Cantillon: BBC3’s fate reflects on-demand TV world

RTÉ One’s next channel controller will be asked to lead ‘digital change’ as viewers disperse

BBC director-general Tony Hall, in seeking targets for cutbacks, found it easy to justify the reinvention of BBC3 as a cheaper-to-run online-only service for a reason: younger viewers have different patterns of behaviour. Photograph: Lewis Whyld/PA Wire

BBC director-general Tony Hall, in seeking targets for cutbacks, found it easy to justify the reinvention of BBC3 as a cheaper-to-run online-only service for a reason: younger viewers have different patterns of behaviour. Photograph: Lewis Whyld/PA Wire

Sat, Mar 8, 2014, 01:00

The BBC’s decision to close BBC3 “as a broadcast or linear channel” is the most obvious signal yet that the life expectancy of the very concept of television channels is shortening. This trend, if it continues, may eventually prove something of a challenge if your job title happens to be “channel controller”.

BBC director-general Tony Hall, in seeking targets for cutbacks, found it easy to justify the reinvention of BBC3 as a cheaper-to-run online-only service for a reason. Younger viewers have different patterns of behaviour. They still watch most of their television the traditional way, but compared to programmes aimed at older demographics, programmes that are popular with younger people on channels such as BBC3, Channel 4 and E4 get a much higher proportion of their total views, often up to a third, from online catch-up services.

In Hall’s mind, that makes the BBC’s iPlayer “a key part of the future for public service broadcasting . . . the gateway for people who increasingly want to watch and listen to what they want, when they want it”. Hall is either being prescient or premature by pulling the plug on BBC3 as it exists now, but either way he is being pragmatic. By describing it as “an opportunity to look at new forms, formats, different durations, and more individualised and interactive content”, he is certainly breaking clear with the old model of the linear channel designed for viewers who sit down and sample only the schedulers’ entertainment menu.

RTÉ, meanwhile, is in the process of appointing a channel controller to RTÉ One, having lost the position’s first incumbent, George Dixon, to BBC Worldwide after just a year. RTÉ One, with its bumper peak-time audience shares, isn’t going anywhere any time soon. But the wording of the job advertisement is interesting, calling as it does for someone who can act as a “driver of digital change in a multi-platform world” and someone who has “experience of digitisation and on-demand delivery of content”.

The job description nods to the fact that in the present era of smart TVs, the fast-refreshing buffet of content on the RTÉ Player sits just a few remote control clicks away from RTÉ One and Two.

Revenue could get bigger bite of Apple
When it comes to the global corporation tax debate, the default reaction in Ireland appears to be that anything that might be done, courtesy of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and the major powers, that is contrary to the interests of the multinationals, is by definition contrary to the interests of Ireland Inc.

But this may not be so.

There are two distinct elements to the type of tax planning engaged in by giants such as Google, Apple, Facebook, Microsoft and so on. First of all they set up headquarters in Dublin to handle their affairs in Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and further afield. Sales in these jurisdictions are booked by their companies here.

Considering the growth of these companies over recent years, the corporation tax receipts that would accrue to the Revenue Commissioners would be very substantial, were it not for the second element of their tax structure.

This element usually involves tax havens such as Bermuda and the Cayman Islands, and the sending of royalty payments from Dublin onwards, so that the profits of the Dublin operations are massively reduced from what they would other wise be. It may happen that the debate over multinational tax ends up stamping on these, second-element type, structures. More profits would then end up being taxed in subsidiaries with substantial operational roles, such as those in Ireland.

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