Tony Hall - Technology Innovators Forum

Date: 14.10.2013     Last updated: 18.03.2014 at 17.55
Category: Corporate
Speech given by Tony Hall, BBC Director-General, at the Technology Innovators Forum at Broadcasting House on Monday 14 October 2013.

I was born in Birkenhead in the 1950s. And as I grew up on Merseyside all around me were the sights and sounds of a creative revolution.

This revolution didn't happen by accident.

It happened because Liverpool is a port city - connected to the world.

Because the great sounds of American blues and the energy of rock and roll were experienced first by the young people of Merseyside.

And because technology - recording tape, cheap guitars, better amplification - let people experiment with creating, making art themselves rather than just experiencing it.

The result was the Mersey scene - people feeding off each other, gaining inspiration, contacts, commercial support and self-confidence.

You couldn't grow up where I grew up without being moved by this great creative surge and without appreciating how so much creativity depends upon bringing people together.

But after university came more.

I found myself at another place that brings people together to do something creative and exceptional – the BBC.

The creation and development of a public service broadcaster was and remains - in my view - one of Britain's most imaginative acts.

I am passionate about what it has enabled us to do.

And one of the most important reasons why I am passionate about it, is the reason we are here today.

It is the ability of the BBC to help Britain's creative industries.

It has occasionally been argued that the existence of the BBC might crowd out creative endeavour, stifling talent and using its market weight to crush entrepreneurial innovation.

Yet this argument - whatever theoretical power it is able to muster - has always - in the end - failed.

And the reason for this failure is simple but powerful. Whatever it may look like on a piece of paper, we are able to point to what actually happens.

In practice the argument just isn’t right.

In practice, the BBC has not stifled talent and innovation. It has not crushed the entrepreneur.

In practice, it has done the opposite.

Why is this? Three reasons above all.

The first is because of how creativity works.

Every modern academic account of the origins of ideas and innovation stresses the importance of connectedness. Ideas - carried by people - collide with each other.

They come together, producing more than the sum of their parts.

The BBC acts as catalyst for creativity. It acts as a great place where people meet and spark off each other. A great place to incubate ideas and spread them.

Secondly, we help create a competition for quality which raises standards for all our audiences.

That is the common experience across Europe, by the way. Where there is a high level of public investment in broadcasting, it is matched by a high level of commercial investment.

Here in the UK, we have an extremely high standard of commercial broadcasting and production.

And finally, we have inspired and supported entrepreneurs because we work at it. We believe that the licence fee gives us a responsibility to stimulate this country's creative industries, and this is a responsibility we take seriously.

At the BBC, we know that we are uniquely placed to help creative talent and entrepreneurs meet each other - reach their potential - find an audience - find a market.

So that’s what we will do.

And this is the beginning of a dialogue, not the end.

Why creative industries matter to Britain

Earlier this year, having been Chairman of the Cultural Olympiad, I went to Rio: I was told I was an envoy from the most creative country in the world.

The creative economy accounts for around one-tenth of the whole UK economy and employs around 2.5 million people. In other words, it employs more people than the financial services industry, more people than the construction industry. And in recent years, this creative workforce has grown four times faster than the workforce as a whole.

On top of this, the creative sector is one in which the UK has a comparative advantage internationally, and for which there are huge prospects for growth. Dancing With the Stars and Downton Abbey are just two of our great British TV exports.

The UK is one of only three countries that are net exporters of music.

In TV, the UK is the second largest exporter of programmes, with BBC Worldwide – our global, commercial arm – in the vanguard of British television’s international growth.

And two of the top three newspaper websites in the world are British - the Mail Online and the Guardian Unlimited.

So it matters that we can help.

And it matters that we do what we can.

How the BBC will help

What does it mean to be a creative catalyst?

It means we are going to help the industry take risks.

First, we are going to provide the risk capital that gets creative projects off the ground. We do this already. Now we are going to build on what we do.

Throughout our history, we have been a stable source of demand for the best ideas and for the best work of UK writers, producers and artists.

We invest around £1 billion outside the BBC in the UK TV and radio sectors - including commissioning over 700 independent TV, radio and online production companies.

We are proud to broadcast some of the finest programmes from the independent sector – from Love Productions' The Great British Bake Off to Wall To Wall’s Who Do You Think You Are.

A strong independent sector is a strong BBC.

BBC Films provides a brilliant example of the BBC at its best. The amazing Philomena - about a woman’s search for the son she gave up for adoption - is about to go on general release. It stars Dame Judi Dench and Steve Coogan, and is directed by Stephen Frears.

We developed this story, introduced the writers to each other, helped to secure a brilliant director and pledged £1 million in production finance. When we put our money in, so did others – the BFI and Pathe – so the film could be made and distributed. A great British creative success story.

Consider the impact of this investment and involvement on the British economy. It means that every £1 spent on the BBC through the licence fee, produces £2 of value through jobs, economic opportunities and expenditure in the economy.

In all, that means the BBC generates £8 billion of economic value for the UK.

But our role is bigger than that. The second part of helping the industry take risks is to help make markets in which others can thrive.

The BBC helps to stimulate demand for new technologies.

We have a proud history of innovation. We brought colour TV to the British people for the first time, for instance, and contributed directly to new digital infrastructure for digital television and radio.

And because we have always believed in open standards – making these new technologies open to all – that innovation has been used by others to create successful consumer products and businesses.

Digital Terrestrial Television, or DTT, is a good example.

Back in 2002, DTT was on its knees. A coalition led by the BBC rebuilt DTT. Today, Freeview is the most popular TV platform in the UK, used in over three-quarters of homes, providing more choice for viewers, and a platform for dozens of new commercial digital channels.

The UK’s switch to digital television was completed last year. It was the biggest single change to broadcasting in a generation. And it was delivered on time and way under budget.

Another example is the BBC website.

One of the proudest achievements in my career was the creation of the BBC news website.

In November 1997, I was the Director of News here, and launched the site onto an internet that was still in its infancy. By putting the wealth of our journalism online - we encouraged our audiences online.

Ten years later, 9 per cent of people in the UK who used the internet said that one of the main reasons they started to do so was because of BBC Online.

The British public leads the world both in the adoption of the internet for e-commerce and in accessing creative media. That is not a coincidence. Great programmes, free at the point of use, have created the conditions for others to thrive online.

The iPlayer was launched in 2007. Now it streams or downloads almost 3 billion TV and radio programme requests a year, at the same time stimulating demand for broadband and mobile. Thirteen per cent of iPlayer users say it is a reason they got home broadband in the first place.

We encourage ‘early adopters’ to take-up these new technologies, while trying to ensure that no-one is excluded.

Using our great content, we want to encourage the millions of UK adults still offline to get online, and help those with basic digital skills. We are working with Martha Lane Fox and Go On UK, and participating in their current initiative in the North East of England.

The critics are therefore missing the point when they suggest that the BBC crowds out the market. On the contrary, the BBC is a great social invention precisely because it helps markets, because it aids competition, because it lifts all boats.

The third part of our programme to be a creative catalyst is to help the market for digital programmes grow.

Just 10 per cent of the public service content commissioned by the BBC finds its way onto commercial platforms like Amazon and iTunes. We are going to overcome this barrier to the success of British creative producers.

Last week, I announced the planned introduction of BBC Store - a BBC-branded storefront selling digital copies of BBC programmes for our audiences to buy and keep.

It will offer access to more BBC programmes than ever before, including all recent programmes that the BBC has broadcast, and a selection of older programmes.

This is a great story for UK audiences. And a great opportunity for the UK creative sector to find new ways to sell their programmes.

And one more new idea – Playlister will help our audiences find the music they love on the BBC. They will play it back in partnership with companies like Spotify, YouTube and Deezer.

Our role is really valued by the music industry. Last week, David Joseph, head of Universal UK told us, “The BBC is at the heart of music within the UK... it’s absolutely in its DNA”.

The benefits of this programme

The benefit of this action - to help the industry take risks, to help make better content, to help innovate, to help find markets - will be felt all over Britain.

Indeed it already is being felt far beyond London and the South East.

Take the home of BBC Scotland. Because we located there, what was once a derelict bank of the Clyde is now part of a thriving area which is also host to STV, and home to hits such as Mrs Brown’s Boys.

Or take Salford. Basing our sports and children’s team there, the BBC became the anchor tenant for the new Media City – established to serve the people of the North of England.

As we hoped and expected, our commitment has attracted others to Salford – including ITV, which will move from central Manchester to make Coronation Street there.

Or take Cardiff Bay, where we have built a drama production village at Roath Lock. It’s now the BBC's biggest drama centre in the UK, home to Doctor Who and Casualty. That’s helped develop a critical mass of local talent across TV production.

And the independent production companies behind BBC shows like Sherlock, Merlin and now Atlantis have all been attracted to South Wales.

So we spread economic benefits to all parts of our country.

And we are also spreading the best of British values abroad, and a view of Britain which is remarkably influential.

In a recent survey of 900 business leaders in the US, India and Australia, nearly two thirds said the BBC was the main way they found out about the UK.

And over half of the entire sample said that they were more likely to do business with the UK because of what they knew about the BBC.

Our global operations – Global News, the World Service and BBC Worldwide – are invaluable in shaping perceptions and enhancing the UK’s international reputation.

This economic impact isn’t produced just by the quantity of investment. It’s the result of the quality of investment – the BBC taking risks and encouraging others to take risks.

Getting everyone involved

There is, however, one final part of being a creative catalyst that I feel particularly strongly about.

The BBC finds and nurtures talent. I want to make sure we do it from every part of our country.

We are already the largest commissioner of new music and new writing in the UK. We provide a stage for the talented to excel and be discovered.

In 2011, a 16-year-old singer/songwriter from Nottingham was invited to a BBC masterclass to learn from the Kaiser Chiefs. That summer, he played at the BBC Introducing stage at Glastonbury. This summer, Jake Bugg was one of Glastonbury’s headline acts, as one of this country’s top singers, with fans around the world.

But we are committed to finding talent backstage, as well as among performers.

We are determined to help the creative economy by finding the most talented in our nation, and, once found, giving them the skills to realise their full potential.

When I was in charge of the Royal Opera House, I was determined that opera, ballet and the arts should be open to those of talent wherever they came from. I moved our workshops to Thurrock, and helped set up the Creative & Cultural skills academy there, raising skill levels in performance and music.

We gave children as young as five the inspiration of seeing opera and ballet live - and seeing how it is made.

The breakthrough for me was when Thurrock Council proudly said on its council tax leaflets it was home to the Royal Opera House.

In the same way - here at the BBC - I want to build a ladder of opportunity for the talented. I want to open up the BBC to more people - to people from every part of the country - to people from a greater variety of backgrounds. And in doing so, I want to expand the pool of trained talent available to the whole creative sector.

I am proud to say that we already have 70 apprentices in areas as diverse as engineering and TV production management. These are the talented young people without university qualifications, and some with only the most basic GCSEs.

I have recently announced that every local radio station in the UK will have an apprentice by 2015. We cannot accept a situation where you can only join our industry if you are lucky enough to have somewhere to stay in London, or lucky enough to have parents who can afford to let you work for free. So across the country, the BBC will train talented young people where they live.

Now I want to announce that we will go further.

By the end of the Charter - or even sooner I hope - 1 per cent of the entire public service will be made up of apprentices.

That’s 170 apprentices in all - 170 people coming in to the BBC and being given the skills to join the industry. And remember that this means the skills not just to join our workforce, but also independent TV and radio and digital companies.

We are going to build a ladder of opportunity for talented individuals, regardless of their start in life. We are going to find and train talented people for the good of the whole of our sector.


The BBC sees it as a vital part of its public service responsibility to stimulate the creative industries.

A modern mission.

Let creator talk unto creator.

Let British creative industries benefit from this country's vision and foresight in establishing this great public service.

Let this service be a hub, an inspirer, a meeting place, a stimulator.

So that in one of the most exciting countries in the world, some of the most exciting people in the world can do some of the most exciting, mind expanding work in the world.