Peter Horrocks: Invest to Innovate - speech to staff

Date: 18.02.2014     Last updated: 18.03.2014 at 17.49
Category: World Service

Thank you for joining me.

I am speaking to you today from part of Broadcasting House, on the fourth floor, called the collaboration area. We are in the building that brought different teams from BBC Global News together for the first time. It is appropriate to be speaking to you from a hub of collaboration that represents how much has changed in recent years. Today I’m going to be looking back on those changes and telling you about the changes that I foresee in the years ahead.

In the next 30 minutes or so I will review the last few years in Global News. I will be announcing a major programme which I’m calling Invest to Innovate. That programme will be supported by a drive for further savings. And I will make a little extra announcement at the end.

You might find what I say about our future inspiring, sometimes daunting. I hope you find it interesting.

From April 1 this year, in just six weeks, the BBC will take on responsibility for funding the World Service, as it did for BBC Monitoring a year ago.

I welcome that greater independence. I also welcome the fact that we will not be subject to the kind of government-driven and unpredictable cuts the World Service and BBC Monitoring suffered just over three years ago and since

There were some tough messages that day in January 2011. Some even talked, wrongly and recklessly, of the death of the World Service. But I can stand here today and talk with pride about how we have weathered that period. I can say that you have all played your part in an era of enormous change – and prepared the BBC for a thriving future across the world. 

Far from dying, the World Service and the wider Global News are thriving through that modernisation.

The last three years

In the past three years we have evolved perhaps more than at any other time to keep up with the transformation of the media environment. Shortwave listening has been declining. TV is becoming the main source of news in many countries. In our key markets, internet access has been taking off, initially via PCs, and now even more rapidly via mobiles.

Our audiences are becoming younger. They are well-educated, confident and engaged in what’s going on in the world. With their intense use of social media, they want to participate in the news, comment on it, drive the news agenda and not just consume it.

In such a changing environment, competition has become tougher. Global state-funded and commercial players have been heavily investing. For example Chinese funding for international broadcasting has increased by sums measured in billions of dollars. At a country and regional level, news provision is rapidly increasing; Afghanistan, for example, now has 80 terrestrial TV stations and more than 170 radio stations.

We had to change to maintain our position as the leading international broadcaster in the world. That’s what we’ve done.

For BBC World Service, this modernisation began with ideas that came from you. BBC World Service Choices sessions, which started back in 2009, were organised for you to share your ideas about our priorities. Your ideas shaped our future.

However, the tough cuts to our funding from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) accelerated the process of change beyond what we would have wanted. The actual decline in the World Service funding was much higher than the 16%, taken out by the Foreign Office. It did not fully take into account extra costs such as pensions. In the end, we had to save £41m over three years.

Saving through efficiency was not enough. We needed to stop doing things. In addition to cuts to meet our reduced income, it was also essential to save further to put aside a small amount of money for new investments that have led to modernization.

We closed five language services, stopped radio broadcasts in seven languages, closed a number of World Service English programmes and reduced our shortwave and medium wave transmissions. These programmes and services had served their audiences for years and were highly valued by them. But in order to sustain our presence in higher priority areas, we had to lose them, painful as it was.

For those of us inside the BBC, the hardest part has been the job losses.

I want to pay tribute to the way managers dealt with the closure of posts, services, platforms and programmes, to the dignified way staff came to terms with the cuts.

Of course, it was not just BBC World Service that was affected. BBC Monitoring’s funding was cut by 18% over two years.

The recovery begins

But what makes me proud is that we took the reduction in funding not as a reason to be downcast and stagnant, but as a spur to innovation. The world around us was changing and we had to change.

It wouldn’t be right to say it was all about cuts. In other parts of BBC Global News we saw steady investment and improvement. BBC World News introduced a new sequence of programmes into weekdays and significantly improved its weekend schedule.

The BBC World Service Trust, now renamed BBC Media Action, has been the stand-out growth story in the past few years. It won a five year grant of £90 million from the UK government. It has been growing at about 20% p.a in recent years. It now has TV programmes on the World Service in five languages and radio programmes in nine languages.

So the picture was not all gloomy. But it became clear that to prosper as Global News, we needed to work better together as BBC Global News.

We needed to shift from local to global journalism, develop our bilingual skills further and become a truly multimedia organisation.

Moving to Broadcasting House

Moving to Broadcasting House created a wonderful opportunity for closer collaboration with the wider BBC. It also provided high-tech facilities which enabled us to respond rapidly to changing markets in key target areas in a cost-effective manner.

I am full of praise for the way the World Service said goodbye to Bush House, our home for more than 70 years, with much emotion, but embraced the new building so enthusiastically. In particular, it is most impressive that it succeeded in not letting the World Service ethos disappear, but brought it to Broadcasting House, to the benefit of both UK and global audiences.

With them from the other side of London, from Television Centre, came World News and BBC News Online. For the first time, three arms of Global News came together under one roof and we’ve been feeling the benefits ever since.

Two years ago, only on rare occasions would you see journalists from language services taking part in the BBC’s English programmes. Today, they have become an indispensable part of the BBC’s output. Truly the World’s Newsroom.

The day I announced those Comprehensive Spending Review cuts at the World Service was a hard day. But it was also the day new things were born. We could afford just one initial reinvestment - the creation of a pilot project, bringing together video producers from six language services to work in one team for the first time. That was the Global Video Unit. Now what it does seems obvious – make an original piece of content once and re-voice and republish it as widely as possible across all our outlets, with contributions and ideas from language services which reflect their perspectives.

And today they’re really flying – literally – as the only team anywhere in BBC News qualified to film with flying cameras or hexacopters. Three years ago it was tough to find the money. But that bet on innovation for the future has paid off handsomely. We need to do that again and again.

The innovations of recent years

In short, an amazing amount and I could not be prouder of our achievements.

Launching TV channels in languages and investing in digital had already been a success with the Persian and Arabic TV channels.

But there has been much more to do.

We needed to maintain our unique position as the largest international broadcaster in Africa. We needed to strengthen our radio offer on WS English, but to move to TV and mobile which has been rapidly growing across the continent. The move to Broadcasting House facilitated a closer collaboration between WS English, BBC World News and the African Hub. This collaboration resulted in the launch of Newsday on WS English, aimed largely at the breakfast audiences in Africa. We launched two new TV programmes, Focus On Africa on BBC World News and Dira ya Dunya in Swahili on partner stations throughout East Africa.

Now we have just launched a third African TV programme from BBC Afrique.

Last summer, we launched a Mobile First project in Hausa. That meant shorter stories ideal for mobile phones. It was a huge success. We have now started rolling it out for all our African audiences.

Although Hindi Radio still has a healthy audience of around 10m in India, its audience has been declining. But the Hindi TV programme, Global India, has been expanding week by week since its launch two year ago.

The Russian TV programme which was launched a year after the closure of the Russian Radio, has gained a reputation for robust independence. And the Urdu TV programme, Sairbeen, has been so successful that only a year after its launch is now expanding to five days a week. It will be re-launched in March with a new look and at primetime on a new partner station. 

But the environment has not always been easy. BBC Turkish had to suspend its partnership with its local TV partner because of the government’s restrictions on media during the Gezi park protests. But from this the Turkish Service seized a new opportunity. They shifted their resources innovatively to a Social First project, putting social media at the heart of their operation.

World News and BBC.com

On our commercial services, BBC World News and BBC.com, there’s been massive change.

In 2012, the BBC Trust Chairman, Lord Patten, and the BBC’s Executive identified that World News was not as strong as it should be and lacked sufficient editorial investment. They came up with a plan to improve the channel and integrated it commercially with the news parts of BBC.com. Global News Ltd, was launched in October 2012 and put in place a series of investments to strengthen BBC World News, while providing benefits to our digital and radio services.

Last year, when BBC World News moved to Broadcasting House, the channel re-launched with a fantastic new look from its state of the art HD studios. It introduced a refreshed line-up of programmes, with more space for analysis and debate.

BBC World News also introduced a new line-up of on-air talent including Komla Dumor, Yalda Hakim, Linda Yueh and Jon Sopel. This re-launch marked the biggest change ever for World News and audience research shows the changes are appreciated by audiences I know one viewer who is thrilled. Me! Every time I watch World News, I think how confident and creative it looks. 

Increased investment in bbc.com/news has doubled the traffic. In November 2013, average traffic levels were 50% higher compared to the same period in 2011. It has now more than 1 billion monthly page views. Its integration with BBC World News has enabled us to invest in more powerful innovations such as connected TV apps. The BBC is now proudly the world’s news leader in social media, re-tweeted far more than anyone else, almost double its nearest competitor. BBC World News & BBC.com attract a combined audience of 88 million every week.

Global perspective in a digital world

Our total estimated weekly audience is now a quarter of a billion. The World Service alone has an audience of 192m around the globe.

Figures show that all the hard work to get our language sites into responsive design is paying dividends for our audience. We have seen significant increases in traffic after each launch. Seventeen language websites – including all African sites are now responsive, that’s when their layout is automatically adjusted to the screen size and connectivity of the user’s mobile phone.

It was just a week ago that for the first time ever, visitors to World Service online broke the 50m monthly visitors mark.

But we have also established a remarkable presence in the UK on the BBC’s domestic output. World Service English has an audience of more than 1.4m in the UK- which takes us up to 2 million including the overnight audiences on other networks. It has also developed a strong relationship with BBC Radio 4 working jointly on global projects. A recent example was Today’s live presentation from Nigeria for the MINT season which was done in collaboration with Newsday.

Joining the Licence Fee makes contributing to and benefiting from the wider BBC News Group much easier. We have already taken advantage of the BBC’s new technology in Broadcasting House. Under licence fee funding lots of FCO accounting rules fall away, which will make it much easier to share content across News. BBC Monitoring’s contribution to the wider BBC has massively increased since their move to the Licence Fee. They now work more closely with the whole of news to share their unrivalled insight into media around the world, and Monitoring’s News from Elsewhere on the online Magazine is just one great example.

World Service English

Radio remains vital. It is our largest total platform by a long way. In spite of the impact of cuts on WS English, its audience has increased over the last three yearsperiod to 43m. WS English remains by far the biggest BBC radio network in terms of audience size.

WS English has been revamped since its move to Broadcasting House in 2012. Its daily news and current affairs output has changed a great deal to include new programmes such as The Newsroom and Business Matters.

A lot of WS English output is becoming multiplatform. The new programme, Outside Source, was launched on BBC World News yesterday following its successful introduction on radio a few months ago. As a graphics geek I loved seeing the programme go out last night and joining in with the team’s discussion about how this fluid interactive style can be pushed further.

A brilliant example of pioneering and collaborative journalism is BBC Trending which is on WS English with a blog on the online Magazine page and regular live slots on BBC World News. It works closely with Language Services and BBC Monitoring to spot and report topics that are trending on social media around the world. We’ll develop that concept further, for example with the Indian elections and the World Cup.

The Invest to Innovate plan

The BBC’s aim is for us to be the most trusted news provider in the world, while helping the BBC to reach the ambition of a total audience of 500 million people by 2022, the BBC’s centenary.

So how will we do that? Last week Tony Hall confirmed that the World Service budget from April 1 will be £245 million. That’s £6.5 million more than it received in this last year of Foreign Office funding. By making extra savings in the financial year starting in April we actually have £8m to invest.

This step up in funding in the next year is a deliberate decision by the BBC Executive and Trust to help repair some of the damage of the FCO cuts. The BBC will expect us to deliver a matching step up in creative and audience performance. I should be clear that BBC World Service is also expected to continue to find more efficient ways of working-saving money is not optional. I will say more on that in a minute.

But in this coming financial year, we do have extra money to invest and I want to give you the details of the Invest to Innovate plan.

Radio innovation

Let me start with radio. If the World Service is the foundation of the entire BBC, as the Director-General wrote last week, then radio is the bedrock on which those foundations have been built.

And it is as important to our future as it has been to our past. So, we’ll put investment into the Partner Production Hub that World Service English has pioneered so successfully – helping us to target World Service English content at specific partner stations and their audiences. More of our future listening is going to come to us through partners, so we need to invest more in this area.

We will reach out to younger audiences who may not have traditionally listened to our network. A team of journalists from four different language services, African English, Swahili, Urdu and Pashto/Dari, is currently working on pilots with the working title of Global Newsbeat – creating radio bulletins with a style and agenda that appeals to young listeners, along with a digital offer that will engage them. This will allow us to build partnerships with a wider range of radio stations, and to introduce a new generation to the BBC.

We’ll also put more money into helping Witness, the epitome of a thoughtful and original World Service radio programme, turn itself into a multimedia, multilingual brand. It will deliver the many of its interviews in video, for TV and online and also for languages – Persian is already running the pilot video programmes.

And I’m keen that our brilliant audio is delivered more cleverly to audiences on new platforms. The BBC iPlayer radio app will launch internationally later this year, with World Service radio at its heart. And my eye was caught by an article recently that wondered why audio doesn’t 'go viral', as they say, as easily as pictures or words. I am putting aside some money for innovation in audio distribution. The Global Future project will be holding sessions to hear your ideas for innovative distribution of audio.

Video innovation

Our TV and video investment is already paying off, so we will put more bets on that. The fruits of some of that investment are already visible. There are new video news bulletins in French for Africa, Pashto and Kyrgyz. Burmese television is coming soon. Prince Charles was an enthusiastic viewer of their piloting just last week.

We’ll complete the programme of transferring all our language websites into the responsive mobile technology. We will invest further in social media technology and skills.

We’ll also put more effort and more investment into making our content feel as close and as relevant to our audiences as possible. So, we’ll launch an African edition of our BBC News website – to go with the US edition and the new Asia edition.

Languages innovation

We’ll continue to develop bilingual reporters from World Service languages – because they bring immediacy, expertise and understanding of a story to all output, both internationally and domestically.

We’re going to invest in translating more of the original features and text series carried on BBC.com for language services – increasing the richness of their offer to audiences. We’re launching a pilot scheme, using external translators to deliver more of the original content published on sites like BBC Travel to the Russian website and BBC Mundo. We know our audiences want more of this kind of content, and it simply doesn’t make sense not to translate and share more of it around. But asking our highly-skilled language journalists to spend more time simply working as translators doesn’t seem to me to be the best use of their talents or good value for money. If we can contract out translation, and still ensure high standards, we’ll do more of it. BBC Monitoring, for example, already uses external translation contractors who deliver to the standards we require.

Digital innovation

And we’ll also invest more in BBC Trending. You’ll see the BBC Trending brand building on its excellent start.

We know our global audiences are interested in genres like technology, business, science, health – and want in depth stimulating material in these areas, and collectively BBC News make a large amount of original video in these. We have already created two new specialist roles of Global Health Reporter and Global Science Reporter. But we’ve not yet really cracked how to deliver long form programmes in a way which is sustainable across multiple languages. How do we ensure programmes like Health Check, Click and the various Business Reports on World News deliver the maximum benefit not only to their own audiences, but to the largest possible audiences across Global News? I’ll expect the Global Future project to lead our thinking in this area.

Overall, I estimate we will be creating around 130 new posts in the coming financial year. I am not expecting there to be any extra editorial post closures in the year from April, except those already announced, for instance as a result of the Finance Effectiveness programme.

Savings in order to invest

So there will be a respite on editorial job cuts, for a year, but we will need significant further editorial and organisational savings in subsequent years. How will we do this after years of squeeze?

We may need to do as we did three years ago. Simply cut back where our offers are no longer so effective. But we need to find real efficiencies also. Particularly as part of an integrated BBC. Some examples:

The World Service will save money next year by a reduction in shortwave transmission. The Integrated International Bureau project, bringing all the back office work of our overseas news operations together, will also save us money. But it’s not enough.

Multilingual reporting, deploying teams who can file for their own service and English or another language should also help drive savings. But we’ll still need to do more.

We need to save at least £15 million pounds to fund new investments across the World Service in the next three years. We have already identified about half of that saving. So we need to find at least £8m extra in savings. That is going to be a real stretch.

To do that, to invest again in our own futures, we’ll need your help. I want all World Service staff to play a role, and there will be gatherings to enable you to share your ideas. We have done it before through World Service Choices. Let me be clear as I was then. If you decide not to get involved, it doesn’t stop the process. It just means you will have no say in it and the savings ideas won’t benefit from the suggestions of those closest to the output, who often know how we can make output more efficiently.

Self-help funding

There’s also another vital way of funding new investments. We can look to bring more top up money in from outside the BBC. World News and BBC.com have been doing this for years.

But the World Service, BBC Monitoring and BBC Media Action already do it, in different ways. The World Service has gained from commercial income for many years. We take syndication revenues. We have begun taking advertising on Arabic, Mundo and Russian websites and a successful pilot in Berlin on FM. This year we have a target of £3m extra in income.

Both the FCO and the BBC Trust have told the World Service to increase this type of funding and we are investigating ways we can achieve this – for example through sponsorship of non-news content, or the extension of advertising to some other language sites and funding contributions to certain content from appropriate foundations and philanthropic institutions.

The NUJ have already criticised the Trust’s decisions on funding as foolish and dangerous. The union also said such extra funding cast doubt on the BBC’s editorial integrity. For some reason the NUJ seem to be ignoring the jobs of dozens of its members working on BBC World News and BBC.com whose employment is already supported by advertising and sponsorship. We know, through audience research, that our international audiences cast no doubt on the BBC’s integrity when content is commercially supported.

The vital thing to remember is that this type of funding has the potential to enable the World Service to invest more in its content and services, without increasing the cost to our new funders – licence fee payers. To be clear, there will not be advertising on the World Service in the UK. I’d like to personally emphasise that maintaining our editorial integrity and our commitment to broadcast impartial and independent news will always take precedence over any commercial goals and I told the Foreign Affairs Committee last week of examples where we had turned down funding. There will be no compromise here.

BBC Monitoring brings in commercial revenue, and will be working hard to increase the amount of money it generates commercially. BBC Media Action’s success in securing external funds has benefited the BBC World Service too. Last year, around 200 hours of World Service output was supported by BBC Media Action.

BBC Media Action also has a track record of working in partnership with outside organisations to fund its activities. That’s an area where I think we could do more, where other parts of Global News can learn from Media Action. Partnerships with cultural and educational organisations, like the Open University, can support the creation of innovative, multi-platform content, and source new funding and I want to see ideas for how we increase partnerships and benefit from new sources of funding across Global News.

An integrated BBC

The World Service’s Operating Licence which defines the characteristics of the World Service requires it to primarily serve its global audiences. But it also requires the World Service to serve the UK audience by adding international depth to the domestic output.

It means bilingual reporting and direct contribution to the domestic output is not an option any more, but a requirement. We need to integrate further within BBC News as part of this settlement.

Director of News, James Harding, and I expect all the teams across Global News, from the World Service, BBC Monitoring, BBC World News, BBC.com and Media Action, to work seamlessly together within News and the wider BBC. I expect everyone to understand that serving the UK audience, our new funders, is an essential and welcome part of our mission.

I acknowledge that there might be fears that with more integration, BBC World Service would lose its identity and potentiall resources. Three years ago, there were similar fears. But rather than succumb to fear we were confident. Confident in our beliefs and our abilities. That carried us successfully into an integrated building. And it will carry us to success in an integrated BBC.

The World Service Group

I want to announce one further change that will help reinforce the identity of the World Service. You will know that the Director-General has asked that BBC bureaucracy and titles be simplified. For instance Vision became TV. We have had two labels – Global News and World Service. From April 1, we will change the name of Global News. Instead there will be a World Service Group – a sort of World Service plus – consisting of World Service, BBC Global News Ltd, BBC Monitoring and BBC Media Action. It is a small but symbolic change that cements the World Service name. A huge part of our heritage – vital to our future.

At the same time with the end of Foreign Office funding, we’ll end the role of the World Service Board.

Komla

But I don’t want to end with bureaucracy. I want to end with an inspiring individual – Komla Dumor. Tomorrow I fly to Accra for his funeral. Komla’s death is an appalling tragedy. But out of that catastrophe, I think it is vital to find some good. In Ghana I expect to announce the creation of a prize for young journalists in Africa, to be named after Komla. And for the World Service I want to commemorate him in a commitment to the journalism he stood for. That is what our future will be about.

This is what I said at the service for Komla in St Martin in the Fields:

“There will be many ways of marking Komla’s memory. But the surest one will be in our commitment to the BBC’s global journalists, for whom he blazed a path and opened doors, carrying on his legacy - the best talent from all around the world telling the world about the world.”

Summary

I believe that by the changes we have made, the support we are now receiving from the BBC, and the deployment of our best talents, that vision of the BBC’s talented global journalists can be secured for the future.

For those who are worried about our future, let me assure you in my view it is brighter than it has ever been. We will reach more people around the world and in the UK than ever before. We will make outstanding content delivered in ways we had never imagined. Thank you for all that you’ve done to get us here. With this Invest to Innovate plan we can face the future after April 1 with absolute confidence.