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BBC Strategy Review - Alan Yentob addresses the VLV conference

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Laura Murray Laura Murray | 09:14 UK time, Thursday, 29 April 2010

alanyentob.jpg"We will do our absolute best to fulfil our promise to put quality first."

This was the key message from Alan Yentob at yesterday's 27th annual VLV (Voice of the Listener and Viewer) conference

The morning event entitled 'Strictly Public Service Broadcasting - creative freedom and ambition?' focused on the BBC Strategy Review with keynote speeches from William Greswell, Controller of Strategy, BBC Vision and Alan Yentob, the BBC's Creative Director.

William began by setting out the strategy review and talking through five main themes: put quality first, do fewer things better, guarantee access to all, make the licence fee work harder and set new boundaries. He set the scene for Alan to talk about how the BBC will achieve these aims by focusing on delivering quality content. You can read Alan's speech in full here.

As soon as he came off the stage I asked Alan to summarise the key points from his speech, you can watch the video below.

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Make sure you have your say on the points laid out in the strategy review on the BBC Trust's consultation site. The consultation period ends on 25th May.


  • Comment number 1.

    I very much welcome your comments regarding the public providing critical support and holding the BBC to account in the transcript of your speech. Most people do very much want to see the BBC focus on high quality content and make the licence fee work harder and would think this should be part of the core ethos of the BBC. Which is why it so surprising and indeed I would go as far as distressing to see the announced closure of BBC 6 Music. This radio station is considered by many including myself that this is the epitome of high quality broadcasting. The music it plays is incredibly diverse coming from a wide range of genres including folk, jazz, blues, electronica and rock just to name a few. Not only that it promotes and gives a terrific amount of airspace to new and undiscovered music that does not get played anywhere else thus its content is incredibly distinct. Just as importantly in my view is how intelligently the presenters on this radio station educate and enthuse the listeners in the extraordinary amount of exciting and interesting music that is out there and playing a vital role in musical culture in Britain.

  • Comment number 2.

    An interesting speech Alan. You say
    'And for the Arts and Music there is a new paradigm which will become more influential ... A group of key creative leaders from across the BBC ... transformed our ability to plan ahead more ambitiously and imaginatively than we‘ve been able to do before.'

    Whilst I do not doubt that such a top-down planning approach can have benefits, I worry that not all culture fits your mental model of a five-year plan of brilliant media geniuses. In particular, popular music, which you have made some interesting programmes on if I recall correctly, does not develop in a centralised planned manner. The BBC's role there should continue to be a conduit and a platform for others to innovate. central planning imposes playlists and celebrity DJs with zoo formats chasing the audiences you clearly value.

    You clearly value the 'brand' of BBC3 with your espousal of the channel's successes in your eyes. Personally I agree with some of this comment http://www.geeks.co.uk/21319-the-rise-and-fall-of-bbc3 that 3 is too safe and hence too lame. Whilst I doubt whether TV viewers feel such strong attachment to individual channels in this multi-multi channel world, it seems to me that radio channels do attract much greater attachment - the listener hours online show this I believe. In this case, the value of the growing 6Music brand, its unique cultural value in diversely promoting new music (wow BBC management bingo jackpot!) means that it will be saved by the BBC Trust.

    I find it interesting that you admit that the BBC already has a formidable news machine before digital. I agree with that and so I am at a loss to understand why news is one of the 5 priorities when I find it sets an excellent benchmark already. Must be because of Thompson's background in news - do you agree?

  • Comment number 3.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 4.

    I would like to echo the excellent comments made by Colin Phipps in the first reply to your speech.

    It is reassuring to see recognition of the role of the viewer and listener in speaking up for the importance of public service broadcasting which seems to be under constant attack from hostile corporate forces, looking only to increase their profits. There is a silent majority which does value the BBC and wants to see it continuing to educate, inform and entertain. That silent majority is slowly finding its voice.

    However, it is frustrating that there does seem to be a blind spot when it comes to contemporary music (what might simplistically be called "pop" in the same way that anything orchestral or pre-1900 might be labelled "classical" - both inappropriate but perhaps expedient). As the man who brought us "Crack'd Actor" I am sure you must appreciate that quality exists in modern music. You see the quality behind the crass titles of some of BBC3's output. That is fair enough, but running BBC3 costs £115m per year. I am still unconvinced it is value for money, given that BBC1 and BBC2 could readily provide a home (and wider audience reach) for its programmes of merit. At the same time, the BBC's highest quality radio station for modern music, 6music, is faced with closure to save probably £5m in total (ignoring fixed costs which will not disappear). It is disappointing that this illogical disparity between aim (towards quality and value) and intent in the strategy review remains.

  • Comment number 5.

    Thank you for the link to your speech which I found interesting reading.

    You talk at length about applying an "Uncle Isaac test" to television, citing many good examples of quality. But how would you do this effectively for radio? Are you confident that the current controllers have the necessary credentials to identify quality in radio for contemporary music say?

    You asked of the Strategy Review - "Are these the right choices and how much will these services be missed?"

    My own opinion is that the Review has got it woefully wrong with respect to 6 Music, which despite being a digital only station has already provided a significant cultural impact in the UK. The passionate outpouring of widespread support for the station from its listeners, artists (such as the Cracked Actor himself Mr David Bowie) and the music industry suggests I'm not alone. In fact even the Tabloids that you acknowledge twist the knife against the BBC at every opportunity have mocked this decision. Even these BBC haters can see the BBC has made a huge blunder here, which has been defended by senseless arguments and misinformation. This in turn has led to attacks on other services of debatable ‘quality’ such as BBC3, which I see you spent a lot of time defending in your speech. I have to no axe to grind against BBC3, I just hope that the “Uncle Isaac test” that you can apply here can be applied to Radio stations such 6 Music or 1Xtra as well.

    If this decision goes ahead, then I fear that a bond of trust will be lost between many licence payers and the BBC that will never return.

  • Comment number 6.

    For those that missed my warm-up speech at the same event, here it is:

    "Good morning, can I first of all welcome you all here. This is another example of the BBC interact with its public by talking at you for 10 minutes about our plans. I can assure you that there will be plenty of time to ask questions once we've gone.

    There has been plenty of praise in the press about the BBC of late. The courage they've shown in cutting a channel for ethnic minorities, for standing up to those who said "you can't claim expenses for that, you're on £800,000 a year" and for bringing us brand new TV content that breaks new ground such as Strictly Come Dancing, Doctor Who and Anne Robinson's Watchdog. Not to mention the NationOne Show.

    At the centre of this revolution at the BBC is Mr Botney. A man that provides so much to the organisation that his own department voted him "The most important man in the Media, ever". For anyone who has enjoyed his 'Imagination' series on BBC....I think it's on BBC1? [shaking of heads and blank looks from the audience] is the perfect example of quality of that area of what we are doing. Mr Botney himself took time out of counting his 'Business Class' airmiles to take part in a few of the interviews for his own show. Such is his commitment.

    So what of the future of the BBC? Well, we need to better well do less quality things more better...er...sorry, the autocue lady is on unpaid work experience because of the many value savings in staffing costs here.....We need to get away from the idea that we are providing what the public want. From now on we have to stop annoying the commercial sector and that is the point of the Strategic Review. It says "We're listening to David Cameron, we're listening to Murdoch and we're doing everything we can to keep them onside" There have been some difficult decisions. My uncle Sidney used to say "If you can't make a decision, flip a coin", so we applied the Uncle Sydney test to cutting services.

    I was personally horrified when "Thomo" pulled the ball with '6Music' written on it out of the hat. But the decision is made. We have to move on, get over it, grow up, stop asking questions, there's nothing to see here.

    Meanwhile the commitment to putting quality first will continue, we don't know how we'll achieve it, nor do we want anyone's opinion. As Uncle Sydney always used to tell me "Big yerself up, pocket the money and retire young".


  • Comment number 7.

    Dear Mr Yentob,
    Thank you for sharing with us the content of your speech, I am one of the 77% who, up until now, love the BBC and have defended it to the hilt whenever someone has criticised it, even though much of its output is of no interest to me. I strongly believe that the BBC should be inclusive of all licence payers, whether majorities who enjoy Strictly Come Dancing, or minorities who enjoy the best in non-mainstream music on Radio 3 or Radio 6 Music. Indeed, in the past I have actively promoted the BBC, telling my music loving friends how output such as Stuart Maconie's Freak Zone on 6 Music would never be able to be provided by the commercial broadcasters, let alone be broadcast at Sunday tea-time when people actually have time to listen to it. There are some actions the BBC has taken that do not fit within the remit of a public service broadcaster, and these actions are giving ammunition to those media empires that would rather attack the BBC and force it to reduce the quality of its output, rather than raise the quality of their own programming. The acquisition of Lonely Planet is one example that I believe is a clear cut case of the BBC overstepping the boundaries of a public service broadcaster. There are other areas that are less clear cut and desperately need public debate, such as the magazine publishing and some parts of the BBC website. For example http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/h2g2/ , which when set up was a unique attempt to build a user contributed on-line encyclopaedia. Now that 'Wikipedia' is firmly established (and I believe other parts of the BBC website actually use Wikipedia as a source of material) should the BBC be closing H2G2 and using the money for other services that cannot be provided outside the BBC? I don't know the answers, but unfortunately debate over this part of the Strategy Review has been suppressed due to the massive and justified outcry over the senseless proposal to close 6 Music, which is a clear cut case of a service that can only be provided by the BBC and fits its public service broadcasting remit perfectly. I am sure you understand that 6 Music is not just a 'pop' music station, but is the contemporary music equivalent of Radio 3, which I am sure you are also aware cost more to run per listener than 6 Music.
    You made the following statement regarding the main proposals in the Strategy Review:

    "Are these the right choices and how much will these services be missed?
    We don't yet know the answers to these questions but boundaries have been drawn and difficult choices have had to be made. I think that by and large they are the right ones. We shall see."

    I am concerned by your use of the word 'will'. These are only proposals and if the BBC Trust are doing their job some of the services may not be closed.
    Regarding 6 Music, it is obvious from the public outcry that the service WOULD be missed immensely IF it closed, there simply isn't another radio station that comes close. The many passionate but logical, well reasoned, arguments from licence payers, the music industry, MPs, and even the commercial broadcasters whom Mark Thompson claims (incorrectly) are disadvantaged by 6 Music, show that the proposal to close 6 Music is the WRONG decision.
    I hope that the unnecessary burden put on the BBC Trust due to the proposal to close 6 Music has not distracted them from the difficult choices that DO need to be made regarding publishing and the websites.

  • Comment number 8.

    What is done cannot be undone
    Once 6music is indicted it is gone forever - why not promote it - give it 3 more years and then see.
    The sum of 6 million pounds is very little in the scale of the budget of the BBC - why not wait and see how the new direction for Radio 2 beds in then see what better things have been achieved within the developing boundries? - without 6 there will be such a gap, you know.
    Is there one other voice beyond the BBC board which is applauding 6Music's closure? (note how the yoof channels' closure seems to disturb no-one)
    Be proud - it's exactly the type of programme the BBC was founded to produce and which the world envies.
    Please support the retention of the best radio station there is - it will lead the BBC into a naturally evolving future of succesful British cultural growth

  • Comment number 9.

    You are correct in your observation concerning "...the increasing stridency of those voices lined up against the BBC".

    Have you considered why this may be?

    Understandably, there are the 'normal' pressures from other commercial broadcasters, media moguls and politicians. These are to be expected.
    Then there are the voices of the general public - the humble licence payers.

    But why has this silent majority suddenly become so vocal in its criticism of the BBC?

    I feel that the following areas are where the BBC is letting these people down:

    1) The standard of programmes offered (e.g. 'Snog, Marry, Avoid', 'Hotter than my Daughter', etc.) has - with some notable exceptions - dipped dramatically in recent years

    2) Despite senior management mantaining that the BBC is retaining its independence, it has become increasingly apparent that it is bowing to political and commercial pressures

    3) The BBC is not providing the 'value for money' it maintains it does. Numerous stories have surfaced of the absurdly high salaries that senior managers, some entertainers and presenters are being paid. There have also been reports in the media about the considerable sums that have been wasted on building projects. Further disclosures on the extraordinarily large amounts of expenses claimed by senior managers have only fanned the flames. In this current economic climate, these financial revelations have only served to cause massive resentment from those of us who are struggling to earn a crust.

    4) The leaking and eventual publishing of the Strategy Review has been a complete disaster for the corporation. The manner in which it was launched, the somewhat absurd content of the document and the refusal of Mark Thompson and his cohorts to offer coherent reasons behind their proposals has made the BBC a laughing stock.

    The BBC should be all about quality. Currently it seems more interested in chasing ratings than providing quality. The BBC is not, as you say, fulfilling "Uncle Isaac's test" - it is more a case of 'never mind the quality, feel the width'.

    From a personal point of view, I find the proposal to close 6 Music bewildering. This exemplary station represents everything that is good about the BBC. 6 Music MUST be retained as:
    • The content is of supremely high quality and of great diversity
    • The presenters are extremely knowledgeble, entertaining and passionate about music
    • Pro rata, the station costs considerably less than other BBC stations (£9 million for 700,000 listeners as opposed to Radio 3 that costs £51 million for 1,800,000 listeners)
    • Despite being available on digital platforms, the numbers of listeners is rising year-on-year
    • The variety of music played is not available on any other commercial station
    • The station provides a vital platform for new and emerging artists to showcase their talents (this is especially important as music is such an important contributor to the revenue of this country)

    In summary, please get your house in order. Change the culture within the BBC and get the public back on your side.

    And, in the process, make sure that 6 Music is saved.

  • Comment number 10.

    Put quality first = keep 6music.

  • Comment number 11.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 12.

    Can we focus on:

    1) How a strategy review differs from a proposed or actual strategy.
    2) How it can be used to determine whether changes or choices in the recent past conform to that strategy and
    3) why the examination and communication of it isn't a continuous process.

  • Comment number 13.

    "Comments posted to BBC blogs may be removed if they are seen to be repeated postings of the same or similar messages (referred to as 'spam') or if they contain no content, or contain content that is unreadable. Your content has been removed for this reason. "

    So what was so unreasonable about the following? Is it opening wounds at the BBC? If it was because it is the same or similar message, then responses from a member of the BBC Executive to the following will ensure that I don't have to keep asking the same or similar questions.

    This is our BBC, we have right to know what's going on, so once again......

    What are those other similar stations to 6Music as mentioned by a member of the BBC executive to the Lords?

    What other stations had the 'unique' listenership test prior to the BBC making the decision to keep or close it?

    Where did that '4,000 unique listeners' fact come from and can you provide documentary evidence?


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