Tony Hall chose his moment carefully. Monday January 20, BBC chief executive announced he will step down " this summer ". After seven years in office, the departure is not dishonorable, but comes at a time when the British public audiovisual group is under attack from all sides. Much criticized by both supporters and opponents of Brexit, he must now defend the very existence of the levy, under political pressure.
On December 10, 2019, two days before the legislative elections, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson launched a frontal attack on the license fee:
“You have to wonder if this kind of funding still makes sense in the long term (…). This system, which is, in fact, a tax imposed on all, deserves consideration. How long can we justify a system where everyone who has a television is forced to pay for certain television and radio channels? "
Mr. Hall knows that the battle is imminent. The BBC has an eleven-year charter, which guarantees the existence of the license fee until 2027. But it must be officially revised in 2022. "The BBC must have one person to handle these two stages (from 2022 and 2027) ", says the outgoing CEO, in a letter to employees of the British Broadcasting Corporation.
The British right has long been used to attacks on the BBC, traditionally seen as too far left. The very powerful daily press, especially the Daily Mail and Rupert Murdoch's group (The Times, The sun…), does not appreciate the immense domination of the public group, especially now that the Internet puts them in direct competition.
These attacks have, however, been redoubled with Brexit. The Corporation is deemed too pro-European by the “brexiters”. False, answer the "remainers", who believe that the BBC let them lie, without correcting them.
This is all taking place as competition from Netflix and other video-on-demand services causes an earthquake in the media landscape. The time that the British spend in front of the BBC television channels collapses, from nine hours and thirty minutes per week, in 2012, to seven hours, in 2018 (including iPlayer, the online catch-up service).
A rapid decline in those under 35
Among young people, the decline is even faster. For those under 35, only a third of the time spent watching videos is spent watching a live television channel (BBC or private channel). Half of their time is split between YouTube and video on demand services.
By launching iPlayer in 2007, the BBC had known how to go digital early. But its offer is starting to age: most shows are only available for thirty days, and the "box sets" (all the episodes of a series) are not always accessible in their entirety. The Corporation is aware of this, but it needs to get the green light from the broadcasting regulator to change, where Netflix and the others are much less regulated.
In this context, the central role of the Corporation in the life of the United Kingdom is crumbling. Defending the existence of a fee paid by all becomes more difficult.
Admittedly the BBC remains a behemoth. On the day of the parliamentary election results, 27 million unique visitors to the United Kingdom visited its news site. Some phenomenal successes – including the Christmas special from the sitcom Gavin & Stacey, watched by 17 million people – still brings the nation together. But Mr. Hall's successor must prepare for an intense struggle.