BBC Director General Tony Hall has suggested the Corporation needs new investment to enable it to continue to provide distinctive programmes and products, that reflect Britons’ experiences and outlook on life, made available and relevant to everyone – of all ages and demographics.
Addressing the RTS London Conference 2018, Hall, elements of whose speech were previewed by advanced-television.com, said that while the BBC believes its public mission is as important as ever, and that it can do more for Britain, it does not believe this ambition is sustainable with the resources it has.
“High quality production costs. And it costs millions. A decade ago, premium high-end drama might have cost £1 million an hour in today’s money. Premium drama today costs many times that figure routinely,” he noted. “That has resulted in the BBC needing to spend significantly more just to stand still. Reinventing our services will also cost more. We need to continue to invest in technology and product development. People now expect to be able to watch programmes when they want over a long period of time. To keep up with audience expectations we’ll need to increase the availability of our content for much longer,” he admitted.
“These challenges are facing our partners and competitors as well. But these pressures are really intense for the BBC. We have been through a long period of holding back and cutting back. The BBC has made its contribution as the nation sought to get itself back on track financially. But now, is the country going to seize the moment and adapt and invest in the face of what’s going on – or are we just going to sit there and let it wash over us,” he asked.
“Doing nothing is a decision that may look fine tomorrow or the day after. But in two years’ time, in five years time, in 10 years time it may look more like a grand national error,” he warned. “Because across the same ten years that the iInternet giants took over the world, what the BBC can spend from the licence fee on its UK services has been cut by a fifth – £800 million – in real terms. It’s the consequence of a decade of top-slicing, and then freezing the licence fee for seven years, and then more top-slicing.”
“In real terms, that’s meant nearly half a billion pounds out of our annual budget for new TV programmes. For a period, we were able to manage through self-help and efficiency. For a decade we have saved the equivalent of four and half percent a year every single year. That track record is – I believe – extraordinary. We spend just 6 per cent of our controllable costs on running the organisation. An independent report we’re publishing shortly puts us in the top quartile of media companies and regulated organisations in the UK,” he revealed.
“It’s a testament to the care and hard work of our teams that we have been able to cope with reduced funding while continuing to deliver great programmes and services. It means the BBC continues to be enormously good value for money. Each hour of BBC TV watched by a household costs it 8 pence. For an equivalent SVoD service, that’s around 17 pence. And for an equivalent pay TV service it starts at 35 pence per hour,” he advised. “It’s a similar story in audio. Each hour of BBC radio listening costs each household about 2 pence. For ad-free music streaming services it’s around 10 pence.”
“But the cracks are beginning to show. More cuts have been taking place – over a far longer period than any other in the BBC’s history. It’s led to the closure of BBC Three as a broadcast channel, and a £30 million cut from its content budget. It’s meant the loss of Formula One coverage, the sharing of the Six Nations tournament. Great programmes have been decommissioned or lost to other broadcasters, purely to meet savings targets,” he said.
“We could, of course, continue to do less. But the public don’t like cuts to BBC services. It’s their BBC and they want more from us, not less. And – as I’ve been arguing – if we do less, the creative economy suffers. Instead, I believe the BBC needs to reinvest, to sustain our mission and purposes. To do more for Britain. So while we believe the BBC’s public mission is as important as ever, we do not believe what we currently do is sustainable with the resources we have. For the BBC to do the most for Britain and the most good for the British public, Britain needs to support the BBC. But we must help ourselves first. We will continue to push further on efficiency and savings,” he confirmed.
“We need to move faster on our plans for iPlayer, for BBC Sounds and for young audiences. I have challenged the organisation to find £100 million a year from our current budgets to invest in these priorities from next April. All of this comes at a time when the BBC is also faced with taking on the full cost of free TV licences for those over 75. This has potential implications both for the BBC’s funding and for licence holders. The concession as it’s currently formulated comes to an end in 2020. The BBC Board will have to consult on possible options and then decide. It could be the same; it could be different. There are a variety of options,” he added.
“But beyond the steps the BBC may take, Britain also needs to do more to support the broader PSB ecology,” he declared. “We have great relationships with companies like Google and Apple. It’s important we work with them now and in the future. But it cannot be right that the UK’s media industry is competing against global giants with one hand tied behind its back. In so many ways – prominence, competition rules, advertising, taxation, content regulation, terms of trade, production quotas – one set of rules applies to UK companies, and barely any apply to the new giants. That needs rebalancing, too. We stand ready to help, where we can,” he stated.
“The big picture is a simple one: the public believes in public service broadcasting and a strong BBC. I have huge confidence in our future. We know we can do more for Britain. Investment in great content that supports the creative economy. World-class online services. More for children and young adults. Trust and accuracy in news. More outside London. And to be clear: I am not among the doubters who say you can’t compete against the might of the global giants. I believe the opposite. They have their job to do, their services to provide. We have ours. Scale is not everything. Smaller can be beautiful. Let’s in our own way, emulate Sir Francis Drake against an Armada of competitors. Agile, creative, bold, taking risks, backing talent and passionate for what we believe in. Yes the Big Shift is happening – but with the right backing, we can win,” he concluded..