Jana Bennett, Director, BBC Vision

Date: 21.09.2010     Last updated: 18.03.2014 at 17.53

Speech given at the BBC Vision Forum
Tuesday 21 September 2010

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Welcome to this, our third, Vision Forum – which comes hot on the heels of a weekend of extraordinary output.

The Battle of Britain. The Pope's visit to Britain. And the Great North Run – also in Britain. All on our screens over one weekend.

Then last night saw the premiere in the West End of Made In Dagenham – a quintessentially British story, packed with British talent and backed by BBC Films.

Thank you – because all of this output was made possible by you.

I'm delighted with the mix of debates, masterclasses and workshops that make up this year's forum and I hope that you will have a chance to join in – in person here at Television Centre and across the nations and regions, live on the internet, or – timeshifted – on the Forum website.

My thanks also to our hosts, chairs of sessions, producers and guests who have freely given their time because they're passionate about what they do. And, of course, a very big thank you to Amanda Gabbitas and her team for organising the whole event.

With me here in Studio 3 are people from all over Vision and from the independent sector – and what connects all of us is our common commitment to making outstanding programmes and services.

As you'll hear in a moment, Vision has had a great year in terms of performance, the service licence reviews are almost complete and the Trust has endorsed our future plans, and the strategy review has provided clear editorial priorities which we're already driving through.

But, as Mark made plain in his McTaggart speech, we're at a moment when the BBC needs to forcibly make the argument for public service broadcasting. We have to show how much the Licence Fee matters. And Vision must lead that charge.

As we all know, the BBC faces a number of complex issues, from the licence fee freeze to pensions reform. We all need to play our part in meeting these challenges. And I believe that the most powerful and persuasive way to do this is by providing even more brilliant, original, surprising content and services. Our output is what makes us.

So every single person in Vision has a part to play – by demonstrating the value of the BBC through our drama, comedy, entertainment and factual programmes, by surprising and delighting audiences and increasing their approval and appreciation of public service broadcasting.

I want to focus today on creative ambition. Creative ambition is about scaling the heights and exceeding audience expectations. It's about capitalising on the breadth and the range of the BBC. It's what we do.

So I'm going talk about how we've expressed our creative ambition over the past year; how we identify and measure the qualities that make our output uniquely original and distinctive; and what the goals are for the coming 12 months.

It has been an exceptionally good year for Vision. I've picked my personal highlights from our four channels – and it was a difficult choice.

I was at Elstree in February for the extraordinary live episode of EastEnders, mounted to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the show. Going live on BBC One with 51 actors, 36 camera operators and endless scene changes is certainly a good definition of high risk. And it was a triumph: the most watched television programme of the year, with a total audience of almost 20 million.

I'll never forget the look of amazement on the faces of some of the original cast as they watched EastEnders venture into this new territory.

Then there was the Year of Science – a big bold idea that put science back on the map in a pan-BBC season led by BBC Two. Television contributed a distinguished constellation of programmes, but the star was undoubtedly Brian Cox's outstanding Wonders Of The Solar System. Ambitious in conception, rich in detail and brilliantly communicated, this was demanding television in the best sense.

This was also the year when current affairs on BBC Three came of age and for me one documentary stood out: Women, Weddings, War And Me followed 21-year-old Londoner Nel Hedayat back to Afghanistan, where she was born, for a harrowing expose of prejudice and casual violence against women. It was a complex, challenging story, brilliantly targeted at the channel's young audience. And it recorded the highest-ever AI of any factual programme on any British channel.

In June BBC Four's Fatherhood Season used documentary, science, drama and entertainment to powerful effect as it explored and celebrated the experience of being a father today and in the past. It questioned assumptions and examined stereotypes with intelligence and scepticism while also telling heart-warming individual stories of fathers and sons. The season drew critical acclaim and clearly touched a chord with viewers because it gave voice to the unexpressed emotions of those relationships.

These are a handful of examples plucked from an incredibly rich year and, as commissioners and producers have raised the bar in terms of creativity and innovation, so our audiences have responded. Over the past 12 months weekly reach has held strong at 85%; share has risen to 33% – while that of all other major broadcasters has decreased; and our average AIs are up year-on-year. And that's a fantastic achievement!

Meanwhile, our programmes have won more than 200 major awards and 37 of them were international – because Vision's programmes and formats also have huge global impact. The BBC's international brand is now built around our drama, comedy, entertainment and landmark factual as well as News. And foreign investment forms an important part of our budgets.

In 2007 our international investment stood at £68m. Today the figure is more than £100m – 50% up in three years. And, again, the increase is due to our incredible breadth of talent in production and commissioning

In other words, I'm tremendously proud of what we've achieved in Vision over the past year and I want to thank you all very much indeed for the part you've played in it.

All these achievements spring from the core editorial values that have always inspired our work – for more than 60 years under the banner of BBC Television and for the past four within Vision.

They colour everything we do, in production offices, studios, on location, in cutting rooms, scheduling, business and planning. They distinguish our channels, programmes and online content.

One of the creative strengths of Vision is its mixed production base and the competition that comes from a vibrant, healthy independent sector. I also believe that Vision Productions is crucial to the continuity of the BBC's editorial values, because it focuses exclusively on making programmes only for licence payers.

Our in house programme-making base is also the biggest training provider in UK broadcasting and it helps create a high-quality workforce across the industry. To ensure this commitment to training continues, we've entered into a major partnership with the new BBC Academy.

And last week Vision Productions launched a new course – called the Visionary Leadership Programme – which exposes some of our top programme-makers to the ideas and influences of Britain's creative giants. The scheme is something that Pat Younge, who took over as Chief Creative Officer in January, has strongly championed and it's part of his mission to foster groundbreaking creativity.

Now I want to come to online.

Vision's non-linear content has been transformed over past three years. In the last 12 months alone, the ambitious and pioneering creativity of our online teams have produced new ways of exploring BBC content.

We've seen new science and natural history products for mass-participation and experimentation; the food site has been relaunched to make it more distinctive and now has over a million users a week. There's also been fantastic innovation with initiatives like the BAFTA-winning Virtual Revolution, the Dr Who adventure games and the EastEnders spin off E20, which attracted well over 3 million hits to its first series.

Going forward, the commitment in Putting Quality First to take 25% of spend out of the BBC Online budget is challenging for everyone, and I appreciate how much uncertainty it has caused over these past few months. The final scale and shape of BBC Online is subject to the Trust's final decision later this year.

But I am determined that Vision's contribution to the BBC's online future remains as innovative and dynamic as ever, and I'm pleased that our teams, in partnership with FM&T, will be leading delivery of two of the five portfolios in the proposed new-look BBC Online.

First, a new integrated product that brings together the strengths of iPlayer with the creativity of our channel and programme brands. We're creating a seamless experience for audiences to engage with everything they love about BBC television and the web. And it will be a powerful platform for new, original content in areas such as comedy and drama.

And second, a new portfolio for Knowledge and Learning that creates a single system that allows the educational and knowledge-building potential of all the BBC's output to find its fullest expression online.

All of this change is about anticipating convergence. With the arrival of IPTV the gap between the television and the computer is disappearing fast.

We're working on our strategy now and Vision is on the front foot in three areas: iPlayer is already on multiple TV devices; we've started to evolve our red button offer by bringing on-demand services onto Freesat; and our collaboration with YouView – formerly Canvas – is already intense.

Until now, TV and the web have been going out, flirting, maybe dating. Now, they're going to bed together. Who knows what fun they'll have or what they'll produce.

We now have the chance to put in place the conventions that will determine viewers' experiences for generations to come. Decisions that we make this year will fundamentally effect the quality of a converged media world.

The potential here is tremendous – imagine if this technology had been available this last weekend: viewers hooked by the Battle of Britain news headlines could have moved seamlessly to BBC One's Ewan McGregor documentary, to highlights of the Westminster Abbey service, to BBC Four's Battle of Britain Night documentaries, to wartime archive, to sharing memories of fighter pilots.

It's worth remembering that television still very much matters to audiences: they're watching more than they did five years ago, they prefer the big TV to other screens. And recent research conducted for Vision suggests that we need to harness the channel and programme brands better because they're our biggest bond with audiences in a converging media environment.

In a world of ever-increasing choice and complexity, they aid navigation, they enable viewers to discover new things and serve as filters for quality. Channels are part of life's routine, they take the effort out of choosing and are a comfort in a crowded world.

Our established channels and programme brands can serve as vital routemaps, signposts and – more often than not – destinations in the crowded world of IPTV. They can and should be the primary way to organise content.

So what about the channel portfolio?

Well, last year, I said I wanted to make our portfolio of channels as clear as possible, laying out how they are designed to serve different parts of our huge audience.

Over the past 12 months the senior team has been reviewing Vision's four channel propositions and Daytime TV. We've conducted detailed research into BBC channel positioning with thousands of viewers. We've reflected the findings of the service licence reviews of BBC One, Two and Four, and the strategic imperatives of Putting Quality First.

So this work is ongoing – there will be further research and further refinement, but I wanted to share some of the current thinking with you.

To summarise the positioning work on BBC One: the channel's role is to engage the widest possible audience with programmes that reflect their lives and make sense of their world. It creates and celebrates events that bring people together and sparks the national conversation.

Our research showed that audiences trust BBC One. They are proud of it and see it as our flagship channel. Quotes from the research included: "If it matters, it's on One,” and "It's like the nation's channel."

During the coming year I want the channel to build further on its recent success – we've announced today a major new Saturday Night entertainment spectacular – The Magicians, who'll be competing against each other each week. Also watch for more complex, mould-breaking drama, and more diversity pre-watershed – in particular, more distinctive and surprising factual like The Week The Immigrants Went and The Great British Waste Menu.

And, of course, later this Autumn BBC One will be launched in HD.

As you know Jay Hunt has stepped down from BBC One to go to Channel Four. I want to thank her for devoted leadership of a highly creative team and her significant contribution. The channel, as you've heard is in excellent health and I've no doubt that we'll have an extremely strong field of candidates for what is arguably the most important channel commissioning job in the UK. We're advertising this week.

Now let's turn to BBC Two.

BBC Two is the mainstream alternative channel. Armed with curiosity, irreverence and wit, it stimulates a broad audience to explore a passion, discover an interest or see things from a different perspective.

At last year's Vision Forum I said I wanted the channel to reclaim its place as the home of signature television drama and to give pride of place to BBC Films. I also announced a 50% increase in drama funds for the channel over three years.

During the past 12 months Janice Hadlow and Ben Stephenson have greenlit several ambitious new dramas, including The Shadow Line by Marion And Geoff writer Hugo Blick, White Heat by Paula Milne and a ghostly adaptation for Christmas from Luther creator Neil Cross.

Meanwhile, BBC Films has found its new home on BBC Two and is building a bigger fiction slate there. We've made a great start – with The Damned United attracting nearly three and a half million viewers.

Forthcoming titles include My Week With Marilyn now in production, with a stellar cast including Dame Judi Dench, Kenneth Branagh and Zoe Wannamaker and Salmon Fishing In The Yemen, a romantic comedy written by Oscar-winner Simon Beaufoy and starring Ewan McGregor, Emily Blunt and Kristin Scott Thomas.

During the coming year you'll see BBC Two commissioning more factual landmarks that really punch through. Also, Janice and I want to maintain a clearer, stronger association between the channel and its key talent: the two Jeremys already have that solid identification, and we'd like more personalities to belong to BBC Two.

BBC Daytime has the most diverse daytime schedule of any UK broadcaster, from current affairs and hard-hitting factual to entertainment and UK-originated drama. We are committed to original, distinct and intelligent programmes of quality that resonate with our audience.

Over the past 12 months, there has already been a 140% increase in consumer and current affairs, and we've allocated more funds to UK-originated drama. But it's clear from our research that audiences want even more variety in Daytime and that may require increased investment.

During the coming year Liam and I want to see Daytime:

  • continue this move towards current affairs and consumer journalism;
  • increase the number of factual and drama events in the same vein as The Week We Went To War and the award-winning Land Girls to at least six a year;
  • and we want to see Daytime phase out all US drama acquisitions from the schedule over time.

As a result of these changes, we shan't be recommissioning To Buy Or Not To Buy. BBC Birmingham, which makes the show, has a very strong track record in Daytime and will be working on three pilot shows for the future.

BBC Three innovates and experiments constantly. It provokes thought and entertains audiences from sixteen to thirty-something with new British talent and formats. It's energetic and open minded with a great sense of humour.

During its hours of transmission, BBC Three is now the most watched non-terrestrial channel in the UK and has the largest audience of 16-34 year olds. Our research showed that it has imprinted itself as a channel for the young. Its strongest genre association is with comedy and the audience expects it to take risks.

During the coming year I want to work with Danny to strengthen and deepen the BBC Three News brand and ensure it gets full credit for its serious documentary and current affairs output.

Following the success of Young Voters' Question Time before the last election, the programme will become a regular part of the schedule, starting with four editions over the coming year.

And finally, BBC Four – offering audiences a wide range of subjects from all over the world, and always applying a new lens to our artistic and cultural landscape.

BBC Four is already the UK's biggest arts and culture channel and I want it to be the main gateway into the BBC's magnificent archive. I've asked the channel team to create a rolling menu of archive offerings.

Over the next two months alone there's a chance to look back at the history of the Gay Rights Movement and watch uncut interviews with the Hollywood Greats. And in January we'll be celebrating British sculpture – with a spellbinding release of archive – to coincide with the new BBC Four sculpture season and the Royal Academy exhibition. And of course in 2012 there will be a rich archival celebration of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee.

I also want the channel to offer more significant arts events and original commissioned "works" and I will be setting aside one and a half million pounds with Richard Klein to ensure that, from now on, we can offer events of scale every quarter.

Last year I said Vision would develop a new blueprint for BBC Learning. Our new Controller of Learning, Saul Nasse, has spent the past few months consulting staff, partners and education specialists and he's unveiling our new vision next Monday.

It puts Learning right at the heart of the BBC and gives a fresh mandate to the Learning Department. From now on it will be able to harness the depth and range of the BBC's output and resources – providing a richer offering for under-19s, adult learners and mainstream audiences who are inspired by our programmes to find out more.

Central to Saul's approach is a radical new commissioning model for Learning across the BBC. We're also looking to make more money available to support learning for young people on BBC Three and to promote adult skills in Daytime.

As you'll hear next week, it's a bold, timely and inspiring plan: education has always been part of the BBC's core mission and every area of the BBC will now have a part to play realising the new vision.

I've talked about the achievements of the past year and I've set out some goals. I want to finish by looking at how we can ramp up our creative ambition – in order to do brilliant work that will have genuine legacy value.

First of all, why is it so important just now? Well we know that 40% of audiences in multi-channel homes believe that television is getting worse: they see the explosion of choice as just more rubbish out there. Yet, as I've already indicated, the reach and even the share of our channels is increasing. So, as choices multiply, BBC Vision can be a beacon of quality and a place you can trust in a sea of choice – sometimes of indifferent and predictable content.

So where are the places we can be more ambitious and provide a richer offering for audiences? Research conducted both by Vision and by the Trust suggests viewers are always hungry for exceptional programmes – and heartland audiences of BBC One and Two have particularly high expectations.

Viewing figures and AIs matter – we want to know that people are actually watching us. And alongside them, we're developing new measures for exceptional output – what audiences describe as surprising, new, different, original. I want to embed these values into commissioning and production as a more sophisticated way of judging success.

Dramas like Luther and Sherlock point the way forward. Both are complex, genre-busting pieces that surpass the best of US drama in their sophistication and risk-taking. Their quality was instantly recognised by audiences, with pleas for second series while the first were still on air.

Our decision to re-invest in Strictly in order to augment the audience's experience is another example. By creating exceptional entertainment: a fabulous set, a brilliant cast of characters and complex new routines – and some very nice new dancers – the show has already become a national talking point.

In Factual, distinctive output comes from raising the bar in terms of quality of ideas, research, access, talent, authenticity. Take Lambing Live – a candid, brilliantly-conceived depiction of life in the countryside. Or Hairy Bikers: Mum Knows Best – it was a show rooted in community that celebrated the joyousness of family life. Or The Young Ones – last week on BBC One – an ingenious examination of ageing.

As I said at the beginning, creative ambition is about scaling the heights and exceeding audience expectations. It's about really capitalising on the breadth and range of the BBC. And it's the polar opposite of lowest common denominator telly that does the minimum it can get away with.

I want to announce three new projects which I think exemplify the kind of ambition I've been talking about:

In 2012 – as well as showcasing the world's greatest sporting event – we'll be celebrating the genius of one of the world's greatest writers, William Shakespeare, in a season, comprising drama, documentary and film, which will explore the politics of Shakespeare, the context in which he was writing and the pure pleasure to be had from really understanding his characters and use of language.

Alongside the Shakespeare season, in the year of the Olympics, we're planning a major landmark series about London – a people's history of the capital that gets under the skin of this great city and provides vivid slices of life from past centuries.

And a year later – in 2013 – we'll mark the sixtieth anniversary of the very first mass TV experience. To commemorate both the day the nation tuned into the BBC for the Queen's Coronation – and our final year broadcasting from Television Centre – we'll go LIVE for a night on BBC One. Every programme in the schedule will have the vitality and ambition I witnessed at Elstree earlier this year.

In conclusion, Vision is in terrific shape to address the challenges I've set out today. And we all have a role to play. It's everyone's job to ensure that our values, our creativity, and the power of our channels, programme brands and online products continue to inform, educate and entertain.

By creating great content for audiences today and an enduring archive for future generations, we will continue to make the case for the precious value of public service broadcasting – and for the BBC as its cornerstone.