As the BBC prepares to mark its centenary with a year of special programming across all its channels and platforms, director general Tim Davie has delivered a strong defence of the role of the corporation at the heart of British national life, vowing that the BBC will work tirelessly to offer every single household outstanding value for the licence fee.
Writing for the Sunday Times, Davie describes the UK’s creative sector as “an outstanding global success story”, suggesting it is a unique and enlightened blend of smart public interventions, brilliant commercial companies and inspirational individuals.
Since becoming a public corporation, Davie says the BBC has been a story of innovation, creativity and resilience. “It has survived crisis, conflict and changing technology. In almost every decade, it has been written off, debated and loved. More than anything, its survival is down to the extraordinary people at the BBC who care deeply about the power of truth and great storytelling,” he states.
“Our role as an organisation solely serving the public has allowed us to take the risks on which innovation in the market depends — from the birth of TV and radio to the first steps into the digital world, with Ceefax and BBC Micro, and breakthroughs such as iPlayer, which blazed a trail for global streamers and created a new market for video on demand,” he notes.
“Today, as the BBC reaches 100, the UK’s creative industries remain some of the most vibrant and successful in the world. This is a sector that, before the Covid crisis hit, was growing at four times the rate of the UK economy as a whole, and in all parts of the UK. It employed over two million people and was generating goods and services worth £116 billion a year,” he advises, pointing out that this is more than the automotive, aerospace, life sciences and oil and gas industries combined. “With TV in particular, we punch way above our weight. Even in the face of the pandemic, UK TV exports made a staggering £1.48 billion worldwide in 2020 — up 6 per cent year on year,” he adds.
“Sustained investment in British content is backed by a mix of funding models: advertising, subscription and public money. All this has led to a sector in which talent can thrive. Strong public-service broadcasting and a competitive commercial sector deliver huge mutual benefits and complete a virtuous circle of brilliant British creativity,” he asserts. “The result is one of the jewels in the UK’s economic crown. It is something that we must invest in and fight for.”
“Of course, as we look forward, we must not rest,” he admits. “Not only does the Internet age bring huge opportunities for new talent and opening up the national conversation, but it also brings intense global competition and threats to grown-up democratic debate and objective reporting.”
According to Davie, the corporation’s focus is again on innovation and reforming the BBC to ensure it can keep delivering value to audiences in this new world. “This means redoubling our efforts in the areas where we are unique and precious: British storytelling, impartial journalism, areas such as education, local news and research and development. These things are made more, not less, relevant by the digital age,” he contends.
“But it also means reinventing ourselves to keep connected to all. We must create compelling digital services, attract the very best talent from every walk of life, understand where the BBC adds value and listen (not just broadcast) to all licence-fee-payers. More than anything, we are here to serve, to work tirelessly to offer every single household outstanding value for the licence fee,” he states.
Suggesting that the nation can look forward to a bumper year of special TV and radio programming in 2022, Davie says the BBC’s efforts during the year will also be about understanding its audiences better and making sure it delivers outstanding value for everyone, as well as the BBC playing its part to the full in supporting creative growth in every part of the UK and building opportunity for all, regardless of background.
“After a challenging period, I hope that 2022 will mark a landmark year for the BBC and the growing UK creative industries. I am proud to be leading the BBC and hope you enjoy the programming,” he concludes.