Charlotte Moore speech to the Voice of the Listener & Viewer

One of the biggest reasons that popular television is so good in this country is precisely because of the BBC’s role as a driving force in the ‘competition for quality’. We aim to be the best in every genre, and if one of the other broadcasters responds by coming along with something really good, we aim to be even better – and our audiences are the biggest winners.Charlotte Moore, Controller, BBC TV Channels and iPlayer
Date: 19.04.2016     Last updated: 19.04.2016 at 11.30
Category: Corporate
Speech by Charlotte Moore, Controller of BBC TV Channels and iPlayer, to the Voice of the Listener & Viewer, on 19 April 2016.

What does a more distinctive BBC mean for audiences?

It's an honour to join you here today at my first Voice of the Listener and Viewer Conference.

And it’s a real privilege to speak directly to an organisation that represents audiences.

I want to begin by thanking you for your continuing and enduring support for the BBC. It was so encouraging to see such an overwhelming reaction from the public to the Government’s consultation on our future.

Nearly 200,000 responses… the DCMS described it as “unprecedented”.

And the message was clear. More than 80 per cent said the BBC is serving its audiences well. Around three-quarters said our services are high-quality and distinctive, and around three-quarters think we deliver value for money.

They want us to remain independent from government and politicians. They want us to remain universal, for everyone. They want us to stay true to the mission that has served them for almost 100 years, that does so much for the creative industries in this country, and so much for Britain around the world.

It adds up to an extraordinary degree of public support for a BBC that continues to do what it does best for its audiences… But is always on the lookout for ways of doing it even better.

And it’s that goal – serving our audiences even better – that I want to focus on now.

And I want to do it by talking about that word: “distinctive”.

An important moment

You all know that we are meeting here today at a vitally important moment for public service broadcasting and the BBC’s Charter Review.

The Government has confirmed the White Paper will be published next month. But that’s only the start of the process. And in the meantime we need to continue to hear the views and support of our audiences, and to continue to make our case.

That’s why the BBC has today published a report which emphasizes the importance of distinctiveness in the programmes and services we offer, and sets out how we believe that enhancing our distinctiveness in the future will make those programmes and services even better.

So, as Controller of the BBC’s television channels and iPlayer, I want to take this opportunity to talk about two things:

First, what distinctiveness really means to our audiences. And second, what a renewed focus on distinctiveness will mean for our channels and programmes in the future.

But perhaps the best way to start is by giving you a flavour of the BBC’s distinctiveness in action…


Now, call me biased, but I believe that film shows a BBC on top creative form.

And I also believe that it’s a great example of our distinctive programming.

But when we talk about “distinctive” – which we do a lot, with politicians and executives, in meetings and debates on the Charter Review – what does it really mean for our audiences?

What distinctive means for our audiences 

1. Quality

Firstly, most obviously, it means quality.

Drama that carries the unique hallmark of the BBC – Sherlock and Luther, The Night Manager and Line Of Duty, Call The Midwife, Doctor Foster and Wallander, The Hollow Crown, Wolf Hall and War & Peace...

Factual programming that is best in class – David Attenborough’s Giant Dinosaur and The Hunt, Nick Robinson’s Europe: Them Or Us, Back In Time For The Weekend, The Met and The Real Marigold Hotel...

Comedy programmes that give creative freedom to our very best talent, like Peter Kay’s Car Share, Tracey Ullman’s Show and Citizen Khan...  

Entertainment that brings the country together like nothing else, like Strictly and Bake Off...

Our audiences demand that all our programmes, across all our genres, should aspire to be best in class.

So it is that focus on quality that has to be a major part of what sets us apart.

2. Ambition

Secondly, distinctive means ambition.

Because of the unique way we are funded, through the licence fee, we have the unique privilege of creative freedom.

We don’t need to be led by the market – by what has worked before or by what people think might work next.

We can be led by creativity – by giving the country’s best creative talent the freedom to pursue their best creative ideas.

Yes, it means risking failure – but that is part of aiming for the best.

And it also means programmes that are defined by their ambition: to take risks, push boundaries, try new things… Innovate, challenge, and surprise.

Our Shakespeare Festival is the perfect example: partnering with some of the country’s leading arts organisations to bring Shakespeare’s genius to life for millions of people around the UK, across all of our platforms.

BBC One becomes The Globe, with a bold and accessible adaptation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream by Russell T Davies.

Meanwhile, David Tennant takes over BBC Two for Shakespeare Live! From The RSC. That’s alongside a new series of The Hollow Crown from Pippa Harris and Sam Mendes, starring Judi Dench and Benedict Cumberbatch. And Arena’s Shakespeare On Film on BBC Four, accompanied by a selection of the international films it features.

Not to mention comedy, with Ben Elton’s Upstart Crow, and Philomena Cunk’s unique, authored documentary take on the Bard...

At the same time, we are making Shakespeare available – and irresistible – to a new generation. Our new Shakespeare Archive Resource gives unique access for schools, colleges and universities to hundreds of BBC Television and Radio broadcasts of Shakespeare’s plays and documentaries.

CBBC and CBeebies have a raft of Shakespeare programmes, including a Horrible Histories special, a Shakespearean edition of Blue Peter, and a special CBeebies-own performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Right across the BBC we are staging a season of unprecedented ambition, reach and impact, celebrating his life and work on a scale that has never been done before.

3. Range

Thirdly, distinctive means range.

The BBC is universal. It has a duty to serve everyone, every licence fee payer – whoever they are, wherever they come from.

We have to provide programmes across a uniquely broad range of genres – and you can see from the film, we do it better than anyone else. And in each genre, we have to aim to provide the very best programmes.

That means the best in cutting-edge factual and drama. And it also means the best in mainstream entertainment.

‘Popular’ cannot be a dirty word. It has been said many times: The BBC’s job is to make the good popular and the popular good.

And one of the biggest reasons that popular television is so good in this country is precisely because of the BBC’s role as a driving force in the ‘competition for quality’.

We aim to be the best in every genre, and if one of the other broadcasters responds by coming along with something really good, we aim to be even better – and our audiences are the biggest winners.

This is why it makes no sense to say that the BBC should not focus on the popular, or should only do what others don’t.

Imagine if, when one of our programmes becomes popular, we stop making it.

Or if, when one of our competitors responds to a hit by producing something similar, we pulled ours from the schedules.

Then the audiences get less for their licence fee, and the competition for quality disappears.

So we have to aim to be the best in all genres - and for the extraordinary range of the BBC, and the depth of quality within each genre, to set us apart.

4. Home-grown talent

Fourthly, distinctive means home grown.

Thirty years ago, a fifth of BBC One’s peak-time schedule was made up of expensively acquired American series, like Kojak and Dallas, The Dukes Of Hazzard and Starsky And Hutch. Today that proportion is zero.

That’s because our priority is quality British programming: a high level of first-run, UK-originated content across the whole of the BBC.

Today we are the largest single investor in British ideas and talent. Our goal is to nurture that talent and turn it into great programmes for our audiences.

And it is also to take those great, British programmes to the world.

Not just for the benefit of the UK’s creative economy, or even for Britain’s cultural impact abroad.

But also because it allows us to re-invest the proceeds back into more home-grown hits, and the next generation of home-grown talent.

Think of our finest writers like Sally Wainwright, Steven Moffat and Hugo Blick; Steve Knight, Abi Morgan and Jed Mercurio; Peter Bowker, Kay Mellor and Peter Moffat; Heidi Thomas, Mike Bartlett, Tony Jordan and Tom Rob Smith.

So... Quality, ambition, range, and home-grown talent.

Our aim is that these are the distinctive trademarks and defining measures of BBC programming.

So by focusing on distinctiveness, and committing to strengthen it further across all our programmes and services – as we are doing today – we are making a major investment in what we offer our audiences, and the value they get for their licence fee.

What distinctiveness means for our channels and programmes

So what does this strengthened commitment mean for our channels and programmes?

Looking at the report we have published today, what strikes me most is how distinctive our services – and BBC One in particular – already are. And they are getting more so.

Between 2006 and 2014, data from Ofcom shows that the percentage of BBC One viewers rating the channel highly for ‘new ideas and different approaches’ rose from 43 to 62.

BBC One also ranks top when viewers are asked to assess channels on how far ‘the style of the programmes is different’ from what they’d expect to see elsewhere. Sixty-two per cent of viewers rate BBC One highly on this basis, with BBC Two in second place on 59 per cent.

Research from the BBC Trust backs up Ofcom’s figures. They also track distinctiveness by asking the public each year how far they agree that the BBC ‘has lots of fresh and new ideas’.

Again, the proportion who agree is more than 60 per cent – and rising.

And when it comes to individual BBC channels, all of them have seen a rise on the ‘fresh and new’ index in the past few years – with BBC One seeing the biggest: to more than 70 per cent.

So as well as being the most popular television channel – with more than three quarters of the UK population tuning in every day – BBC One is also the most distinctive.

It has been my mission over the last three years to make it so.

We have pushed distinctiveness and risk-taking through everything we do – challenging production teams to produce ideas that are ever more innovative.

Now the challenge is to do the same across all of our channels.

A distinct character and purpose

So I want to say a little about how I plan to drive distinctiveness through each, and ensure that every one has its distinct character and purpose.

For me, BBC One helps to make Britain great. It unites us as a nation around the big, shared moments – political, historic, sporting and cultural.

Look at last year’s Bake Off final, watched live by a peak of more than 14 million people.

It’s the place for the nation to come together, to have a national conversation. But it’s also the place where everyone knows they are going to find programmes that are timely and relevant, and speak to a wide audience - the channel that tackles big, universal subjects, and stories that people care about, stories that become part of our everyday conversation.

Last year was BBC One’s most successful in nearly a decade, with 42 million people tuning in every week.

Yes, they come to be entertained. But they are informed and educated along the way.

My ambition is for BBC One to be popular and good - unashamedly so – to make sure we connect with as big, broad and diverse a British audience as possible.

But it is also for it to be brave and pioneering, to push boundaries.

Look at what we have seen at peak-time in recent weeks:

  • Not just The Night Manager and War & Peace, but the 20-part Dickensian, the return of Happy Valley, and the launch of Undercover;
  • Tough, topical content: films like the 90-minute Abused: The Untold Story; documentaries like Behind Closed Doors; and seasons like ‘In the mind’, a whole range of programmes on mental health;
  • Timely, thought-provoking drama like The A Word – coinciding with autism awareness week, as well as with Employable Me on BBC Two;
  • Hard-hitting journalism, like Panorama’s slate of investigations into big issues such as youth prison abuse, big tobacco bribery and the Panama papers;
  • Fascinating factual, like Angela Rippon’s How To Stay Young and Shop Well For Less.

And, to come, we have a special, feature-length documentary for the Queen’s Birthday, Elizabeth At 90 on Thursday night, and David Attenborough at 90 next month. We have the return of Paxman on the EU referendum. We have more Poldark and The Missing.

We’re bringing new life to our best-loved sitcom classics as part of our landmark sitcom season, including Porridge, Are You Being Served? and a new prequel to Keeping Up Appearances: Young Hyacinth.

And we’ve got extraordinary sport with Euros 2016, the Rio Olympics and The Invictus Games - with Gareth Malone bringing his war veterans choir to BBC One - not to mention the new deal we have signed for the FA Cup.

Of course, we’re going to nurture our big brands – Strictly on Saturday night, Countryfile, Songs Of Praise and Antiques Roadshow on Sundays – but we also need to have the courage to bring new stories, new perspectives and new talent to the channel.

Like Brian Cox, whose Forces Of Nature will be his first series for BBC One, unveiling the forces that make our planet what it is.

Or Lucy Worsley, whose Henry VIII’s Six Wives is an ambitious, ground-breaking approach to history and drama.

Or Tim Roth and Anna Maxwell Martin, the stars of one-off drama by Jimmy McGovern, Reg Keys, about a man who takes on the Prime Minister over the Iraq War.

But if BBC One is about informing while we entertain, BBC Two is about entertaining while we inform. If BBC One unites us and celebrates all the things we have in common, then BBC Two is about exploring everything that’s different about our world - stretching the mind and showing you places and subjects you haven’t seen before. Challenging the status quo, inspiring original thinking and giving a voice to new perspectives and different opinions.

I said recently that I want to make BBC Two confident again, to give it a far greater sense of identity - to make it a place for talent to do their most distinctive, signature work.

That means a new focus on authorship: singular perspectives in drama; in documentaries, the return of the director’s voice.

The resurgence of drama has already been an incredible story – look at Line Of Duty and The Hollow Crown. And we’re about to see more Peaky Blinders, Anthony Hopkins in King Lear and NW from Zadie Smith.

Comedy too has a great tradition, with shows like W1A, Inside No 9 and The Wrong Mans. And we have just announced an adaption of Evelyn Waugh’s Decline And Fall.

But while drama, comedy and entertainment all have a crucial role, I want to put factual proudly at the heart of BBC Two.

Of course, Top Gear is nearly here. And it is looking fantastic.

But I want to embrace all the specialisms from science, history and religion to current affairs, natural history, documentaries, music and the arts.

That means David Attenborough on bioluminescence, Mary Beard’s Ultimate Rome, and Civilisation.

Breaking into Europe, addressing one of the big issues of our time; Secrets Of The Human Body, changing the way we think about ourselves; 1066, bringing our unique history to life in ways that have never been seen before.

I also want BBC Two to be the flagship channel for contemporary arts and music – part of the major increase in music and arts spending we have made across all of television in the past few years.

A channel that takes culture seriously, but is playful and surprising too. That connects audiences to arts and artists like never before.

From September, we’re building a really ambitious run of Saturday nights dedicated to arts, music and performance.

It’s filled with world-class documentaries from directors like Julien Temple, and specials on writers like Sue Townsend and Maya Angelou.

And we’re going behind the scenes of great cultural institutions like Tate and the Royal Ballet.

Of course, BBC Four plays a vital role in the BBC’s arts and music story too.  

It’s a channel dedicated to culture and ideas, feeding people’s curiosity about the world with content that’s timeless.

It’s for adventurous minds, the home of international drama and foreign documentary - where our audiences come to be educated, to explore our cultural heritage, to delve that bit deeper. And, through education, to be informed and entertained too.

You saw it on the film, with programmes like Deaf United, and Twiggy presenting the first episode of People’s History Of Pop.

We’ve got a season exploring architecture at home and abroad, with programmes from Dan Cruickshank, Jonathan Meades and Nick Broomfield.

We’ve got Danielle de Niese giving us a backstage pass to her preparations for the role of Rosina in Glyndebourne’s The Barber Of Seville. And we’ve got poet and rapper Akala telling the story of Roots Reggae.

I have spoken about our Shakespeare Festival, but Akala’s Roots Reggae programme is part of another important season that will reach right across our channels - a raft of new programming across BBC TV that reveals how black history has shaped our country, and explores what it means to be black in Britain today.

David Olusoga’s A Black History Of Britain will be right at its heart on BBC Two, alongside Back In Time For Brixton and How Black Footballers Transformed Modern Britain.

It’s another example of how ambitious and creative we can be in pushing ideas across the portfolio.

And it’s part of my personal commitment to championing and driving diversity throughout our channels in its broadest sense: representing and reflecting the whole of the UK - all nations, all regions; all classes, races and ages; all genders and sexualities.


So on BBC One, we are going to continue to challenge what popular mainstream television means.

On BBC Two, we are going to support diversity of voice and opinion, innovation in form, and an unprecedented commitment to factual.

On BBC Four, we are going to keep pushing the boldness and range of what the channel can offer.

And when it comes to iPlayer, we are going to explore how best we can use it to make sure that BBC content can reach new and diverse audiences.

And with seasons such as our Shakespeare Festival, Mental Health and Black Britain – and the whole range of programming we have scheduled around the EU referendum – we are going to show how ground-breaking, creative and innovative the BBC can be when we draw on the combined strengths of all our channels and platforms.

Above all, the challenge we are setting ourselves – with the editorial decisions we are taking, and the way we are now shaping all our programmes and services – is to make sure we are offering the very best to all of our audiences, by being the most distinctive we have ever been.

Thank you.