BBC One should be riskier, says trust

EastEnders EastEnders is a regular fixture in the BBC One schedule

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BBC One has to take more creative risks and offer a broader range in its schedules, according to a BBC Trust review of the corporation's television channels.

All the channels - BBC One, Two, Three and Four - also needed to do more to attract younger audiences and those from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds (BAME).

The trust's conclusions are detailed in a 37-page report about the health of the television channels and how they perform against their service licence.

The £87,000 review - which happens every five years - included a public consultation with 5000 responses, extensive research, data from audience councils, and feedback from industry figures and BBC executives.

David Liddiment, the BBC trustee who jointly led the review with Suzanna Taverne, said: 'The overriding sense is that there is much for the BBC to be proud of. Television's performance is remarkably strong overall.

'In an age of hundreds of channels, now in pretty much every home, that BBC One is watched by 76% of the people in this country every week is an extraordinary achievement and should not be underestimated.'

New titles

But Liddiment observed that the BBC has some challenges which need tackling. Chief among them is the need for BBC One to 'take more creative risks while serving loyal audiences'.

He cited evidence showing that nearly two-thirds (63%) of the BBC's pre-watershed schedule between 7 to 9pm was accounted for by just 10 programmes, all but one of them more than five years old.

Top 10 BBC One shows* by airtime

  1. The One Show (launched in 2007)
  2. EastEnders (1985)
  3. Holby City (1999)
  4. The Voice UK (2012)
  5. Countryfile (1988)
  6. Waterloo Road (2006)
  7. Antiques Roadshow (1979)
  8. Panorama (1953)
  9. Watchdog (1980)
  10. A Question of Sport (1968)

*Between 7-9pm in 2013-14

It was the report's finding that the peak-time schedule on BBC One is 'composed largely of programmes that are shown year-round', with some viewers believing it could sometimes 'play it safe' in programming and scheduling.

Liddiment - who was previously head of entertainment at the BBC - said more titles needed to be brought in that would attract fresher audiences.

He added: 'A significant number of potential viewers, lighter viewers, are not being served by BBC One in an important time slot and there is less room for new programmes at this time.'

But he wasn't suggesting that any of the regular programmes pre-watershed should be replaced with something else, simply that the list needed to get longer and more distinctive.

It was his view that the BBC's biggest challenge is 'to keep as many people watching the BBC as possible, because there should be something for everybody at the BBC, whatever social background, whatever your age.

'Unlike the commercial channels, who at the end of the day have to deliver audiences to advertisers, the BBC has a particular responsibility to satisfy everybody.'

Serving the young

Younger audiences and those from minority backgrounds are groups which the BBC could serve better, according to the report.

Research shows that the BBC's reach has fallen most among 16-34-year-olds and faster among non-white viewers.

Liddiment acknowledged that 'there clearly are some challenges around young people' and it's 'an issue' that needs addressing.

Responding to questions about moving BBC Three online, he said that the trust had not yet received the proposals, which they would consider in the autumn.

In brief

  • BBC One appears to sometimes 'play it safe' in programming and scheduling
  • Factual programming at 9pm could benefit from more innovation
  • There needs to be a refreshment of entertainment programmes
  • BBC Two reach has declined since 2010-11 - just over 50% watch each week
  • The average median age of the BBC Two viewer is now 60 (up from 58 three years ago)
  • Reach has fallen most among 16-34-year-olds
  • BBC Three is perceived more positively than BBC One or Two for its relevance to viewers of all ethnicities
  • BBC Four is no longer committed to showing 20 foreign language films a year

The trustee added, however, that 'the proportion of people watching some element of BBC Three online is the highest proportion of any of the other services'.

But he stressed being 'realistic' because young people tend to watch less television in general. He believed that shows such as Sherlock and The Voice helped to deliver younger audiences for BBC One.

Drama

Liddiment praised the BBC's recent drama successes including Peaky Blinders and Happy Valley. The latter, he said, had the 'depth of character that we associate with some of the kind of posher, longer-form stuff we get from America. I think that is a fantastic step forward'.

The trustee said he had 'no doubt' that drama had made 'significant progress' in the last five years, with BBC Two singled out.

'BBC Two is significantly more distinctive than it was,' concluded Liddiment, 'and it is becoming a more ambitious channel than it was since we reviewed it last time. It has become a major player in drama'.

Budget pressures

Because of cuts to the budget and the flat licence fee, the report said the BBC should seek 'greater collaboration among its channels', especially children's, nations and regions, sport and online.

Liddiment added that 'audiences are not yet feeling the pain' of the BBC's savings targets because of efforts to save money elsewhere.

He observed, however, that the corporation needed to deliver the same on less money, with audience expectation as high as it has ever been.

The trustee also believed that BBC One after the news at 10pm is a 'less rich place than it once was' because of cuts.

The BBC will need to report back to the trust about plans to increase 'distinctiveness' on its flagship channel in six months, with the trust publishing an assessment addressing audience concerns in next year's annual report.

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