BBC to invest in tech startups to counter threat of licensing fees

The BBC is ready to become an investor in technology by betting on risky startups as part of a broader push to stop funding licensing fees.

The corporation has started hiring for a new subdivision that will identify start-ups with new and emerging technologies and support them financially.

This new operation, called the BBC Venture, will sit under the corporation’s research and development arm, but will explore working with its business unit to help secure new revenue streams.

The plans were revealed in a job advertisement for a “venture associate.” The BBC said it is “exploring how working more closely with the entrepreneurial and venture communities, in areas of strategic importance, can bring new value and revenue to the BBC”.

Whoever is successful will be responsible for “assessing startups and presenting investment cases, as well as defining a model for a BBC Venture operation”.

Under the overall direction of Tim Davie, Auntie has been trying to embolden her commercial ambitions to fill the void left by falling revenue from the £159.50 annual license fee.

That includes plans to boost revenue from BBC Studios, the broadcaster’s commercial arm, by nearly a third to £1.5bn over the next five years.

Insiders said the BBC Venture could also work in conjunction with the BBC’s commercial businesses, but this is at an “exploratory stage” and no decisions have been made.

The need to boost the BBC’s revenue has become more pressing since Nadine Dorries, the Culture Secretary, said the license fee would be frozen for two years, a move that raises the prospect of even deeper cuts by creating a budget gap of £1.5bn.

Ms Dorries also warned that the tariff could be abolished from 2028, before softening her stance during a Commons speech in January.

The threat of the license fee comes as the BBC faces a 10% rise in the cost of making high-end dramas caused by huge spending on original programs by US streamers.

Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, is trying to help the BBC deal with the Netflix threat by giving it a £400m loan increase in the October budget.

Sunak more than doubled BBC Studios’ debt limit from £350m to £750m after the broadcaster requested a larger pot to help fuel growth.

The BBC leaned into the facility in 2019 when it struck a £180m deal to buy the majority of UKTV, the commercial broadcaster behind channels like Dave, Gold and Yesterday.

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