16.55: Jeremy Vine chairs proceedings. On the panel: Ash Atalla, MD Roughcut TV; Alex Connock, CEO Ten Alps; David Elstein, chairman DCD Media; George Entwistle, controller of knowledge commissioning at the BBC; Anne McElvoy, journalist and broadcaster; John Simpson, the BBC's world affairs editor.
16.57: It's the BBC's coverage of US Election Night 2008 all over again. Jeremy Vine's messing around on a blue stage.
16.59: James Murdoch's MacTaggart speech from last year; culture secretary Jeremy Hunt; Paxo's (in)famous recitation of repeats on BBC television during a Newsnight interview characterise the attacks on the corporation's scope over the last year in a VT introducing the debate. This all leads up to director general Mark Thompson's MacTaggart speech later this evening.
17.05: McElvoy and Entwistle are up first, debating star presenters. AM: BBC late off the mark on presenter pay. Cites Jonathan Ross. BBC instinctively doesn't really want to think in a manner befitting austerity. Late to decision over accepting Bleakley's move to ITV over money. GE: Popular history of BBC is a history of stars. A history of comings-and-goings. Sometimes can't afford to keep big names, need to rotate out for new names. Prepared to pay right money for right people, but not at any price. Determined to live up to recent report showing BBC does not distort UK talent market.
17.06: Radio 2 - AM: Multi-headed hydra. Tries to do too much. Justification for channel is strategic purpose. Easier solution is to allow outside bidders to bid for Radio 2. Doesn't fulfill remit; takes on younger presenters, appeals to younger listeners. Doesn't know what it's doing any more, get rid of it.
GE: Keep Radio 2 because its audience is huge. More listen to BBC News by Radio 2 than via any other radio station. R2 commissions more religious output than any other BBC Radio station. Arts coverage. Musical genres - R2 plays 14,000 tracks, many not touched at all by commercial sector. Really big classical station. Makes good popular and the popular good.
17.10: Orchestras. AM: Why should the BBC not outsource more music to other orchestras often funded by other public bodies? Is BBC just trying to do too much in this sector as it does in others? Sentimental attachment. Seen as untouchable. Why not outsource music; let someone else run the orchestras.
GE: Take them away, take away the only professional symphony orchestra in Wales. Take away the only professional chamber choir in the UK. Do enormous damage to biggest classical music event in the world, BBC Proms. Serious damage to world's largest commissioner of classical music. Would lose the outreach work. Destabilise music economy of Britain as a whole.
17.12: The word I'm looking for is precis... they have 60 seconds to say a lot and I have only limited finger power.
17.16: BBC Three. AM: Arguments to keep BBC Three flawed. Talent testbed - does anyone think Gavin & Stacey/Little Britain would not have ended up on the BBC some other way? Quality youth programming - it doesn't bring news and current affairs to a younger audience. News has gone unless you need to know on the hour whether Amy Winehouse fell over or not. BBC Three young, dumb, living off rest of us.
GE: BBC Three most popular digital channel in its demo; E4 much smaller. 29% share growth since Feb 08 relaunch. Audience like blend of content. Putting Three content on other channels bad idea - not enough content for 16-34s, too much for everyone else. Competitors loaded with US acquisitions. Young people get more factual, current affairs on Three than anywhere else. Commentariat don't like programme titles.
17.19: Sports rights. AM: 9% of spend and cost is growing. Significant increase in sports rights cost due to competition. 06 gov't white paper said national cohesion achieved through sports rights - but sports rights for whom? A lot of sports rights are not about protecting sports at all, more about demographics - e.g. F1, football.
GE: People expect big sport on the BBC. 74% of UK reached during Beijing Olympics; 78% during World Cup. Totally outperforms subscription. Critical way of providing big shared moments binding society together. Practical social benefits. Sport reaches socially excluded households; a £30 sports pack won't. World Cup Final live - many more watched on BBC than ITV. Maybe wanted to see the goals?
17.23: BBC News Online. AM: BBC needs to decide what limits online are. Others should have a say because they are affected; BBC have never taken that seriously. No serious attempt to analyze what that might me. Presence of BBC in untrammeled form monopolises market, damages local commercial media, makes it expensive for national newspapers to enhance online without opting for paywall. Wannabe newspaper but doesn't do those bits well. Should promote and explain BBC programming, shouldn't be publishing company.
GE: Accurate, impartial news coverage universally available most important thing BBC has done since 1920s. 10m UK users a week, 12m users overseas; ranked more highly than UK news competitors for quality. 80% of users visit at least one other news provider; many shared with, e.g. Telegraph. BBC not inhibiting competitor growth. We're good at it, audiences value it, stats show they're not damaging market. Should we take it away because a few multimillionaires don't like it?
17.24: There were audience votes on the above. Most things were "saved"; star presenters were "cut".
17.25: Audience composiiton; 39 BBC, 137 non-BBC. Of BBC audience, half against star presenters and almost as many want to cut orchestras.
17.26: YouGov poll of "real people": save News Online, Radio 2, sports; cut Three, orchestras, star presenters.
17.27: John Simpson: Clear results. Nobody is in favour of paying people in the BBC large amounts of money. I didn't join BBC for the money. Public see the BBC as a monastic outfit; they're doing it because they want to do it, which is why I and all my colleagues have done it.
17.28: Alex Connock: had questions been less binary the results may have been different, e.g. commercializing not cutting Radio 2.
17.29: David Elstein: when you put it as a set of yes or no answers, you'll get mostly yes answers to save. Talent pay not an issue except for Jonathan Ross. RTE publish top 10 earners. World hasn't collapsed. It's ridiculous to make that a make/break issue for the BBC. Are they not meant to spend anything on talent?
17.30: DE: Joined BBC before John Simpson and joined for the money. This is not the NHS. It's an entertainment service with some news and a few documentaries attached.
17.31: George Entwistle: Not locked in struggle between popular and worthy. The point of the BBC is the combination of these things. Make the good popular and the popular good. Dismisses the Radio 2 vs 6Music argument; says the point is Radio 2 can deliver interesting things to lots of people.
17.33: AC: 6Music was a false flag issue. They put it up there knowing it would be stopped. You could outsource Radio 2, having 5 mins of commercials per hour, £70m, and still have 6Music.
17.34: Ash Atalla: Embarrassing for middle-aged people to read out titles of shows to justify cutting them. People who do that have no more credibility than a 16 year old on Newsnight saying we should cut the Today programme or Poland's Greatest Railways on BBC Four.
17.35: AM: Never a willingness to cull anything. I don't want a veto on programmes I don't like; there is an argument about quality. Cannot just segment the argument over demographics on the basis that every audience must be served, must be served in a substantial way. BBC never capable of reducing voluntarily.
17.39: John Simpson: BBC overall has not lowered quality by trying to do more. Quality of broadcasting better now than any time I can remember. There are things we got out of the habit of doing that we shouldn't have. Appalling that we don't have a constant diet of documentaries. We can do it, we've got money to do it, we've got the talent to do it. Expected to see sexy and steamy things on BBC Three; the programmes are pretty boring, they just have a steamy title. The trouble with the BBC is that most of the things it does, it does rather well. We're talking about cutting things that are the envy of their particular world.
17.40: DE: Most damaging issue for BBC in Westminster has been executive pay. Took too long to address. GE: The BBC executive has agreed to cut the money it's paid. Exec board will work 12 months for 11 months' pay. I don't think I'm paid too much but I'm paid well. (£189,000/year.)
17.41: JV raises issue of mgmt behaviour. Salford op will go ahead without the people in charge of it not going. AC: Would Man Utd. have trouble attracting people to lead the club in Manchester? BBC seems to think there is not a talent base who would want to work in the North. JS: It was an unreal decision. It didn't come out of the necessity of broadcasting. It was taken on principle. Those tend to be questionable. Not anybody's business where people have a home; the whole question of moving people around to tick some box is a bit tedious. Mgmt damaging themselves by not going, but it's their private decision. When it comes out, damages the whole enterprise. I live partly in Paris, nobody gets to me about that.
17.45: AM: Reluctance of mgmt to go to Manchester shows normal rules don't apply to BBC management. JS not impressed with argument. "Simply not the case" that BBC mgmt will run Salford by phone from London.
17.46: DE: The move of the BBC to the North is not seen by people in the North as being satisfied by spending money in Salford. It's something being done for the wrong reason.
17.47: Breaking: Peter Salmon to buy Salford home.
17.48: GE: Greg Dyke made this decision in part to deal with lines of approval for programmes in the north.
17.50: JS: BBC has a lot of very noisy enemies. We have a secretary of state who thinks that Birmingham, AL has a better broadcasting structure than Britain. That is weird. It's not only weird, it's worrying. His predecessor put in as much effort as possible to slicing up the licence fee, which is the lifeblood of the BBC. You increase political control over the BBC because the government of the day gets to control the licence fee. The enemies are on the extremes and everybody else is a supporter.
17.51: DE: Licence fee is the cocaine supply of the BBC. BBC should be funded differently and be braver. BBC is a fantastic organisation inadequately funded.
17.53: JS: Is it a weird coincidence that BBC is the best broadcaster in the world and the only one solely reliant on a licence fee? DE: Yes. BBC spends far too much on infrastructure, etc.
17.54: AA: Iraq this ain't. A certain proportion of the press controls the agenda and is out of step with the public. If we carry on down this path, it'd be like arriving in Egypt to find they've knocked down the pyramids because Rupert Murdoch thought they were getting a bit old.
17.55: AC: Licence fee is good value. We should allow licence fee payers to build their own BBC - vote online for which sports rights to buy?
17.57: AM: I am a supporter of the licence fee. Where it does impede others it does matter and the BBC does need to be more accountable in that way.
17.58: JS: Apologise, this is shamelessly sectional: the idea that the BBC as a whole is rolling in money and enjoying itself is never before is not true. In News and Current Affairs, the cuts have been absolutely savage. We're losing foreign correspondents - in news that sells the BBC around the world. We're losing staff. The poor old people who do the News Channel and BBC World, with these enormous audiences, are like the miners down the hole in Chile - somebody sticks a camera down there and they say something into it.... they work like dogs and they're being cut back all the time.
18.00: GE: The licence fee is crack cocaine to people in the BBC because we believe in it. Of course the Tories will say what it is, but I don't have to like it.
18.01: Closing thoughts. AM: This is a crucial moment for BBC. Do less, do it better. DE: BBC not at a crossroads. Should let go of Worldwide and Productions. It's the British /Broadcasting/ Corporation. BBC should be much bigger, much better financed, much more confident, and spending income on content. 56% of revenue spent on content - it is outrageous. It should be 80-85%. GE: Renegotiating the licence fee a big moment. We'll live with the consequences. JS: We've been negotiating with a man who wants to turn us into Birmingham, Alabama. The licence fee varies according to the amount of pressure the government feels it can put on the BBC. I'm really worried about it. AA: I hope they carry on. Alternative is our kids growing up in a country without it, with everything behind a paywall controlled by limited number of people. AC: Less about philosophy, more about there being a price.
18.02: That's all from this debate. Coming up tonight will be BBC director general Mark Thompson's MacTaggart. It'll be broadcast live on the BBC News Channel.