Fry compares this with a seedy, shoddy hotel entertainment system. This is clever, because that's probably the most soul-destroying example of something that offers you a choice that anyone could imagine.
But why not instead compare it with the British Library? More books than anyone could ever read, a vast mountain of (shudder!) "choice", and organised into subjects (oh the humanities!) But to our astonishment, we find that we are free to stroll from one subject to another; no one has nailed our legs to a shelf. And the creation of the content in that library is not directed by a wise central authority, commanding a budget of four billions and a staff as big as a medium-side commuter town - it is simply the sum total of all published writing in the language, good and bad. That is what broadcast media are turning into, and we are turning into intelligent browsers.
If people don't choose what they watch, if they are channel-loyal, like in the good old days before they had a choice, we would have a world in which most people just plug themselves into a feed of "edutainment" carefully designed by experts to give them a balanced Riethian (TM) cultural diet, and accept what they are given, without ever asserting anything approaching individual choice. Perhaps comforting to the experts who would then be employed to prepare that feed, but not in fact a better world at all. Which is the better of the following two possibilities?
1. Mum is doing the ironing and watching Holby City. Then it ends, and that bloody Yentob bloke comes on and is talking to some film director. It's boring, but mum can't be bothered to change channels because, you know, it's BBC1, you've got to be loyal to it, even when it tries your patience like this. So Yentob mumbles away for a bit using long words, the effect is mildly hypnotic, and then it's bed time.
2. Mum is doing the ironing and watching Holby City. It occurs to her that it is quite mediocre, and she switches over to BBC4, and to her delight there's a rather diverting programme about Jews.
How much better for people to be grown ups, to aspire to choose a better path for themselves, to overcome the temptation to eat nothing but sweets because they were brought up on nothing but cabbage, and instead occasionally decide to look around for some really interesting exotic new type of cabbage. Because as a free individual, they have chosen to do that. Rather than existing as the cultural equivalent of a veal calf, plugged into a telly-tube.
So given that, I cannot agree that we need a BBC1, in which the lowbrow rubs elbows with the highbrow in the ratio 95 to 5. That 95% of output that is indistinguishable from commercially produced bilge is a very high price to pay for the 5% that is occasionally diverting, and it is a price that we all must pay, just for the right to make the choice. That's a dreadfully silly situation to find ourselves in, surely.
We do need a BBC4, though. But then the question remains, how should it be paid for?
"And if you want content to be anything more, any scintilla of a soupçon of a hint more than what market forces demand, if you sincerely want content to be occasionally uplifting, ennobling, educative, innovative, top down, nourishing and of bountiful, beautiful benefit to Britain and its citizenry, then yes, absolutely, the only source of financing for that is the licence fee."
I say again - is that true of books? What's so different about television programmes? There are lots of trashy books, because they are cheap to make and they find a ready, undemanding audience. But this doesn't preclude the creation of great works, and doesn't stop people from finding and being nourished by those works. Is a license fee needed to allow cultural transcendence to occur in the publishing world? Perhaps anyone who owns a bookshelf should pay £130 a year to go towards the creation of a mixture of books - 95% of which would be undifferentiated dross, but the point is, you see, they'd be sold in the same bookshop as the 5% of "quality" books, so occasionally one of the plebs would buy a Yentob book by accident. No, I'm not honestly convinced either.
Can it be truly said of the license fee, as it is sometimes said of great things, that if it did not exist today then they would have to invent it? No, it cannot. When channels were scarce, the idea of them being filled with game shows must have seemed like a terrible waste of a new medium. But today, a game show is a relatively expensive way to fill the vast expanse of bandwidth available, when you can simply install a camera in a house and watch the occupants arguing about nothing. There is so much bandwidth available, there will always be room for something better, nobler, more soul-nourishing, to find a way to its audience. A mixture of the high and the low, in decidedly unequal proportions - that's what the world naturally is; it's not something that only the BBC can provide.
There are repeated - naturally amusing - digs at the freakshow element of Channel 4 programming. But no serious discussion of the future of the BBC can avoid the subject of BBC3. Just look at it: 'Glamour Girls', 'My New Face', 'Snog Marry Avoid', and endless programmes about how fat teens are rubbish at stuff so we can have a good laugh at them. Why is this any better than the very worst of Channel 4?