The head of the BBC admits partial defeat:
The success of high-end dramas, despite the flat budget at the BBC, comes as a new generation of international competitors – the online platforms Netflix and Amazon - ramp up their activities in Britain, attracted by generous new tax breaks. The development means that the BBC must look beyond its traditional competitors of ITV and Sky as it seeks new audiences.
Lord Hall describes it as a “flight to quality”, and says that the corporation cannot hope to match the spending of an organisation such as Netflix, which plans to spend $5 billion (£3.5 billion) on original commissions this year.
“We can’t win against a Netflix or an Amazon, because their budgets are just so much bigger,” he says. “They can concentrate their firepower on one or two or three things a year, whereas we’re delivering a service 24 hours a day.”
Likening the battle to the fight against the Spanish Armada, famously won by Sir Francis Drake’s nimbler, smaller vessels, Lord Hall said: “We have to think differently. We have to think like Drake’s ships. We’ve got to think lighter, simpler.”
Other way around really. Twenty years ago no one had heard of Amazon or Netflix, today they're cleaning the clock of a 90 year old government colossus that has - unlike virtually every other broadcaster in the world - the power to tax people who own television sets. Until quite recently the BBC was the broadcasting world's closest approximation to Imperial Spain under Philip II. Netflix and Amazon were Sir Francis Drake at the Battle of Gravelines. If their roles have reversed in recent years it's a testament to the power of markets over government. A lesson that one would hope - likely in vain - that the Tory government of David Cameron would heed. If the British want to seriously compete with American firms like Amazon and Netflix, they should scrap the license fee and let the remarkable talent, skill and energy of British drama productions compete freely.