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Alternative funding methods for the BBC have been discussed for years. Back in the 1980s, many viewers considered advertising an acceptable option.

A collection of papers from the BBC, recently added to the Archive of Market and Social Research, suggests that over 30 years ago, the majority of the public considered advertising to be an acceptable option. A survey conducted by NOP and published in 1985 shows that over 50% did not think advertising would affect the quality of broadcast output; 26% did think it would have a negative effect (chiefly due to the effect of interrupting the programmes), and 17% believed quality would improve (due to the availability of more money).

Although the majority considered the licence fee (then £58 a year) to be good value, nearly two-thirds felt it would be “a good idea” if the licence fee were entirely replaced by revenue from advertising on the BBC.

A survey conducted by BMRB published four years later, in 1989, explored the possibility of replacing the licence fee with a subscription model, testing various levels of subscription for BBC1 and BBC2 (the only BBC TV channels then available). This found that regardless of the pricing scenarios tested, “more than half the population would be unlikely to subscribe to BBC1 or 2”. The lower income groups were the least attracted to the subscription model, leading the authors of the report to the conclusion that it seemed “highly likely that the BBC would not deliver universality” under this model.

Professor Patrick Barwise, Chairman of the Board of the Archive of Market and Social Research, has recently co-authored a book exploring the arguments currently raging around the BBC, including its funding. The War Against the BBC was published by Penguin in November 2020.


This article draws on two reports from a wealth of documents on broadcasting contained in the BBC UK and Global Audience Research collection, in the Archive of Market and Social Research:

Financing the BBC (1985)
Public attitudes to the BBC and its funding (1989)

Contributed by Nick Tanner
Date posted: 11th July 2022


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