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Last Updated: Saturday, 23 August, 2003, 03:13 GMT 04:13 UK
BBC should 'sell off shows'
BSkyB chief executive Tony Ball
Tony Ball outlined his vision for the future of the BBC
The BBC should auction off its most popular programmes to commercial rivals, the chief executive of BSkyB has said.

Tony Ball told delegates at the Edinburgh International Television Festival the Corporation should sell programmes such as Holby City and The Weakest Link to clear room in the schedules and raise money for investment.

He said the money raised could be used "for more public service programming and developing classic shows of the future".

The BBC responded in a statement, saying: "This speech clearly reflects BSkyB's view that programmes are merely a commodity to be bought and sold."

Mr Ball also said an NOP opinion poll commissioned by BSkyB had suggested 51% of people did not think the licence fee gave value for money.

"The results of this research should wave a big red flag against those who wish the BBC to carry on its expansionary ambitions," he said.

In a Mori poll asking the same question in 2000, 61% of respondents said the licence fee was not value for money - and in 1999, that total was 42%.

'Crowd out'

Mr Ball outlined his vision of how the BBC should be funded in the future.

He said: "The BBC should be asked to license some of its established populist programme franchises to the commercial channels.

"I would ensure that there is an objective mechanism in place to make sure it's not spending on programmes that crowd out commercial operators."

The BBC said: "We are flattered that Tony Ball should be so preoccupied with the BBC but his comments have to be seen in the context of Rupert Murdoch's [BSkyB's owner] long and hostile campaign against the BBC."

The Sky boss called his plan "programme syndication" and said the BBC's role would be using licence fee cash to "discover the best talent, taking the biggest risks and building up the shows".

He added: "Just as public money is used to fund scientific research, but not to fund the commercial applications of that research, so public funding should not be used to continue to fund programmes when it is clear that they can find a commercial home."

The BBC is currently beginning a charter renewal process with the government in order to secure future licence fee funding for the corporation.

The corporation said its own research gave a very different picture to Sky's poll.

The new research, commissioned in July from Taylor Nelson Sofres from a base of 1,000 people, indicates that:

  • 86% of people would "stand up for the BBC" - compared with 30% for Sky
  • 82% are very happy or happy with the BBC the way it is.

Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell will deliver a lecture to the television festival on Saturday.

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