Sorry seems to be the hardest word
Some of the papers this morning – The Telegraph, The Independent, and the folk over at Media Guardian - have been reporting that the BBC has apologised for there being too much sport on BBC One last Saturday. This has, in turn, produced plenty of blog comment saying "why apologise for a great day of sport?" So I thought I'd better explain what's going on!
As the full statement makes clear, we believe the scheduling last weekend was right. Six Nations rugby is tremendously popular and the France v England game had a peak audience of 7m - so absolutely worth its place in the BBC One Saturday night schedule. I've just done a phone-in on Radio 5 Live where most of the callers emphatically agreed.
On the weekend of 8 and 9 March we'll be scheduling even more sport: three Six Nations matches and three FA Cup quarter-finals - and through 2008 there will be a number of occasions when sport dominates a particular part of the schedule. Euro 2008 and the Olympics are the obvious examples in a great year of sport, but we also offer hundreds of hours on terrestrial television of Wimbledon and other regular events such as The Open and The Masters. These major events don't happen every day, obviously, but when they do we make the most of them.
Now, one of the great benefits of sport being on BBC One is that it gets huge audiences and it's on the nation's most popular channel. It does, of course, have to take its place alongside drama, comedy and news and all the other genres - and in the BBC we recognise that one man's meat can be another man's poison! Some people don't like the rugby and won't appreciate football displacing the regular schedule in the summer; while other people don't like soaps and think we should spend the money instead on expanding our portfolio of sports rights. As ever, we try to strike a balance.
It's worth saying that sport will always have a smallish core of people who will absolutely never watch it come what may - but the number of people who do watch it massively exceeds that. A Fifa World Cup will reach getting on for 90% of the entire population, and events like the Commonwealth Games or Winter Olympics in 2006 were watched by a total of 33 million each. It's part of the BBC's stated objectives that we should provide these kind of events to viewers across the UK, and that's why we spend the licence fee on the best range of sport we can within a finite budget.
One question arising - in a blog from John Plunkett and again on 5 Live this morning - is whether the solution to this is a dedicated sports channel. We think not, because we want to put the best of the Six Nations and the Beijing Olympics and Match of the Day on a mass audience showcase channel. As I've blogged here before, we believe the best way of supplementing that is by our range of digital services. So this summer you'll be able to watch extended coverage from Beijing on up to seven streams of interactive television, on our website, on the BBC iPlayer, on our HD channel, and on mobile devices too. This seems to us a better idea than one old-fashioned linear channel, and it remains our pledge that we'll provide more sport content in the coming years - especially as we get closer to London 2012 - and it'll be delivered where and when you want it.