The universal nature of the licence fee means that the BBC needs to reflect the diversity of licence fee payers, in both its programmes and its workforce. It also means that getting BBC services to everyone free at the point of use and in a way that is convenient for them will always be a priority for the Trust.
Getting the BBC's services to the whole population; ensuring there is something for everyone; representing the whole of the UK in its output – these are the principles we have set out for serving all the BBC's audiences.
We monitor through our Purpose Remit Survey how different communities and parts of the UK are portrayed in the BBC's programmes. We know that while the BBC is generally highly rated by audiences across the UK, these ratings are lower further away from London. The Executive is working hard to address this challenge, and this year the BBC published commitments for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, setting out in more detail how it will serve audiences in each nation. The Trust agreed to BBC targets for network television spend out of London, and we are pleased that the BBC has made good progress with 41% of spend out of London against a target of 50% by 2016, and 16.3% in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland against a target of 12% by 2012 (17% by 2016).
To represent licence fee payers effectively, the BBC itself should reflect the diversity of the UK. This year the Executive published Telling our Story: Equality and diversity at the BBC. It explains how the BBC is meeting its equality and diversity objectives, and provides information about the profile of employees in six categories (age, ethnicity, disability, gender, religion/belief and sexual orientation). In January the Executive also published specific equality objectives to underpin the BBC's diversity strategy. The Trust will report on its progress next year.
As noted in our report, Observations on the BBC Executive's arrangements for promoting equal opportunities in employment, the Trust welcomes the work that has been done on improving the BBC's monitoring of its workforce and increasing staff engagement. In the coming year, the Trust has asked the Executive to focus on several areas including the number of disabled staff and representation of women in higher grades.
The BBC has a responsibility to make its content available on a range of platforms that are convenient and cost effective. In an increasingly interconnected world, with a multiplicity of platforms and devices, getting the BBC's content from where it is made to where audiences expect to find it is an ever more complex undertaking.
This growing complexity is challenging at a time when everyone, including the BBC, has to find ways of doing more with less. When we set out the BBC's strategy in December 2010 we asked the Executive to serve all audiences in ways that will safeguard easy, accessible routes to BBC content, sustaining high quality free-to-air platforms while investing in new technologies where there is public value in doing so.
The BBC gets content to audiences in two ways: through traditional linear broadcast and online infrastructure ('distribution') and by making on-demand content available to other platform owners and device manufacturers ('syndication'). The latter is increasingly important as people switch to new kinds of devices, and want to access BBC content through them.
As the BBC completes digital switchover – the conversion of the UK's terrestrial analogue television system to digital – some consolidation of the BBC's digital services to make more efficient use of resources has been agreed in principle by the Trust. We will see a phased reduction of Red Button after the Olympics, while the BBC HD Channel will be replaced with a single BBC Two in high definition. During the year we considered the BBC's participation in the YouView joint venture and concluded that it met the conditions we set out in our final 'Canvas' approvals in 2010.
In radio, the Trust approved plans in 2010 for the BBC to extend national DAB coverage to 97% of UK households by the end of the current Charter period. In June 2011 the Trust approved the launch of a temporary DAB radio service, BBC 5 Live Olympics Extra, to offer additional coverage of the London Olympics. During the last year the Trust continued to support the Executive in planning a strong future for local DAB with partners in commercial radio, Government and industry.
As the BBC continues to adapt to the new digital media and broadcasting landscape, it faces new challenges. For example, making programmes accessible over broadband (such as through the iPlayer) offers great benefits to audiences but also adds new costs. We recognise the strategic importance of the BBC keeping up with technological developments to ensure audiences are able to access BBC content wherever and however they choose, but we will continue to monitor developments in this area and encourage the BBC to research even more efficient ways of distributing content to audiences.
The Trust's syndication policy explains how content should be made available on other platforms and devices. It was originally set in 2007 when the BBC iPlayer was launched. Since then, the media landscape has changed. Although traditional live broadcasting through television and radio is still the norm, audience expectations of access to BBC content when and where they want it have grown enormously – the iPlayer is now available on a range of platforms, and on hundreds of devices.
The Trust led the work to update the policy, which included liaising with the Executive and holding a public consultation to ensure the views of industry and licence fee payers were considered. The revised policy was launched in February 2012. At its heart are audience-facing principles – for instance, that content should be high quality and accessible free of charge. While the Trust does not seek to impose a single technical solution for syndication, we believe these principles will best be served by offering would-be partners direct access to the full range of BBC content, via their platform or device, within a BBC environment. This currently means a standard BBC product, such as the BBC iPlayer, delivered over the internet, although the policy will also enable the BBC to adapt to meet licence fee payers' future needs in delivering on-demand content to a broad range of platforms and devices.
This year the BBC made good progress in some areas as it continues to work towards this challenging objective.
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