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BBC DG: “Cutting services inevitable”

The BBC’s Director General Tony Hall has confessed it is “inevitable” that services will have to be cut with BBC4, rolling news services and children’s television channels all identified as possible recipients for the axe – but still insisted that the corporation’s “best days lie ahead”.

In his first response to the government’s funding deal that will see BBC annual funding cut by 20 per cent over the next five years, Hall outlined “bold and creative”proposals – that are set to cost £150 million (205m).

However, the “tough” spending deal – set to see more than £650 million in total cuts – will mean tough decisions have to be made in order to position the BBC for an age in which more licence fee payers will migrate online to access its services.

“The BBC faces a very tough financial challenge,” said Hall, speaking at the London Science Museum. “So we will have to manage our resources ever more carefully and prioritise what we believe the BBC should offer. We will inevitably have to either close or reduce some services.”

Hall also promised an “open BBC” that will collaborate with commercial rivals and expand internationally with an ethos of “excellence without arrogance”.

His 90-page proposal document argues that a number of the new initiatives might come to replace existing services. The proposals include moving towards a streaming news service to keep pace with the shift to mobile consumption, which could grow to replace services such as the BBC News 24 TV channel; creating an on-demand service for children’s content called iPlay; and launching the Ideas Service, an open online platform featuring material from institutions including galleries, museums, universities and the BBC.

“Streaming news may replace rolling news,” says the report. “Children may prefer iPlay to scheduled television. The Ideas Service might mean we no longer need BBC4.”

The new focus on mobile news, called BBC Newstream, will by a video-based service “complemented by audio, graphics and text live from BBC News”.

“It offers the possibility of news that is personal, portable and on-demand,” said the report.

On the iPlay initiative the BBC said that moving to an on-demand service makes sense so children are not “corralled” into watching only either CBeebies and CBBC.

“Instead they would now each have their individual collection of programmes and content, based on their age and consumption,” the report said. “Children grow up at different rates, and iPlay would allow them to move at their own pace.”

The corporation said that its new proposals, which include a sizeable investment in drama programming, will cost £150 million a year by 2021/22.

Hall said that the funding deal the BBC had struck with the government was “tough and “hard” but also “one which we think will enable us to deliver [these ambitions] … The deal we did with the chancellor [George Osborne] in July is now behind us,” said Hall. “We want to ensure that what was promised then is delivered. I believe he [the chancellor] will deliver that.”

Hall said he would not say what services the corporation will cut back, or close, until “before Christmas” He also described the agreement with Osborne as a “base” for the negotiations.

“No one should doubt that the budget settlement announced by the chancellor in his July budget will mean some very difficult choices ahead,” he said. “Having already saved 40 per cent of the BBC’s revenues in this charter period, we must save close to another 20 per cent over the next five years.

“Our share of TV revenues in the UK will fall, most likely, from about 20 per cent now to some 12 per cent by the end of the charter.”

Hall is also plotting a major expansion of the BBC World Service into non-democratic parts of the world, including potentially a satellite TV service for Russian speakers and a daily radio programme for North Korea.

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