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29 October 2014
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Mark Thompson


Building Public Value

Tuesday 29 June 2004
Printable version

Despite the alarms and excursions of last year, this is a great time to be coming back to the BBC - and an amazing moment in the history of broadcasting.

Changes in technology combined with audiences who are more up for originality and creative challenge than ever mean that the potential - and the need - for the BBC to build public value is greater than it ever has been.

As you heard from Michael Grade, we believe the BBC has a leadership role in this future world. In building a fully digital Britain. In ensuring that no one is excluded from the benefits of the new technology. In guaranteeing the right level of investment in British talent and voices and the widest possible range of quality British content.

Now an economist might conclude from this that the BBC has an important role in preventing various kinds of market failure in the new digital world.

Well, yes - but our vision is far bolder than that suggests. We look forward to a future where the public have access to a treasure-house of content, a store of value which spans media and platforms, develops and grows over time, which the public own and can use freely in perpetuity.

Where the traditional one-way traffic from broadcaster to consumer evolves into a true creative dialogue in which the public are not just passive audiences but active, inspired participants.

So how are we going to do it? In Building Public Value, we commit ourselves to:

Supporting the full roll-out of digital terrestrial television. We think a switchover date of 2012 is realistic.

We will work with government and industry to find ways of funding and co-ordinating the DTT build-out for all the Public Service Broadcasters.

We'll take a lead in the massive marketing and public information campaign that will be needed.

We'll work with others to create a successful free digital satellite service, able to reach those households who can't get DTT.

And we'll take a special responsibility for bringing the final cohorts into the digital television universe.

When the market failed, the BBC stepped in to help make Freeview a success. We believe we have an equally critical role going forward.

But it's important to remember that digital television is only one part of building a digital Britain.

We also want to accelerate the roll-out and take-up of digital radio.

We want to work with partners to make BBC content available to audiences when and where they want it - the BBC on demand, which we're running a trial on right now - and to help pioneer open access to rich broadband content.

Whenever it's consistent with the BBC's brand and values, we'll make that content available to other digital platforms and providers.

We want to launch a Creative Archive of our very best content, available online and free to all - for learning, for creativity, for pleasure.

We want to work with others to make online and broadband more accessible and more affordable.

Finally, we want to make it easier for people to find the content they want; in partnership with others, developing easy-to-use navigational tools.

We want to build a digital world based on universal access, open standards and unencryption.

Encryption, subscription and other forms of digital exclusion lead to widespread welfare losses.

They may well have a role within the total broadcasting ecology, but the idea that they can successfully replace free-to-air public service broadcasting, we believe, flies in the face both of economic theory and our real-world experience.

Programmes and services that build public value

We can build an infrastructure, but digital Britain will only come to life if it also becomes a creative space in which the best ideas and the best talent can meet audiences who are hungry for originality and quality.

In the end, the future will not be about pathways and platforms but about content.

Universally available, outstanding, distinctive content has always been and remains the point of the BBC.

But how should our services adapt and change to deliver the maximum public value?

What new ideas do we have to reach new audiences or to offer existing audiences a richer, more valuable service?

Active and informed citizenship

Let's begin the five BBC purposes with journalism. The BBC aims to support civic life and national debate by providing trusted and impartial news and information of the highest quality to help everyone to make sense of the world and to engage with it.

Last week we announced that we'd implement the findings of the Neil report in full. We want to recapture the full trust of audiences and participants in BBC journalism.

Over the past year, current affairs has grown in impact and seriousness on BBC Television. We want that process to continue - and in particular to attract harder-to-reach groups to an intelligent news and current affairs agenda.

We want to use digital technology to launch very local TV news services for up to 60 cities and counties across the UK.

And we want to create many opportunities for people to become more active citizens, with more open debate and participation online and on radio, using our Open Centres and digital buses to engage people both with new technology and their local communities.

British culture and creativity

The BBC also aims to enrich the UK's cultural and creative life. How? By bringing talent and audiences together to break new ground in the drama, comedy, the arts, entertainment.

By celebrating our collective cultural heritage.

By broadening the national conversation.

We want to really focus on originality, ambition and excellence - and this is just as important and relevant in popular genres like soaps and entertainment as it is, say, in arts or religious programming.

So a bigger place for the bold and full-blooded and the risky - and that can mean Strictly Come Dancing as much as State of Play - and, as Michael suggested, a real effort to eliminate the derivative and cynical.

We want to maintain the creative revival of drama across TV and radio, with more opportunities in particular for single and event drama.

To develop comedy as a unique class- and generation-spanning BBC strength with more investment and more cross-platform collaborations.

To focus more on innovation and new talent in entertainment and sport.

And to defy standard programme genres to open up challenging subjects to large audiences - from the arts and history to music, science and religion.

More investment for BBC FOUR and a more prominent place for culture on ONE and TWO. And behind this, on radio and in new media as well as TV, from our orchestras to BBC Talent, the BBC's overarching commitment as a patron to stimulate and chronicle our national cultural life.

And we also want to find new ways of stimulating the creativity of our audiences themselves, using the BBC's educational, new media and local resources to build skills in the arts and creative industries.

A revolution in learning

Next, we want to help bring about a revolution in learning, and by offering educational opportunities to audiences of every age, to contribute to the building of a society strong in knowledge and skills.

In practice we intend to:

Launch and deliver the BBC Digital Curriculum to every school in the UK, working with the rest of the sector to bring the learning revolution to every British child.

To use and interactive TV to develop new personalised learning opportunities for different audience groups.

To take a lead in media literacy and safety in online and other new media environments.

And to launch a whole new raft of educational campaigns and initiatives, wherever possible in partnership with others: focussing, for example, on grass roots participation in sport and music with campaigns like Music For All, joining schools and broadband-enabled homes to the full range of the BBC's performance and learning resources.

Connected communities

We also believe the BBC is an important builder of social capital, seeking to increase social cohesion and tolerance by enabling the UK's many communities to talk to themselves and each other about what they hold in common and how they differ.

So we plan to:

Strengthen our core services and create new local services within Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Create a full new BBC region in central England, based in Milton Keynes.

Extend local radio coverage in traditionally underserved parts of the country as well as offering all local radio services on digital platforms and enhancing the BBC's local websites in ways which maximise distinctiveness and usefulness but minimise adverse market impact.

Foster audience understanding of differences of ethnicity, faith, gender, sexuality, age and ability or disability, by accurately and sensitively reflecting modern Britain's diversity across our programmes and opening up the BBC itself to talent from every community.

We know that modern diversity isn't about political correctness or narrow categories. It's about a public who are eager to discover and celebrate their identity and to fully realise themselves.

We also want to continue to invest in the major sporting and public events and BBC initiatives - from Euro 2004 to D-Day to The Big Read - events and initiatives that bring large sections of UK society together, using the BBC's breadth of media at local, regional, national, UK and global levels.

The UK's voice in the world

And finally, we are committed to supporting the UK's global role, by being the world's most trusted provider of international news and information, as well as by showcasing the best of British culture and talent to a global audience.

We plan to:

Use a multimedia strategy to extend the reputation already built up by the World Service and future-proof it around the globe.

Work to establish a firmer financial foundation for BBC World, our global TV news service.

Extend the BBC's successful network of strategic joint ventures to offer better access to international audiences and markets for British talent and culture.

And use the BBC's global presence to bring a richer international dimension to domestic programmes and help to connect the people of a multicultural UK to their international roots.

The public value test

Now, as Michael has made clear, none of these ideas will get off the starting-blocks unless they pass the Board of Governors' new public value test.

Details of this test are set out in Chapter Four of our document.

If you take a look, you'll see that it relies far more on external, independent advice and objective economic modelling than any previous BBC system.

It's worth saying that this approach owes a lot to the fresh thinking that Ofcom have brought to the debate about public service broadcasting.

I don't think anyone thinks we can or should attempt to achieve a definitive numerical calculus for measuring PSB, but systematic and objective evidence-gathering must make sense.

However, this being a naughty and cynical world, some of you may nonetheless find yourselves wondering if this whole public value test isn't really just a fancy new way of rubber-stamping everything that the BBC intends to do anyway.

Well first, I hope Michael has convinced you that that's not the approach he's going to take to this at all.


Secondly I would add we're in the middle of a dry run, applying the test according to the principles set out in Building Public Value to our online services.

Interestingly, although much of the BBC's online offering has passed the test, not all of it has.

As a result, we intend to announce the closure of some of the BBC's online sites within the next few weeks.

The right scale and scope

In effect, the Governors will apply the public value test to set the breadth of the BBC's services.

But we believe that the licence payer will continue to demand a very wide range of services in return for the licence fee, and will expect that range to evolve and improve as our technology and our understanding of audiences develops.

This multimedia breadth is itself part of the BBC's public value with all the synergies and linkages it allows.

The BBC is much more than the sum of its parts. But the depth of the BBC - in terms of its vertical integration, its in-house operations, its commercial subsidiaries - is a separate question.

Again the right test is public value. It's in part to answer that question that the Governors have asked me to carry out the series of reviews that Michael mentioned:

First the review into the BBC's commissioning and production, examining programme and content supply in all media, exploring the issues with independent producers, freelancers and other external stakeholders as well as with the BBC's own production community.

The BBC has formidable creative talent and a great heritage inside its walls, but there's strong talent outside the BBC too.

The review will offer recommendations to ensure that the BBC and the licence payer always have access to the best ideas, that in-house capacity is set at the right level in every genre, that the commissioning and contracting of indies is fair and in accordance with the new terms of trade, and that the BBC never again misses its indie quota.

It will report in the autumn.

Secondly, the review of commercial activities. The BBC's commercial subsidiaries - in particular BBC Worldwide - have been highly successful in recent years, but again we want to look closely at what is best done inside the BBC with owned-and-operated divisions and what should be done in partnership or with an external contract.

This review will report by the end of the year.

Third, we are launching a top-to-bottom review of Value For Money across the BBC.

We know that any discussion about a future licence fee settlement is bound to begin with the question of self-help.

We also know that some of the ambitions we set out - especially the build-out of digital Britain - will mean fresh investment.

We want to make sure we're using our existing resources as effectively as possible.

This - as well as the opportunities for greater efficiency which new technology offers us - is going to be a very big focus for me and my colleagues going forward.

Fourth, we're committed to a further significant shift of the BBC's activities out of London and into the rest of the UK.

Investment in the nations has grown sharply in recent years. There's the potential for further growth there, but we also now want to move a number of services and departments from London to create a major broadcast centre in Manchester as well as examining opportunities for growth in other parts of England.

Contrary to what you might read in some papers, I can assure you that no decisions about what specific services might move have been taken.

Work on this plan will take place over the summer and I expect to announce detailed proposals later in the year.

But by the end of the next Charter period, we predict that half of the BBC's public service staff will be based outside London.

The BBC will spend more than £1bn a year on content outside London - more than a third more than today.

Other proposals

There are many other proposals in Building Public Value. Proposals about how the BBC can unlock the power of partnerships, from cultural link-ups like our collaboration Painting the Weather with the National Gallery and many other galleries, to education in GCSE Bitesize to the philanthropic partnerships typified by Comic Relief and Children in Need, which has made hundreds of millions of pounds, to the hard-edged commercial partnerships the BBC will need to fulfil its digital vision.

There'll be a new partnership contract, published later this year, and we're looking at some new ideas for partnerships, like the creation of joint venture public interest companies and the development of media villages around the UK, where the BBC provides space and infrastructure for independent producers and talent.

We know how much more the BBC can achieve when it faces out rather than in.

There are also a set of proposals for a more open BBC.

Further improvements to BBC Information which already handle two million public contacts a year.

BBC buildings and centres which are more accessible and welcoming to the public, including our new multimedia Open Centres and the BBC learning buses.

New, more prominent ways to discuss BBC programmes on our own airwaves.

All this as well as the more transparent and credible complaints system which Michael talked about.

Finally, we set out some ideas for transforming the licence fee, making it easier for people to pay, more efficient for us to collect, and fairer - paying a special emphasis on those who are least able to afford it.


Both Michael and I believe that today's manifesto and the reviews that we are launching add up to an agenda of radical change for the BBC.

Change to take advantage of the digital revolution, but also change to make the BBC more responsive to its owners, the British public.

Change to make it a better partner and neighbour within the wider broadcasting sector.

Now, you may say: 'Fine words, gentlemen, but we've heard fine words from the BBC before.'

I think it would be hard to read this document and conclude that we weren't serious about the scale of the opportunity and the challenge which the BBC faces, or about the need for change.

But over the coming months, our various reviews will report and we will publish and implement their findings.

They will give you a chance to judge us and the BBC's plans for the future not just on the basis of our words but also on our actions.


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