What is it about BBC presenters, Chris Evans, Gary Lineker and Graham Norton, that makes them worth so much? Those three alone cost around £5m a year and the whole over £150,000 pa list of presenters, costs around £20m. The BBC is not dependent on them; they depend on the BBC. The BBC’s unique reputation, built up over 95 years of continuous investment by the British public, is at risk in their hands. Knowledge of their unjustifiable take from the publicly funded purse will likely irritate that British public. If they were products – some of them think of themselves as brands – they would have to pay £billions for the air time they are given to promote themselves.
So what is it they are being paid for?
They talk, but we all do that from around the age of two. They can read an autocue – but again, we could all do that. They are not paid for any particular expertise. Comedians are paid to make people laugh. If they fail to do that, they stop being paid. But the presenters have no such particular skill or expertise, specialist knowledge or understanding.
Lineker might claim to be an exception, having been good at playing football. But he now only talks about it, asks questions of others and occasionally expresses an opinion. He does a perfectly acceptable job doing that, but there must be millions of football fans who regularly do the same and hundreds who would be just as good as Gary.
The same applies across the piece. I personally know at least a score of people who would, no doubt, be perfectly competent fronting Radio 4’s Today programme and who I would infinitely prefer to wake up to, than the irritatingly self-satisfied John Humphreys, or the even smugger Radio 5Live alternative, Nicky Campbell. There must be thousands who could present better than is currently done.
The argument is made that their remuneration is the result of market forces rewarding their ‘talent’. They must therefor be worth it – the market can’t be wrong! Leaving aside the simple fact that ‘the market’ is invariably wrong in the long run, as with most economic theory, none of the absolutely essential market assumptions are actually applicable in the real world. There is no market for such ‘talent’ – appointments emerge more as the results of chance and luck. And there is no such thing as ‘talent’.
‘Talent’ is a term that came to be used when there was no other justifiable explanation for the flows of money. Its primary usage was to explain the rewards taken by financial intermediaries such as capital market traders, hedge betters and the like. Such speculative investment produced either inordinate rewards or massive losses. In a generally rising market the rewards predominated. Even more money could be made by hedging bets when bubbles burst. The occasional big time losers were referred to as ‘rogue traders’ and were locked up so as to defend the reputations of the winners, who were ascribed as being blessed with ‘talent’. Since most trades were made by automated algorithm driven ultra-fast systems, human characteristics, such as ‘talent’, were clearly inapplicable. Ascribing ‘talent’ to the chosen presenters is equally fallacious.
What would happen to the BBC if all the over £150,000 pa presenters were to depart elsewhere? The immediate impact would be that the BBC would be around £20m a year better off, and some new “talent” could be given the opportunity to shine. Since programmes should be about what is presented, rather than the presenters, it might be good to start by quartering their remuneration, halving their presentation time, and bringing in new people to share the load. That would enable the gender and diversity pay gaps and representation inequalities to be quickly fixed.