The George Darnell Memorial Lecture
for that generous welcome. I always enjoy coming to Manchester but there
are two very strong BBC reasons for me being here today – apart
from delivering this lecture of course.
Manchester is the home of the Victoria Baths, the outright winner in
BBC TWO's Restoration project thanks to the 282,000 people who voted
for the baths.
was twice the number for any other restoration project and it brought
a grant of £3.4 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund to restore
the baths to their former glory.
there are some things we discovered about the baths that I don't think
would be quite acceptable today. For instance there were three pools
– first class men, second class men and then women's and the water
flowed that way so the women only got the water after both the first
class and the second class men had used it. It would be a brave man
who suggested that today.
BBC reason for being in Manchester is that it is the home of the BBC's
first Big Screen, to be found in Exchange Square.
launched in May this year. It is a unique pilot for the BBC and is a
four way partnership between the City Council, Phillips who manufactured
the screen, The Triangle shopping centre and the BBC.
proved to be a great success with up to two million people visiting
the screen since it opened five months ago.
of up to 6,000 turned up to watch the Last Night of the Proms and the
final of the Eurovision Song Contest; that's 6,000 people watching the
telly, outdoors, alongside complete strangers – such a simple
idea and a great way of bringing people together to enjoy a shared experience.
Especially when that shared experience is watching Britain achieving
nil points in the Eurovision Song Contest.
love to have similar screens in big cities right around the UK if we
can establish the right partnerships.
I have a third reason for visiting Manchester whenever I can and that
is to see my team play - thankfully I wasn't here on Saturday when we
were humiliated by Fulham.
the downsides of becoming Director-General of the BBC was that I had
to stop being a director of Manchester United. My kids have never forgiven
me. In their eyes only a madman or a City fan gives up four seats in
the directors' box at United to take a job at the BBC.
currently there are all sorts of stories around about someone planning
to buy United – will it be the Irish or the Americans? Or is there
even a Russian around?
Now I was
on the board of United when Rupert Murdoch and BSkyB tried to buy it
and I was probably the only director strongly opposed to the deal. I
thought it was being sold too cheaply, to the wrong people and for no
purpose. Other than that I thought it a good deal.
the end I had to vote for the deal – even though I hated the idea.
Let me explain why.
I was told
by the independent lawyers I consulted that if BSkyB offered what I
regarded as a good price – and eventually they did - it was my
fiduciary duty to recommend the deal to the shareholders, even if I
thought it was the wrong deal.
I was told that the law made it very clear that as a director of a public
company my only responsibility was to the shareholders – I had
none to staff or more importantly the fans. Only the shareholders mattered.
the Mergers and Monopolies Commission stopped the takeover. I think
they received more than 600 submissions with only two in favour –
one from BSkyB and the other from the Board of Manchester United who
had decided to sell.
hope that we get the same end result if again someone tries to buy the
club and that Manchester United stays as an independent entity.
I start my lecture tonight I must thank the MPA (Manchester Publicity
Association) for inviting me here tonight. I spent some time thinking
about what I should talk about.
Director-General of the BBC means there's never any shortage of potential
topics and of course, the Hutton Inquiry is of great interest to many,
though I will disappoint those who want to hear about that tonight.
We're not talking about that until after Lord Hutton reports.
course I could talk a lot about Granada, your regional ITV broadcaster,
and what's happening in ITV but that would be intruding into private
grief. ITV's ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory never
ceases to amaze me.
I've decided to talk about something which impacts on everyone in this
country - that is the importance to Britain of having a television system
which reflects our society, our culture, our way of life.
years we've made a positive choice in this country to have a television
system which is fundamentally British, giving us television programmes
which reflect our values. That's the choice which has been made by successive
governments and we've achieved it largely – but not wholly - because
of the BBC and the unique way it is funded.
explain and I'll start with a fact which I suspect will surprise you
- the UK spends more per head of the population on the production of
domestic television programmes than any country in the world including
the United States.
about that for a minute. That's more money spent per person on new,
home-grown television programmes than in countries like the Netherlands
– where the figure is almost half that of the UK - or France –
a country which is so proud of its language and heritage.
As I say
even more than the United States where the total spend is obviously
much larger because of the much larger population; but the annual spend
per head on home-grown production in Britain is still $10, or 13%, more
per head than in the USA.
I joined the BBC I used to run a large international production company
with bases in 20 odd countries. The one thing I discovered was that
in every market around the world viewers preferred indigenous programmes
– programmes made in that society for that society – rather
than imported programmes, which due to the huge economies of scale are
of course overwhelmingly American.
US drama or comedy programmes is much cheaper than making your own –
so it all comes down to economics.
24 cost the BBC £140,000 per hour to acquire – compared
to a home-made drama like The Project – a uniquely British drama
about the early days of New Labour – which cost £1.1 million
per hour for the BBC to make.
not directly comparable, it gives an idea of how tempting it is to buy
high quality, proven US imports instead of making risky and expensive
broadcasters spend as little on television programmes as they can get
away with regardless of what viewers actually want. It's just like any
other market - that is unless the relevant government has decided that
there is a role for public funding to ensure that the television system
more reflects their particular culture.
precisely what successive governments have decided to do in Britain
by supporting the BBC – an organisation funded by a compulsory
licence fee with the sole aim, as we say in our mission statement, of
"enriching the lives of everyone in the UK with programmes and
services which inform, educate and entertain".
question is if the BBC were not here would anyone invent it today? The
answer is I doubt it. I suspect we now live in a market driven world
in which the lobbying power of commercial organisations is so great
that they would undermine the idea of a BBC from the very beginning.
trying to sell a proposition to Rupert Murdoch that you collect £116
from every household in Britain to pay for television, radio and online
services and if the consumers don't pay they can be fined. And yet this
has been the foundation of our whole broadcasting system – a system
which is envied right across the world.
licence fee funds 40% of all original television production in this
country. Of course it funds a lot more besides television – BBC
radio, BBC online, BBC local radio, five orchestras, and a whole range
of education initiatives.
I am talking about television production. And the reason we spend more
per head on original television production, more than any other country
in the world, is because of the Licence Fee and the BBC.
funding of the BBC has also had a positive effect on the amount of original
television programming we see on the commercial networks in the UK.
of our tradition of publicly funding popular as well as minority programming
on the BBC – funding Only Fools and Horses or Cutting It as well
as Panorama and Newsnight – commercial networks have had to spend
more of their income on original programming to compete.
clearly been to the benefit of viewers although not necessarily to the
benefit of shareholders, which is why there is now commercial pressure
to change the system.
fee funding of the BBC is the main reason why ITV spends considerably
more on original production than any other commercial network in Europe
– 40 per cent more than its nearest rival RTL1 in Germany.
why Channel Four is the fourth biggest commercial spender on original
production in Europe. They have to do this to compete for audiences
and the benefits are felt by British viewers who as a result get more
indigenous television programmes.
does this add up to? Well what is certain is that whereas in films,
music and games US originated material dominates their sectors, in this
country that is not true in television. In our industry three-quarters
of network television output is still home-made reflecting the values
and attitudes of the UK.
am I talking about this tonight? Well I believe our whole system of
broadcasting could be under threat.
BBC's charter up for renewal in the next couple of years the massed
forces of commercial television led in particular by Rupert Murdoch
and BSkyB are circling and their argument is superficially attractive.
many channels now available through BSkyB why do we need such a large
BBC? Why not cut it down in size and reduce the Licence Fee and give
greater opportunities to commercial broadcasters?
is already being supported by John Whittingdale, the Shadow Secretary
of State for Culture, Media and Sport, who only two weeks ago said he
wanted to see the Licence Fee cut by 50%.
what the likes of Sky fail to mention is that outside of news and sport,
pay television has so far failed to add anything meaningful to the indigenous
output of British television.
to an independent report by consultants Oliver and Ohlbaum, which was
published in October, only four per cent of the massive new pay television
income in Britain is actually spent on British production – just
four per cent.
around £120 million out of a total pay television income of £3
billion. The rest is spent on American programming, sport, repeat British
programming and movies.
per cent compares with an average of 55% of income spent on British
production by the traditional networks run by the BBC, ITV, Channel
Four and Channel Five.
is certainly no sign of the British pay television system ever creating
the equivalent of Home Box Office in the United States, the pay channel
responsible for those big budget, quality programmes like The Sopranos,
Sex and the City, and Six Feet Under. But even HBO only spends 10 per
cent of its $760 million programme budget on domestic drama and comedy.
So my point
is this. If we want to sustain the British nature of our television
system there is no obvious alternative to a publicly funded BBC.
and Ohlbaum report makes that very clear. The report says if you cut
the amount the BBC spends on television programming and I quote, "the
incentive for commercial broadcasters to invest any extra revenues in
programming would be likely to decline. While commercial markets might
increase the diversity of offering they would be very unlikely to do
this by increasing programme spend."
this matter? I for one believe it does. When we all talk about the globalised
world we tend to believe it's something to do with internationalism.
simply not true in the world of media, entertainment and communications.
In my world, as in many others, globalisation means Americanisation
and that I believe is the threat we face and it is why I believe passionately
that this matters.
it matters enormously to this country that we have a public service
broadcasting system on both the BBC and commercial television which
reflects our society.
that we spend significant amounts in this country on television drama
which gives us different insights into our society and not American
society. Drama from different parts of the UK which reflects the culture
and lifestyle of those regions to other parts of the UK, drama which
tells you about Britain.
that in the future we produce further comedies in that long line which
runs through from Steptoe to Fawlty Towers to The Likely Lads to Absolutely
Fabulous and now to The Office, all of which poke fun at our lives,
our culture, our eccentricities.
market in Britain has never provided this and is even less likely to
provide it in the future. Over 40 years virtually every memorable situation
comedy in this country has come from the BBC.
I believe that a strong, well-funded, vibrant and independent BBC is
vitally important when it comes to television news - which to the public
is overwhelmingly the most trusted form of news.
we have a commitment to impartial news, free of political and commercial
bias. But you'll struggle to find that in the United States today.
at what happened during the run up to and during the Iraq war. In this
country BBC News tried to reflect the full debate and was widely criticised
by some for doing this – we were accused of being unpatriotic.
It wasn't true - we were just trying to offer fair and balanced output
which was important - particularly given the significant opposition
to the war in this country.
undertaken by the University of Cardiff since the Iraq war backs up
the view that the BBC was and is independent.
at Cardiff undertook detailed analysis of news bulletins during the
war looking for signs of bias for or against the Government –
and their findings show, and I quote, "the accusation made against
the BBC of an anti-war bias failed to stand up to any serious or sustained
public do care about impartiality and they want the BBC to be, and to
be seen to be, an independent broadcaster.
our attitude to the news with that in the USA, where most of the electronic
media abandoned impartiality in the rush to wave the flag.
of the 840 experts interviewed in the USA during the war only four were
actually against the war. Even Walter Cronkite – the most famous
of all US newscasters - now believes that US journalists live in fear
of being branded unpatriotic and consequently are failing to ask the
difficult questions of Government and others.
So to sum
up, I believe the evidence is clear that if you cut the funding for
the BBC you inevitably cut the total amount spent on British programming
and that, in turn, fundamentally changes the nature of British television
from drama through entertainment, right through to news.
may be in the interests of some commercial broadcasters who could make
bigger profits, I would argue it's not in the public interest or in
the interest of viewers overall.
created something special with our television system in this country,
and that is something recognised right around the world.
is that in Britain today, we don't recognise this and begin to believe
the arguments put forward by free marketers.
I believe we have a broadcasting system which has served us well and
we tamper with it at our peril. Believe me, it's a system which is worth