The BBC director general used the MacTaggart lecture to draw attention to the growing power of BSkyB and attacked the organisation for not putting enough money into British content. He asked the following questions: Which of the two broadcasters do viewers most value? And which best serves the public good?
After the lecture two very senior BBC executives were spotted in a bar, discussing the relative merits of the organisations. It seems they were pondering whether the Beeb can counter the growing influence of BSkyB.
Mark: Ducky, maybe we should take the battle to Sky and start encroaching upon it's territory.
Alan: And how do we do that, ducky?
Mark: We consider the case for advertising?
Alan: Darling! Are you out of your mind? The BBC? advertising? That's what we've been fighting, fighting, fighting all these years.
Mark: Oh darling, you yourself have said we need to exist "in the marketplace". Surely it's only a short hop to accepting we exist in the commercial marketplace?
Alan: But advertising, darling? That doesn't mean advertising. Surely?
Mark: I'm not thinking, any old advertising. (Looking pleased with himself) I'm thinking..."public service advertising".
Alan: Public service advertising? What on earth does that mean, darling? Never encountered such a thing.
Mark: Allow me to explain, deary. We already churn out a torrent, an absolute torrent of what is, effectively, advertising. It's just that we don't charge for it.
Alan: I don't follow you, deary.
Mark: Just think of all those reality television programmes we pump out under the aegis of "public service broadcasting". Think about the free plugs we give to Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals and to those ghastly business people like Mary Portas, Alan Sugar, The millionaire Dragons - to name but a few.
Mark: They must absolutely love it, darling. Getting all this free publicity for their businesses. It's a complete steal for them. The great unwashed know who they are and adore them, would love to be them - cannot think why, of course. And these so-called TV personalities get it all for free, gratis and for nothing. Simply a steal, darling... a steal!
Alan: Suppose you do have a point, there, deary.
Mark: Of course I do, dear. They must be laughing... laughing all the way to the bank.
Alan: Maybe you're right. But what exactly were you suggesting? Charging them money?
Mark: That's precisely what I was thinking, darling. Why don't we ask these celebrities to pay for their free exposure? You could even extend the franchise, come up with oodles of new "public service advertisements". What about your friends Charles and Nigella, for example?
Alan: My dear, dear, dearest friends Charles and Nigella? What about them, darling?
Mark: You sent them a beautiful love letter, did you not, in one of your Imagine documentaries? You know, all that stuff about their being fabulous patrons of the arts - and of course, beautiful, beautiful people.
Alan: Well, yes, I did. But they simply are beautiful, beautiful people, darling. And generous benefactors to boot.
Mark: There we go, darling. And why not come up with some more plugs, I mean, art documentaries? How about featuring artistic treasures such as Tracey and Damien.
Alan: I think we've already done them, darling.
Mark: No doubt we have. And did they pay a penny?
Alan: Darling! We were talking documentaries. One could simply never charge when it came to documentaries.
Mark: But it's always the same people who feature in your documentaries, is it not?
Alan: How do you mean, darling?
Mark: It's aways the successful artists - the ones who least need the free plug. Never the ones who are still struggling.
Alan: That's what the punters are most interested in, dear - those who've achieved success - naturellement.
Mark: Rather a lot of them seem to be companions of yours, do they not?
Alan: Really! That's simply not fair, darling
Mark: All I'm saying, deary, is, why don't you charge these beautiful people? Let's face it, is an Andrew Lloyd Webber talent show really public service broadcasting... or is it Andrew Lloyd Webber service broadcasting?
Alan: Hmmm... I do suppose you've a point. Maybe I will give it some more thought. Let me see what I come up with.
Mark: Thank you, darling.
Alan: Don't mention it, darling.
(There is a long pause as they sit and reflect. Then Alan pipes up).
Of course, you know what some impertinent scoundrels in the media say?
Mark: What do they say, darling?
Alan: They say the Beeb only really exists these days to serve the interests of national treasures such as tu et moi. They suggest it has become our own private fiefdom.
Mark: (Outraged) Darling!. Please! That's simply disgraceful! Perish the thought!
Alan: (Perturbed, quickly correcting himself) Yes, yes. So, so sorry, darling. Perish the thought!
Mark: How could anyone even suggest such a thing?
Alan: Of course, darling. How silly I am! Indeed, how on earth could they suggest such a thing?