimewatch programme, maintains that there is a bias in favour of the licence fee from within the BBC.

“The people commissioning this research will cling to the licence fee. They are cherry-picking evidence which sustains their own view,” he said.

“I understand where they are coming from. They are frightened and timid and they do not want the BBC to be challenged. 

“The uptake will be enormous, if the BBC does good programming. That is what this is about.”

Readers in the UK can view that programme for a limited period of time on BBC iPlayer here.

Nick Ross also made a short film on the subject which was posted on the BBC News website and can be seen here.

Nick Ross licence fee


In praise of the BBC licence fee, by…the BBC

March 31st saw the appearance of a rather thinly-veiled ‘you’ve never had it so good’ article on the subject of the licence fee on the ‘Entertainment & Arts’ page of the BBC News website. Licence fee art

Written by BBC News’ entertainment and arts correspondent Tim Masters and titled “How is TV funded around the world?“, the article actually failed to answer that question with regard to countries which do not employ some version of the TV licence fee or a tax for the same purpose, but did go into detail regarding mostly European states which do.

Readers were not informed how television is funded in countries which have abolished the licence fee such as Australia, Belgium, Cyprus, Holland or New Zealand or in countries (with one exception) which never had such a system such as Spain, Luxembourg, Canada or the United States.

The article opened with a presentation of the BBC’s own stance on the licence fee but no alternative viewpoint was provided.

“The debate over the future of the licence fee in the United Kingdom is set to build ahead of the licence fee and royal charter renewals in 2016 and 2017 respectively.

Last week MPs backed plans to give the government power to decriminalise non-payment of the TV licence fee.

Meanwhile, last month, the BBC rejected calls to introduce a voluntary subscription fee for its services.

Responding to a government inquiry into the future of the BBC, it argued the £145.50 licence fee was the “most effective way” to fund the corporation.”

Once again this article raises issues relating to the use of publicly-funded BBC resources to promote the corporation’s own campaign to keep – or even extend – the licence fee. It also again prompts the question of whether BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality will at some point result in its funding public hearing or reading any alternative views to those on the topic which are currently being vigorously promoted by the BBC itself. 

Related Articles:

Gloves are off in the BBC’s battle for the licence fee

Gloves are off in the BBC’s battle for the licence fee

Change and reform at the BBC has been the theme of quite a few recent media reports – including some coming from the BBC itself.

Although it has yet to be approved by the BBC Trust, a proposal has been put forward to close down BBC Three television in the autumn of 2015 and to move its content online.  The future of BBC Four is apparently also up for discussion. 

“BBC Four could be the next television channel to be scrapped, after the corporation confirmed that BBC Three was to become available on the internet only.

Danny Cohen, the director of television, said that he was unable to guarantee the future of BBC Four, the highbrow art and culture channel, as the organisation sought cut costs.

He warned that if the next license fee settlement was not sufficiently generous, the channel could be next in the firing line. He was speaking after the BBC unveiled plans for the youth channel, BBC Three, to be moved online, to save £50 million a year.

Asked on Richard Bacon’s 5Live radio show if he could guarantee the future of BBC Four, Mr Cohen, a former controller of BBC Three, said: “The honest answer to that is ‘No, we can’t say for certain what will happen to BBC Four in the future’.”

He added: “For BBC4, that means if future funding for the BBC comes under more threat then the likelihood is we would have to take more services along the same route.” “

As The Telegraph points out:

“The comments will be seen in the context of the charter renewal and license negotiations with ministers, due to be completed by the end of 2016.

They serve as a warning to the government and other opinion formers that another settlement considered harsh by the BBC will put other services at risk, including BBC Four – a favourite of the political and chattering classes.”

Concurrently, some MPs are proposing to decriminalise non-payment of the BBC licence fee whilst the BBC’s director general recently promoted the idea of extending it to cover BBC iPlayer.

“Hall used a speech at the Oxford Media Convention on Wednesday to mount a robust defence of the BBC and the licence fee, saying it was “one of the finest broadcasting organisations in the world” and “great value for money” reaching 96% of the population ever [sic] week.

Far from the licence fee being abolished, as some critics have argued, Hall said it should be extended to take account of the different ways in which people consume TV and radio in the digital age, on their computer, iPad or smartphone.”

Seeing as the licence fee is currently obligatory payment for anyone watching television in the UK even if they do not actually view BBC-produced content, Tony Hall’s comments obviously raise the interesting question of whether the same principle would, under his proposal, be applied to owners of computers, tablets or smartphones regardless of whether they in fact access BBC iPlayer or not. 

In its own report on Tony Hall’s proposal to extend the licence fee to BBC iPlayer, the BBC devoted considerable column space to the amplification of a recent report produced by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism.

“Speaking at the Oxford Media Convention on Wednesday, however, Lord Hall said the “flexible” nature of the licence fee allowed it to adapt over the years to encompass changing patterns of viewers’ behaviour.

His comments come amid renewed calls for the licence fee to be shared with other broadcasters and for it to be cut in response to the BBC’s alleged mismanagement of its financial affairs.

They also coincided with the publication of a new study that claims cutting the BBC licence fee will limit consumer choice and value for money.

The report suggests the BBC would be “reduced to a minor sideshow” if so-called “salami-slicing” continues.

Without BBC television, it claims, most viewers would “have a greatly reduced choice of programmes they wanted to watch”.

The report, by Oxford’s Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, is entitled What If There Were No BBC Television?: The Net Impact on UK Viewers.

Its authors, the academics Patrick Barwise and Robert G Picard, say that without BBC TV there would be less revenue in the TV industry and as much as 25% less investment in content.

The latter, they write, would be “a severe blow to British production companies” of the kind that generate “first-run UK content”.

The report assumes that commercial broadcasters would increase their investment in content if they were no longer “crowded out” by the BBC.

Despite this, it insists there will be less overall investment – and that most UK households would “suffer detriment”.

It says they would either be “paying slightly more for slightly less choice” than they currently do with the licence fee, or “paying slightly less for much less choice”.

“The onus should now be on those arguing for a smaller BBC to provide some kind of evidence and argument about why they believe it would lead to a better outcome for the UK public,” the report continues.”

However, this BBC article neglected to inform readers that the organisation which produced the seemingly objective, academic report on “the net impact” of potential changes to the BBC – the Oxford University-based ‘Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism’ – was, according to its 2012/13 report (see page 51), a recipient of funding  from the BBC College of Journalism, BBC Global News, BBC Media Action and the BBC Trust and that its advisory board (which, inter alia, gives “advice and guidance on general research directions”) is chaired by Chris Patten, who is also of course the Chancellor of Oxford University and chairman of the BBC Trust.

Clearly the gloves are off in the BBC’s battle to keep – and even extend – the licence fee, but it will be interesting to see whether the funds provided by BBC licence fee payers will also be used to enable them to read, watch or hear alternative views on the subject and how the BBC will handle the rather glaring conflict of interests when it comes to reporting the debate surrounding its own funding. 

The looming battle for the BBC licence fee

The run up to the next review of the BBC’s Royal Charter in 2016 is already showing signs of being dominated by public debate on the subject of the obligatory licence fee. The BBC itself is of course keen to perpetuate that guaranteed source of income and, according to a recent report in the Daily Telegraph, may even begin to use those funds to produce advertising to persuade the British public why it should continue to provide them.

“The BBC must “get aggressive” about selling its virtues to the nation, director-general Lord Hall has argued, as he disclosed the corporation will be using its own airwaves to convince viewers it is good value.

Lord Hall has said the BBC must be “less British” about telling the public the £145.50 licence fee is worth paying, as he insisted it is “quite wrong” to accuse the corporation of dominating the media.

His statement raises the possibility that the BBC could place advertisements or trailers on its own channels in the run-up to the licence fee being considered in 2016, spelling out its benefits to viewers.”

The opposing case for the abolition of the licence fee and its replacement with voluntary subscription was recently made in an interesting article in The Commentator by Tim Congdon.

“Time and technology wait for no organisation, no matter how revered. The next two years will see a lively debate over the future of the British Broadcasting Corporation, with the current Royal Charter due to run out at the end of 2016. The early talk is of an extension of the licence fee for a further decade to 2026, but of possible reductions in its value and certainly of freezing it in real terms.

According to an ICM poll in the Sunday Telegraph last month, 70 per cent of voters believe that the licence fee should be abolished or cut.”

What do BBC Watch readers think? Can the case for payment enforced by law still be made in the digital age and how would you feel about your licence fee being used to create adverts to persuade you to continue paying it? Tell us in the comments below. 

Related articles:

New BBC DG coy on subject of licence fee

New BBC DG coy on subject of licence fee

The latest Director General of the BBC, Lord Tony Hall, began his new position this week with an e-mail to BBC staff and an interview on Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme. 

Tony Hall interview Today programme

During the interview – which is well worth a listen in full – Hall claimed that public trust in the BBC is rising and that he intends to respond “to things I hear from both outsiders and also insiders”. The delightfully feisty programme host John Humphrys raised the subject of the licence fee, but Hall declined to give a straight answer to the question “does the BBC need more money?”. 

On that issue, The Commentator recently published a very interesting article by the initiator of a petition calling for a referendum on the licence fee.

“The Licence Fee was established at a time when there was no alternative to State-funded radio or television, but has now created a dumb, yet enormously fat and happy playground bully that pervades, influences and commands almost every aspect of the British way of life.

In an age of media “a la carte”, the BBC insists on dictating the menu, as well as fixing the price. The politicians won’t take the lead in muzzling this beast: the Tories had their opportunity but are running scared; Labour and the Lib Dems sycophantically suck-up to get their free shot of publicity (Vince Cable is almost a saint). Even UKIP is strangely silent on this issue.

So it is up to us, the great British public, to do something about it.”

If Mr Hall is genuinely interested in listening to his funding public, the proposal raised by this petition presents an innovative and inclusive way in which to do so.