Tony Hall, Director-General of the BBC, has revealed the Corporation’s ambition to reach a global audience of one billion by the end of the 2020s, going beyond his original aim of doubling its global audience to reach 500 million people by 2022.
Delivering the Opening Address of the Edinburgh International Television Festival via Zoom, Hall suggested that the international reach of the BBC was “absolutely crucial” to any vision of ‘Global Britain’.
“Four years ago, I convinced the then Government – well, George Osborne to be precise – to make its largest-ever increase in investment in the BBC World Service,” he reported. “That funding – £86 million a year – allowed us to complete the biggest expansion of the World Service since the Second World War. We now operate in 42 languages. We’ve opened new bureaux with more local journalists on the ground. We’ve got new investigative teams holding power to account around the world,” he advised.
“My goal, when I arrived at the BBC, was to double our global audience to reach 500 million people by 2022 – our centenary year. With two years to go, we are today reaching 468 million people each week… 468 million. We have plans in place to double that ambition – to reach a global audience of 1 billion people by the end of the decade. But it needs extra investment from government and that bid is with them right now,” he advised.
“No one can do more to carry Britain’s voice and values to the world,” he asserted. “Independent research shows there’s an exceptionally high correlation between places where people are aware of the BBC and places where people think positively about the UK. We even help UK trade. This could hardly be more important as Britain sets out to forge a new relationship with the world, based on an ambitious vision of ‘Global Britain’. Success will mean drawing on all our considerable international assets. And that means unleashing the full global potential of the BBC,” he declared.
According to Hall, Britain in a post-Brexit world must play to its greatest strengths – one of which is the creative industries. “Just as the NHS underpins Britain’s global excellence in research and life sciences, so the BBC – and our unique PSB ecology – underpins the excellence of our creative industries. This is the sector that, before the crisis hit, was the fastest-growing part of the economy, worth over £100 billion a year. And British creativity is one of our most valuable global exports,” he said, noting that the BBC has long been the single biggest investor in – and platform for – British talent and content.
He suggested that there was one statistic that really brings home what the UK’s PSB system means for the strength of its creative industries. “In 2018, PSBs delivered over 32,000 hours of UK-made original content. The big streamers? 221 hours,” he noted.
“Yes, we need to keep reforming, keep listening and learning about how we can do better. But let’s not forget that PSBs are the magic formula for British success in the global media age. And let’s explore ways to build on their strength, so they can do even more for our economy, for our society, for employment. So the conditions are there for the BBC to deliver more for audiences, and to be even closer to them. Let’s go back and look at what the data is telling us. It shows we have reached the point where for the first time the decline in audiences to linear channels has been compensated by the uptick in our delivery to audiences online and on demand,” he suggested.
Hall said that the BBC had made the pivot to a new world and was in a great position to continue to thrive in the future and all set to compete with the very best in the global digital age.
In conclusion, Hall said there was “no doubt” in his mind that PSBs could do more than ever for the UK in the years ahead. “We have to keep banging the drum for what only we can deliver. The role we can play in helping to find the answer to so many of the biggest issues now facing society. From division and polarisation, to the rise of fake news and disinformation, to our creative and cultural strength, even to helping society safely navigate a path through the Covid crisis,” he said.
“I was much taken with what Daniel Ek, the founder of Spotify said to me last year. In the next thirty years, he said, only those companies with strong values will survive. That’s why public service broadcasting is so much more than an idea of the past. It’s an idea whose time has well and truly come. More relevant, and more needed, than ever.”