Monday, November 15 2010, 13:56 GMT
By Andrew Laughlin,
The success of ITV's period drama Downton Abbey has "truly challenged" the BBC's right to be publicly funded, the Adam Smith Institute has claimed.
In a blog posting on its website, the economic thinktank noted that the BBC has "long justified" its existence on the fact that it airs "public value" programming, including highbrow dramas that would not naturally find a home on commercial broadcasters.
Downton Abbey, written by Oscar-winner Julian Fellowes, has proved a major hit for ITV since it premiered in September, with the final episode attracting more than 9 million viewers. The broadcaster has already commissioned a second series.
The Adam Smith Institute believes that the period drama has "truly challenged the BBC's supposed monopoly on this genre" and demonstrated the "depth and diversity that private broadcasters can achieve".
The thinktank noted that ITV operates on a tighter programme budget compared to the BBC, which is funded by the £3.6 billion licence fee.
"With only £1 billion a year, which has remained static for several years, ITV has shown that well-invested and well-written dramas can compete with the BBC and all other channels out there," said the blog posting.
"On the other hand, the BBC, which receives around £3.6 billion of taxpayers' money through the tax known as the 'licence fee', has brought little new to the schedule that has truly captured the viewing public."
It added: "This highlights the question of whether public funding is justifiable at all. If private television companies are producing some of the best and most-watched television whilst competing with a government-protected monopoly, how much more could be produced in a genuinely free market without government anti-competition subsidies?"
The Institute suggested that dismantling the publicly-funded BBC could free up ITV and other commercial broadcasters to pursue more public value programming.
"It is time the BBC was disbanded or privatised so it has to compete on a level playing field, not only with ITV but with all the other corporate channels that are now made available to us following the digital switchover," it said.
"No longer crowded out by the BBC, private channels would soon produce higher-rated and higher quality programmes: Downton Abbey is only the tip of the iceberg."
ITV recently called on the government to remove advertising restrictions on flagship channel ITV1 so that it can move away from programming aimed at the "lowest common denominator".
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