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Last Updated: Monday, 24 April 2006, 16:52 GMT 17:52 UK
BBC digital TV fee hike 'opposed'
BBC Chairman Michael Grade faces public questions
The BBC is consulting with the public in a range of ways on its future
Almost half of viewers oppose plans to raise the licence fee to fund access to digital TV for vulnerable groups such as the elderly, a study claims.

The research suggests most viewers - if forced - would pay more than they do now for their annual licence.

However, they would only be happy to do so if the extra revenue was spent on relevant services, and the standard of the BBC's output did not deterioriate.

The findings are part of an independent report commissioned by BBC governors.

They are currently undertaking a consultation process over the future of the funding for the corporation, and asked Professor Patrick Barwise of London Business School to gauge licence fee payers' opnions.

The fee - 131.50 for each household - generated nearly 3 billion of revenue for the corporation in 2004-5.

Analogue switch-off

The government is aiming to switch off analogue television signals in Britain by 2012, when all homes should be able to receive digital output.

Forty-seven per cent of the 2,000 adults questioned said they opposed the principle of the licence fee being increased to help those who could not afford to upgrade to digital TV.

The government wants the BBC to fund schemes to help people switch to digital TV through the licence fee.

However, if it proceeded with this proposal, "it won't be the straw that breaks the licence fee's back", Professor Barwise noted.

The reaction to a rise in the licence fee of 150 by the middle of the next decade - for which the BBC has asked the government - was that the number of people willing to pay for existing services would fall from between 75 and 80 per cent today to nearer 65 to 70 per cent.

The survey also suggests the public is broadly in favour of most of the new interactive services being planned by the BBC.

These include a media player offering a chance to catch-up with an entire week of programming, which 80 per cent of respondents agreed was interesting and 76 per cent said they would be likely to use.

New mobile services

Ultra-localised television news bulletins and improved content for the under-18s were also considered as appropriate developments.

However, although 47 per cent said the BBC should make its output - such as news headlines or programme streaming - available through mobile phones, only 25 per cent of respondents thought they would actually make use of such a service.

Professor Barwise also recommended that further research was conducted into the results of a survey from 2004, which suggested that 24 per cent of consumers would rather live without any BBC services and therefore not pay the licence fee.


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