BBC HomeExplore the BBC
This page has been archived and is no longer updated. Find out more about page archiving.

27 November 2014
Press Office
Search the BBC and Web
Search BBC Press Office

BBC Homepage

Contact Us

Mark Thompson

Speeches

Mark Thompson

Director-General


Royal Television Society Fleming Memorial Lecture 2006: Creative Future - The BBC programmes and content in an on-demand world

 

Lecture given at Cavendish Conference Centre, London W1


Tuesday 25 April 2006
Printable version

Check against delivery

 

I once saw a New Yorker cartoon in which an academic publisher is sitting at a desk studying a gigantic new manuscript. And the publisher is saying: 'Turgid! I love it.'

 

The debate about the BBC's new Charter sometimes feels a bit like that. Wonderful if you're a subscriber to Accountability Weekly or you're obsessed with the finer points of modern regulatory theory.

 

Pretty distant, pretty irrelevant if you're a normal human being.

 

When the public think about the future of the BBC – and I suspect that, unlike some of us, it doesn't exactly occupy every waking hour – I'm sure that what they think about is the BBC's programmes and services.

 

Will they be any good? Will I like them? Are they likely to get better or worse? This is what I'm going to talk about tonight.

 

What we stand for creatively

 

The point of the BBC is its content. I joined the BBC myself not to make policy but to make programmes.

 

It's still the thought of great BBC output, of what we can achieve creatively that gets me out of bed in the morning.

 

That makes me most proud of this organisation and its ability, at its best, to improve and enrich people's lives.

 

And I feel pretty proud of what we're doing right now creatively. I don't believe that BBC Radio has ever been better.

 

From The Ring In A Day last Monday to Eliott Carter, Radio 3 has jewels and wonders every week – so do our other stations.

 

We have not just one of the most popular but one of the best websites in the world. Its global impact and presence is on a completely different scale to any other British content site.

 

We've been hard at work on the range and quality of what we offer on TV too.

 

We're taking more commissioning and scheduling risks on BBC ONE – Bleak House, Shakespeare, Doctor Who. Drama is stronger and livelier today than it's been for years.

 

Roly Keating and his team are bringing a new creative edge and freshness to BBC TWO, and across a broad front – I think of Facing The Truth, an unforgettable landmark in our coverage of Northern Ireland, I think of The Apprentice.

 

BBC THREE and FOUR are starting to really take off creatively.

 

A few years ago the BBC was regularly accused of losing the plot creatively and putting competitiveness in front of quality.

 

I don't believe it was true then. I'm certain it's not true today.

 

Sometimes a brilliant programme will command a very large audience: last month Planet Earth was playing to audiences of over 11 million across the week.

 

Sometimes the audience is smaller: Peter Taylor's outstanding Panorama special on the Stockwell shooting was seen by just under two million at nine o'clock on a Wednesday night on BBC ONE.

 

Now some of our critics argue, of course, that the BBC shouldn't make popular programmes – it should leave them to the market.

 

Mind you, often the same critics argue that relatively unpopular programmes like that Panorama demonstrate that the BBC is becoming irrelevant and that the licence fee can't be justified.

 

It's rather like Morton's fork: if one point doesn't skewer you, the other one will. But it's also nonsense.

 

To me it seems obvious that Planet Earth and the Panorama special both embody the phrase building public value and that they both belong on primetime BBC ONE.

 

What unites them is their editorial ambition and the passion, conviction and skills the makers brought to them. Irrespective of the relative size of the audiences they command, they're part of one BBC tradition, one set of creative values.

 

The same is true of the best of our drama, comedy, entertainment, news and sports coverage.

 

If we can bring a large audience to a great programme, so much the better – but large audiences should never be our sole motivation and we should never dismiss a great idea only because it may not achieve big numbers.

 

If that was our only criterion, work like The Thick Of It or Bodies would never have been commissioned.

 

This broad definition of public service broadcasting isn't just mine, by the way. Take a look at what the public themselves told Ofcom they thought PSB consisted of.

 

Not a clutch of endangered specialist genres, not the narrow parameters of American public television, but again: comedy, entertainment, sports, movies.

 

Within this broad definition, should the BBC still strive for distinctive excellence?

 

Should its privileged position require it to aim for a wider range of subjects and voices than any other broadcaster?

 

Does it have a special responsibility towards those endangered genres – current affairs, say, or religious output?

 

Yes, yes and yes. And that's what we're endeavouring to do.

 

Everywhere, whether it's appointing Mark Mardell as Europe Editor to deepen our coverage of that story or investing specifically in the training and development of new writers for our popular dramas, we're trying to focus harder on excellence.

 

Wherever we can, and whether it's for unsigned bands on radio or the web or for new comedy on BBCs ONE, TWO, THREE and FOUR, we're trying to open up fresh creative space.

 

God knows we're not perfect, but the focus and commitment are there.

 

The second digital wave

 

Now I could stop right there and make this the shortest Fleming Lecture on record if it wasn't for two small things.

 

The first is technology. The second is audiences.

 

There probably isn't a vole, let alone a person alive in Britain, that doesn't know that we're in the middle of a digital revolution – it's this year's and every year's cliché – but I want to be fairly precise about what I think is going on.

 

What we're seeing is a distinct second wave in digital.

 

In many ways, traditional media coped quite well with the first wave: they launched new linear channels and text-based websites and began to experiment with mobile phones and other portable devices.

 

Particularly after the dotcom bubble burst at the turn of the century, there was a real sense in traditional media that the digital thing had been nailed.

 

If you came late to the party, there was no need to worry – you could always dip into your pocket and buy a website or two.

 

Anyone who thinks that that's the size of it – and there's plenty of them across British broadcasting – has got a big shock coming.

 

I believe that this second digital wave will turn out to be far more disruptive than the first, that it will be fundamentally disruptive, and that the foundations on which much of traditional media is built may be swept away entirely.

 

But it is also a wave that brings astonishing creative opportunities for the BBC, our partners and our audiences. So what are its features?

 

The first is on demand, though that rather stolid term doesn't do justice to what's about to happen.

 

All media – sound, picture, text – available on all devices, all the time. Searchable, movable, share-able.

 

Subject to regulatory approval, we hope to launch our own multimedia on demand application later this year – it's going to be called the BBC i-player.

 

But that's only the start – we're less than five years from fully individualised, drag-and-drop TV and radio stations.

 

Pull down anything from any of tonight's schedules, select anything from our archive, let us propose a channel based on your previous choices, or make your own channel and share it with your friends. Then hit play. That's it.

 

People will also be able to make and distribute pretty much anything they want to. That's the second element.

 

The red button is a classic first wave technology – highly successful and in our case used today by many millions of licence-payers, but quite limited in scope, speed and functionality. It's only half a step from passive viewing.

 

More radical interaction, content generation and the pooling and sharing of that content across communities are all fundamental parts of the second wave.

 

Even today the public start sending us their pictures and sound the moment a big story breaks – we had them on our website and on our news bulletins very early on July 7th, the day of the London bombings, and they became the most downloaded broadband resource on our site that day.

 

Again, we already uplink and host music tracks, short films, personal testimonies, so that others can enjoy them.

 

But these things are only harbingers of what's about to hit us. And there's more.

 

Personalisation and peer-to-peer communication and dialogue mean that mass media – content made to be consumed by millions of people – will have to fight for its place in a media environment optimised for individual and household personal taste.

 

The public will find it if they can and watch or listen to it if they want.

 

But although technological change is enabling the second wave, it's not the essential driving force. That force is a revolution in audience behaviour.

 

It's hardly surprising that choice and empowerment work for audiences – the surprise is the breakneck speed at which adoption of all these technologies is taking place.

 

In the first wave new devices and platforms often stayed in the hands of the anoraks and enthusiasts for years. Now most people feel reasonably comfortable with at least some digital technologies.

 

As a result, rates of take-up are extraordinary.

 

Freeview box sales have topped ten million this year, and DTT may well become the biggest digital platform in the course of 2006 – it's growing at a far higher rate than satellite and has taken overall digital television penetration to 70 per cent of all homes.

 

Broadband is seeing one of the fastest growth rates of any new technology in UK history.

 

HD equipment is flying off the shelves. And we all know about the i-pod.

 

In this world of almost infinite choice, audiences can afford to be much more discriminating and demanding – and they know it.

 

Their willingness to compromise, to go on watching or listening to a TV channel or radio station which may work for others but which doesn't feel relevant to them, that willingness – on which so much traditional mass audience broadcasting was based – is palpably on the wane.

 

Blockbusters, EastEnders, Little Britain, the great sporting occasions and national events, still work.

 

Some programmes, Doctor Who, Life On Mars, Top Gear for instance, can still span the generations and the genders.

 

There are still moments when all of us like to sit back, relax and enjoy something which we know is simultaneously entertaining millions of other people.

 

But for most consumers some of the time, and for some consumers most of the time, audiovisual media consumption is following the path that music has already taken – towards specialisation and fragmentation.

 

A creative future

 

So what does this mean for the BBC?

 

Well put simply, any creative strategy – no matter how well it is performing currently – will fail unless it takes account of these revolutionary and accelerating changes both in technology and in audience expectation.

 

The BBC embraced the first digital wave with conviction.

 

It pioneered high quality content on the web. It played a leading part in the launch of digital radio. It supported all the digital TV platforms with investment in new channels and new quality content. It rescued DTT.

 

It helped drive every kind of digital take-up with a massive programme of information and learning.

 

The first stage in the creation of a digital UK has been a real success – and a significant part of that success has been down to the BBC.

 

Now though we face a new set of challenges. Things are moving even more quickly. The stakes – not just for the BBC but for Britain – are even higher.

 

That's why just over a year ago I launched the project we called Creative Future.

 

Building Public Value, our manifesto for the next ten years, had already set out a framework of public purposes – including the mission to continue to build a digital UK – and proposed ways in which the BBC's success in delivering on those purposes could be objectively assessed and made fully accountable.

 

What Building Public Value did not do, indeed was never intended to do, was to give any detailed sense of the BBC's creative vision for the next decade – to set out a creative response to the amazing, bewildering but also exciting and inspiring changes in audiences and technology that I've just talked about.

 

The BBC could have responded creatively to the first wave of digital with the slowness and lack of imagination of an incumbent. But it didn't.

 

It moved further and faster and across a wider front than almost any other traditional media player in the world.

 

But what comes next? That's the question which Creative Future sought to answer.

 

We began by listening and researching.

 

Listening to the technologists and trying to read ahead in each of the key technologies. Listening to our key creative partners – the writers, directors, performers, producers – outside as well as inside the BBC. Above all, listening to our audience.

 

Creative Future has involved the largest and most detailed audience research project we've ever undertaken.

 

I've hinted at some of its findings already. Although there are a significant number of digital have-nots, individuals and groups for whom the BBC has a special responsibility on the road to and beyond digital switchover, it reveals a majority who are embracing the choice, convenience and personalisation which digital makes possible.

 

It reveals an audience which continues to judge the BBC by very high standards, higher than any other broadcaster, and which is impatient when we let ourselves down.

 

But audience expectations are shifting as well. They are clearer than ever before that they want to be entertained by the BBC, not just alongside being informed and educated, but in almost everything the BBC does.

 

Entertainment is not a dirty word to them – it's an essential requirement. That's why it was so encouraging to hear Tessa Jowell introduce the Government's White Paper on the BBC with a special emphasis on entertainment.

 

And audience definitions of excellence are shifting too – not weakening, far from it, but shifting.

 

Take the example of trustworthiness in news. Once when you asked audiences about trustworthiness, they'd focus on values like authority and accuracy.

 

Do they still want those qualities from BBC News? Of course they do, now more than ever.

 

But other questions come up as well. How well does BBC News listen to and respond to its audiences? How willing is it to admit to error and to correct mistakes promptly? How hard does it try to make its news comprehensible and relevant to all its different audiences?

 

Trustworthiness for today's audience doesn't mean news that comes down the mountain on tablets of stone, it implies a relationship based on mutual respect, it implies a bigger voice for the public.

 

That theme is true across our output. For broadcasters, the digital revolution can be summed up in four words: audiences have a choice.

 

If they don't find a given service or a given piece of content relevant to them, valuable to them, responsive to them, they will not consume it.

 

And indeed our audience research revealed some significant gaps in the value we deliver to different audience groups.

 

Overall the BBC's audience performance in the midst of all this digital change is pretty strong. Around 95 per cent of the UK population use our services on radio, on TV and online every month.

 

Usage of our website is going up rapidly, particularly in broadband households. We expect the monthly reach for our website in broadband homes – which currently stands at 61 per cent - to overtake the reach for BBC TWO and become the second highest reach for any BBC service after BBC ONE.

 

As households convert from analogue to digital TV, our first two TV channels are inevitably coming under pressure – that's been true of almost all analogue channels.

 

But audiences to our new digital channels are going up. Interactive TV audiences are well up.

 

And BBC Radio is seeing audience growth across both analogue and digital platforms.

 

Real strength then – and strength that few predicted five, ten years ago.

 

But beneath those headlines, there are pockets of real underperformance too.

 

Our children's services – CBeebies and CBBC – are doing really well on TV and on the web and children and parents value them and rely on them.

 

But we do far too little for younger teenagers. They want, and they've told us they want, high quality drama, comedy and factual content from the BBC.

 

They want us to support their creativity with media training resources and websites where they can share their movies and music with each other.

 

They want content which speaks to their lives and concerns.

 

More broadly there is too little in our core television offering to appeal to young people and young adults.

 

Now it's important to be clear about exactly what I mean here.

 

On occasion in the past the BBC has reacted to falling younger audiences, say, for political programmes, with a kind of mad lurch – almost as if you could solve the problem by putting a hip-hop track under Newsnight or by asking David Dimbleby to contemplate a spot of body-piercing.

 

And it's based on a false premise anyway. The last thing we want to do is to somehow dilute or weaken our core offering, of which we're rightly proud.

 

On the contrary, across our output, we want to focus on how we can serve all our audiences better, old as well as young.

 

Yet we have to recognise that there are a significant number of younger people out there – including many who are certainly old enough to be running their own households and paying a licence fee – who tell us they find too little to inform them and engage them emotionally, too little to entertain them on the BBC.

 

Without compromising the service we offer to older audiences, that's something we have to fix.

 

You probably won't be surprised to hear that this under-performance is even more pronounced in the case of ethnic minority groups.

 

And more generally audiences believe that – with some great and brilliant exceptions from Terry Wogan to Strictly Come Dancing to EastEnders – the BBC is better at head than heart.

 

Better at facts and information than it is at emotional engagement and entertainment.

 

The big themes

 

So what are we going to do about it?

 

In a moment, I'm going to set out some of the key conclusions from Creative Future under the three classic BBC headings of inform, educate and entertain.

 

Before that, a few common themes.

 

First, the BBC should no longer think of itself as a broadcaster of TV and radio with some new media on the side.

 

We should aim to deliver public service content to our audiences in whatever media and on whatever device makes sense for them whether they're at home or on the move.

 

We can deliver much more public value when we think in a 360 degree way, rather than focusing separately on different platforms or channels.

 

So wherever possible we need to think cross-platform: in our commissioning, our making, our distribution.

 

This does not necessarily mean more content – it means extracting more value from content.

 

It does not mean more linear channels or services. It's about integration and extending the functionality of existing services.

 

We need to shift investment and creative focus towards on-all-the-time, 24/7 services.

 

On-demand is key. It's not just a new way of delivering content. It means a rethink of what we commission and make.

 

Yes, we have one of the best websites in the world but it's rooted in the first digital wave.

 

We need to re-invent it, fill it with dynamic audio-visual content, personalise it, open it up to user-generated content.

 

And we need a new relationship with our audiences. They won't just be audiences anymore, but participants and partners.

 

We need to get to know them as individuals and communities and let them configure our services in ways that work best for them.

 

Our vision should be that we have a direct one-to-one relationship with every individual household in this country.

 

Inform

 

But what does this mean for the different areas of BBC output? Let's begin with news and information.

 

We believe we have an incredible opportunity in news and current affairs.

 

BBC News is already an offer that transcends any one programme or channel or medium.

 

It already reaches more than 250 million people globally every week and is the world's most trusted source of news.

 

If we get the second digital wave right, it can grow even stronger:

 

so we're going to go on focusing on improving journalistic standards, training and depth;

 

we're going to shift energy and resources into our continuous news services both on the web and broadband, on radio and on TV;

 

News 24 is going to be key, not only as a TV channel but as the content engine of our UK broadband news offering – we're going to invest in it, move talent to it, break stories on it;

 

audiences are crying out for original, hard-hitting journalism from the BBC – we want more relevance and impact from our TV current affairs;

 

we're going to improve the quality and depth of our sports and entertainment journalism – a new flagship sports news programme on BBC TV plus a stronger daily service on all platforms led by a new BBC sports editor;

 

we're going to build even further on the big sports events – audiences tell us that is one of their fundamental expectations from the BBC – and we're going to find new ways of reflecting the diversity of sport across this country;

 

but we're going to phase out Grandstand, a brand and offer which served audiences well for many decades but which no longer punches through in this multichannel, multimedia world.

 

Educate

 

Education and learning is the second element on the Reithian triptych but up until now it's never enjoyed the same prominence or the same coherence inside the BBC.

 

In 1987, John Birt pulled the BBC's news and current affairs operations together into one integrated proposition. That decision has shown itself to be extraordinarily prescient for a world of melding platforms and devices.

 

Although formal learning in the BBC is already integrated and co-ordinated, the BBC's broader offer in programmes and content of learning and knowledge-building is not.

 

And yet this second digital revolution is going to enable the public to explore and investigate their world as never before.

 

Programmes won't be transmitted once and then, in most cases, simply forgotten.

 

They will be there forever, to be rediscovered, linked, recommended, clipped, built into new and bigger ideas.

 

From Lawrence Rees's remarkable series Auschwitz to Melvyn Bragg's In Our Time to BBC Jam, our new £150m Digital Curriculum project which is aimed at every child and every classroom in this country, the BBC already invests more than any other media player in the world in high quality content aimed at building knowledge and skills.

 

The talent we have access to, on and off screen is incredible.

 

It's time to pull all these elements together into one strategy, one proposition:

 

we believe that knowledge and exploration should be as big and ubiquitous an offer from the BBC as BBC News;

 

we need integrated cross-platform strategies and 360 degree commissioning for all the key subjects that audiences want from science and religion to leisure, history and the arts, strategies which are again bigger than any one channel or medium;

 

knowledge content should be our highest priority as we open up our archive and put it on line;

 

we need more of the Supervolcanoes and the Planet Earths – the ideas of scale and impact that really hit home in this crowded digital landscape;

 

and we need to make knowledge exciting, engaging, entertaining – this isn't about producing a series of worthy, multi-media encyclopaedias: what the BBC should bring to the party is real creative energy, lively debate, irreverence, personality as well as an underlying seriousness of purpose.

 

Entertain

 

Tessa Jowell says that the BBC should take the business of fun seriously and she's right.

 

For us, entertainment should never be seen merely as a way of luring audiences in for some improving information and education – that tactic has a limited life expectancy anyway – it should be seen as an equally valuable mission in its own right.

 

Enabling the British public to share in, to celebrate, simply to enjoy all our collective cultures – whether it's Bach Christmas on Radio 3 or The Thick Of It or Chris Moyles in the morning on Radio 1.

 

Investing in distinctive, original British entertainment – and in the creative communities and industries that support it: this is one of the most important and valuable things that the BBC does.

 

But in this second phase of digital, the world of entertainment and culture will change at least as much as those of information or entertainment:

 

music is already being transformed – that's why for the first time we're going to have a single, pan-platform music strategy for the BBC, led by the Director of Radio & Music, Jenny Abramsky – and why we're moving TV music entertainment - like TV classical music – into the Radio & Music division;

 

we're going develop more pan-BBC musical events, like The Electric Proms – a festival of contemporary music to complement the classical Proms – which we're launching this autumn;

 

we're going to put all of the BBC's music resources behind a new programme of music education and participation for the whole UK;

 

and we know that personalisation and immediacy are going to be critical for music at the BBC – on broadband, mobile devices and MP3 players: we commission and broadcast more original music-making in this country than anyone else – now we have the potential for every one to create the equivalent of their own music radio station out of this extraordinary wealth of content.

 

Many of the same themes apply to our comedy, entertainment and drama:

 

we have a unique role in nurturing British comedy – we want to use radio, TV and web more systematically to find new comedy talent and to develop the hits of the future;

 

we want to invest more in comedy drama and to relaunch the BBC's comedy website;

 

in entertainment, we want to use 360 commissioning, interactivity and some lessons from the world of video games to produce more original primetime entertainment – and we want to go on exploring links between entertainment and the factual and drama genres: we want to deliver more hybrid hits like Dragon's Den and Who Do You Think You Are?;

 

and in drama, we want more landmarks and signature pieces from Radio 4 to BBC ONE;

 

we're aiming for more risks, more impact, more emotion;

 

I think that probably means, overall, fewer titles but with longer runs, although of course we will still find places to nurture one-off events and signature dramas;

 

Indeed, we want to find and support outstanding writers, and give them the creative space in which their unique voices can grow – we'd like to find more writers like Paul Abbott and Russell T Davis who can combine writing with executive production or show-running as it's called in the States – taking more complete creative control of their work;

 

and we want to bring investment and creative support not just to our high-end landmarks but to the titles which the public love best, like EastEnders, Casualty, Holby City.

 

Finally there are some priorities which cut across all the different programme categories:

 

we need creative solutions to our under-performance among the young which do not diminish the service we offer to other audiences: we want to invest more in the excellent CBeebies and CBBC, concentrating on original high quality British content – but we're going to focus them on more manageable age-ranges, up to six for CBeebies, seven to eleven for CBBC; and Children's radio will form an integral part of those two offerings.

 

we're going to create a new offer for Britain's teens, aimed at 12 to 16 year olds which we will deliver via existing broadband, TV and radio services as well as mobile and other new devices – it'll include a new long-running TV drama as well as comedy, music and factual output;

 

we're going look for opportunities for user-generated content everywhere we can – and for other ways in which our audiences can contribute and participate in the BBC's mission;

 

finally, we want to put resource and energy into what we've called findability, the ability of users to navigate their way through the extraordinary variety of content which we will make available and find exactly what they want – this will involve both state-of-the-art technology and outstanding marketing and branding. It underpins all our other aspirations – and in the face of exploding choice, it's probably one of our very biggest challenges.

 

A strong BBC: a benefit or a threat?

 

I hope I've been able to demonstrate this evening that we have a clear creative vision of our future.

 

We want to take some classic BBC strengths – creative ambition, a lack of compromise when it comes to excellence, an understanding that talent needs room and support to give of its best – we want to take these strengths into a very different future.

 

Public service broadcasting will change as the whole of broadcasting changes, but the heart of it – public service content, content that truly builds public value – will be as secure.

 

Perhaps more secure: there are many areas – news, knowledge-building, music, content for children and young people – where technology means we can deliver more value, make a bigger difference for our audiences.

 

But I know that the initial reaction of some to all of this will not be excitement but trepidation.

 

Is this the BBC back in imperial mode? What's the likely market impact?

 

Is it possible to have a confident BBC – or a BBC with a strong licence-fee settlement – without every commercial broadcaster or media rival taking a hit?

 

I want to make a few points about this.

 

First, we believe that the right path for the BBC from now on is the path of distinctiveness, or providing blocks of valuable public service content that are different in intent and in substance from what other broadcasters and media players deliver.

 

BBC TV today resembles ITV and Channel 4 far less than it did ten or 20 years ago. That gap, that difference will grow.

 

ITV has just launched a gaming channel. Good luck to them, but we're not going to do that.

 

Channel 4 aims to make FilmFour free-to-air. That's a great idea – but a film channel doesn't fit into our mission or our public purposes and we won't launch one.

 

In the past year or so, we've closed some of our website in the light of the Graf report – as well as shutting down a dozen of our foreign-language radio stations to help pay for the new pan-media Arabic service.

 

That pattern, of prioritising – either because we believe we can't add to what the market provides, or to re-direct resources to the most strategically important projects – that pattern will continue.

 

Commercial broadcasters will also have the reassurance of a new process of governance and accountability at the BBC which will be far more robust and transparent than anything that's gone before.

 

It will be very different. No new service will go ahead without a public value test which will include a market impact assessment conducted by Ofcom. Everyone will have a chance to comment on the proposed service. Everything will be published.

 

Every existing service will have a service licence, more detailed than any commercial equivalent.

 

The BBC Trust will hold me and all my colleagues accountable for staying with that licence. Again, everything will be published.

 

But quite apart from these safeguards, I want strongly to resist the suggestion that the BBC's plans – or its request for a licence fee that grows in real terms – necessarily means bad news for the rest of the industry.

 

Charles Allen has produced a set of figures which suggest that, if we got the licence fee we've asked for, the BBC would have a bigger budget than ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 put together.

 

To believe that, you have to believe in a truly catastrophic downturn in advertising revenue over the next few years.

 

In fact, although the fortunes of individual advertising-funded broadcasters inevitably vary in relation to their performance, TV advertising is currently booming and it's hard to find any analyst as pessimistic as Charles.

 

Charles also has a habit of benchmarking all of the BBC's revenues solely against ITV's, which is not the whole story.

 

BBC revenues don't just finance television channels – we have a very substantial commitment to radio, not to mention the web and other new media, and we compete for talent and rights not just against ITV but against the entire commercial TV and radio sector.

 

If you look at the licence fee as a proportion of total TV and radio spend in the UK, a very different picture emerges.

 

Today the licence fee represents 23 per cent of total spending in the sector.

 

Even if the BBC were to be given the licence fee it's asked for, mid-case assumptions about advertising revenue and the growth of subscription and other revenues suggest that the proportion would fall over the next Charter period to 20 per cent or less.

 

Even with a licence fee which grows in real terms, the BBC's revenues will reduce in relation to the total broadcast sector.

 

Again, some people argue that funding the vision I've tried to set out this evening will lead to inflationary pressures in broadcasting: the BBC's fat chequebook will risk distorting prices for rights and talent for everyone else.

 

We're currently in the middle of a large-scale value-for-money programme which is leading, among other things, to many thousands of people leaving the BBC.

 

The point of that programme is to release the funds to pay for the future vision of the BBC laid out in Creative Future.

 

Our efficiency programme is not designed to bring us back into line with the rest of the industry – we believe that the like-for-like cost-per-hour of our output is already competitive with other broadcasters - but to use new technology and new approaches to productivity to push us into new territory when it comes to price.

 

There's been any amount of talk over the past week or so about what we pay some of our stars.

 

The public want the best from the BBC and, particularly in entertainment where outstanding onscreen and on air talent is a scarce resource, that can mean paying individuals a lot of money – that's simply the reality of the creative market and I make no apology for it.

 

But we always aim to get real value for money.

 

There are many instances where we have lost talent and programmes because we have been unable or unwilling to match market prices.

 

We have to get the best deal we can on behalf of the licence-payer. So we don't want to go down what you could call the Abramovich route.

 

We are in the business of supporting British talent – and, where we can, growing our own.

 

We want to use the licence fee in ways which support the creative industries as a whole and which, in indirect ways, can actually help other broadcasters.

 

Paying for Creative Future

 

Some of the Creative Future vision can be achieved within the BBC's existing resources – through the efficiencies and reduction in overhead costs we're achieving and through the redirection of funds towards our new priorities.

 

But it can't all be.

 

A programme strategy which concentrates uncompromisingly on content of the highest quality and distinctiveness inevitably costs a great deal more than one which mixes outstanding output with repeats and programmes of lower ambition and lower production value.

 

Most of the TV programmes of the past year which public and critics have most admired – Planet Earth, Life In The Undergrowth, Bleak House, Doctor Who – are necessarily very expensive to produce.

 

To take one example, an episode of Planet Earth – perhaps the most ambitious and outstanding natural history we've ever made – costs £1.4m gross.

 

The BBC's global co-production partnerships mean that the net cost to the licence-payer is £400,000. Significantly less but still many multiples of what it costs to transmit a comedy repeat or a low cost factual format show.

 

A strategy which shifts towards more Planet Earths is going to cost more, even after every conceivable efficiency has been found.

 

This is why to me the BBC's bid for more resources to make quality content is the most important line in the whole licence fee submission.

 

And it is an area where the BBC's impact on the market is definable – we help to raise the quality bar.

 

I believe that it's what the public want from the BBC.

 

I also believe there's good evidence that it's something the public are prepared to pay for.

 

The BBC Governors recently asked Professor Paddy Barwise from the London Business School to conduct an independent study into the evidence about the public's willingness to pay a high licence fee to fund both digital and more quality content.

 

His report was published yesterday. It includes further audience research which supports the evidence about willingness to pay which the Governors included in the original licence fee submission.

 

It suggests that a narrow majority of the public would be prepared to pay a large licence fee to fund digital switchover and costs like the provision of digital boxes to disadvantaged groups.

 

But these priorities are much less important to them than the quality of BBC's services themselves.

 

If the public had a choice, in other words, they would place quality content much higher on their list of priorities than targeted help – or indeed some of the BBC's own aspirations, for instance the move to Manchester.

 

Professor Barwise himself, who conducted the DCMS's review of the BBC's new digital television channels, argues that quality content is by far the most important part of the BBC's bid because it supports the core of the BBC's future digital proposition.

 

Conclusion

 

In Creative Future, we've taken a long, hard look into the future.

 

What I see there – alongside the seismic change and the disruption – is a unique creative opportunity.

 

I believe that this new digital world is a better world for public service content than the old one.

 

Better because great content will now be available forever.

 

Because finding it will no longer depend on being in front of the TV or radio at exactly the right moment.

 

Better because – especially in areas like knowledge-building – the new digital media will allow a far deeper, richer offer than we've ever been able to deliver before.

 

There has never been a better moment to be a public service programme maker.

 

There has never been a better moment to be a public service viewer or listener.

 

The BBC is a great British success story.

 

Not because it's been constrained and limited but because it's been strong and confident and because it's not been an optional extra in British national life but something vital and central.

 

Well, we have a strong and confident vision of our creative future – the future of a BBC producing richer, more useful, more excellent content.

 

A BBC still making a positive difference to millions of lives.

 

Those are our ends. Now we need to ensure that the means are there to make them a reality.

 

Thank you.

 



SPEECHES A-Z:

A B C D E F G
H I J K L M N
O P Q R S T U
V W X Y Z    

SPEECHES BY YEAR:

Printable version top^


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites



About the BBC | Help | Terms of Use | Privacy & Cookies Policy