Mark Oliver, the BBC’s first Head of Strategy (1989-1995) and a regular advisor to the BBC, government and UK broadcasting regulators, has called for the BBC to be “brave, bold and courageous” as it approaches its 100th birthday in 2022.
In a major blog-post on the ‘OurBeeb’ website. Oliver asks whether the broadcaster can survive in its current form much into its second century, as it faces financial constraints and content challenges in an age dominated by FAANG (Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix and Google) and argues that “something will have to give, or the BBC will need more money from somewhere”.
“On the age-old matter of how far the BBC should pursue very high audience reach versus its other objectives of high-quality content and distinctiveness, there was only the old mantra that the BBC has to provide ‘something for everyone’ to justify a licence fee paid by all (except, of course, households containing someone over 75 at the moment).”
Referring to a recent Royal Television Society speech by the BBC’s Director-General, (Lord) Tony Hall, Oliver says: “While there was quite a bit about ‘how’ the BBC needed to change the way it operates – in terms of a shift into on demand services from linear, and a further move of production outside the M25 – and ‘who’ it needed to do a better job of reaching – children and young people, there was much less about ‘what’ the BBC might be providing. A brief mention of more premium content, less celebrity gossip on its web site, and a promise that they would do more to combat fake news – and of course a few named programmes – such as Three Girls, Mother’s Day and Bodyguard as the kind of output the BBC needed to be providing that a Netflix might not.”
Oliver argues that the BBC must make out a much bolder and more detailed vision of what it will be doing in the future to maintain its Public Service status. He says the BBC must explain how it will continue reaching audiences when it is clearly going to be much more difficult to compete with its OTT rivals. He says it isn’t enough to quote awards received or finding 10 or 20 programmes which were popular enough to make it into the BBC’s Annual report.
Oliver also asks for more clarity on how much the BBC expects to earn for itself over and above the licence fee income, and other public funding income.
“In terms of future output, the BBC needs to set out how it intends to significantly up its game over the next 5 and 10 years, and not simply rely on the fact that it provides relatively high-quality output made in Britain and about Britain – which arguably it has always done.”
Oliver also demands more journalistic examinations from the BBC of the “fake news” which percolates into mainstream news and web-based coverage.
Oliver says his aim is to “take the debate about the BBC beyond the need for platform prominence and the need to reach the under 30s, and to address how it can add value to British life and British interests overseas in the twenty-first century, how much that might cost, who should pay the bill beyond 2022, and how we might assess how good a job it is doing.”