BBC Television’s performance remains very strong overall, but there are challenges to be tackled, Trust review finds

Date: 17.07.2014     Last updated: 15.10.2014 at 09.54

The BBC Trust has published the conclusions of its review of BBC One, Two, Three and Four, the first time the four main TV channels have been assessed in the round.

The review, which launched last November and involved a public consultation and extensive audience research, has found that BBC Television is performing very strongly in terms of its quality, value for money and its effectiveness in delivering the BBC’s public purposes. On average 81 per cent of people watch each week and the review found BBC television’s performance was particularly impressive given the growth in choice of channels and on demand services for viewers, alongside the BBC’s budgetary pressures.

The Trust’s review has identified three main challenges to be addressed:

BBC Television should seek to improve its appeal to younger and Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) viewers

The reach of all public service broadcasters has fallen in the past 10 years. However, BBC Television’s reach has fallen most among younger audiences and BAME viewers. The Trust will work with the BBC Executive to agree how best to serve these audiences and report on progress in future Annual Reports. Separate to this the Trust will consider the Executive’s proposal to close BBC Three as a linear channel. We anticipate receiving this proposal later this year.

BBC Television should further increase the distinctiveness of its offer

BBC Television is fulfilling its commitment to deliver a wide range of enjoyable and entertaining programmes and in the past few years there has been an increase in perceptions of originality across all channels. However, some viewers do not find BBC One sufficiently distinctive in some important ways and the Trust believes it is possible to continue serving loyal audiences well, while taking more creative risks in programming and scheduling choices.

The Trust wishes to receive a report from the BBC Executive within six months of this review’s conclusion which sets out how it will increase the distinctiveness of programmes and schedules, with a focus on BBC One. After 12 months we will use a mix of quantitative and qualitative audience data and other evidence to assess the BBC’s success in addressing audience concerns in this area and we will publish our assessment in the BBC’s Annual Report.

The BBC should work more collaboratively to meet audience needs efficiently

The BBC faces a growing challenge in serving all viewers when their needs are diverging and when its budgets are flat or shrinking. The Trust believes that greater collaboration between channels and other parts of the BBC would help maximise the value of BBC spending. While management structures and other arrangements are a matter for the BBC Executive, the Trust is asking the Executive to consider how greater collaboration can be encouraged, building on existing good work, for the benefit of all audiences. The Trust and the Executive will discuss how assurance can be given on improved collaboration later in 2014.

David Liddiment, the BBC Trustee who jointly led the review, said:

"The BBC is special and affection for its many excellent programmes shone through in our audience research and consultation, but viewers also highlighted the areas where they felt the BBC could do better.

"The privilege of the licence fee gives the BBC uniquely the opportunity and the obligation to be daring and to take risks with programming that sets it apart. This report sets out a plan to help it do just this and we look forward to working with BBC Television to deliver it.

"For BBC One in particular, we share Tony Hall’s ambition that it has to be not only the nation’s favourite channel but also its bravest, building on the very best programmes in its schedules, that not only entertain and delight audiences, but also frequently challenge and surprise them."

Trust’s overall conclusions by channel


  • BBC One remains the nation’s most watched channel – 75 per cent of people in the UK watch each week
  • Reach has dropped amongst 16-34 year olds while remaining high and stable amongst those aged over 55. Average (median) age of the BBC One viewer is now 59, up from 56 in 2010/11.
  • Audiences feel BBC One consistently produces high quality programmes - research quoted drama series such as Luther and Call the Midwife and trusted and respected presenters like David Attenborough as drivers of high-quality perceptions on BBC One.
  • BBC One is seen by viewers to be good at bringing arts and music programming to a mainstream audience and they still regard BBC One as the main destination for sporting and cultural events that bring the nation together.
  • Audiences felt BBC One also delivered on the public purpose of promoting education and learning across a wide range of its programmes.
  • Audience perceptions of the distinctiveness of BBC One – as measured through the channel’s average ‘fresh and new’ score - have risen markedly since 2010-11.
  • However, many viewers felt BBC One could still show more creative ambition – they felt the channel appeared to ‘play it safe’ in programming and scheduling, particularly in peak time, with a perceived reliance on familiar programmes.
  • Our research found that 63 per cent of the 7-9pm peaktime slot over the year 2013/14 was accounted for by 10 programmes. These 10 programmes are some of BBC One’s most popular but they leave fewer opportunities for the introduction of new programming.
  • After 9pm, BBC One has a much higher proportion of new programmes, which often gain strong AI and ‘fresh and new’ scores. Our analysis does suggest though there are opportunities for greater innovation in factual programming at 9pm and a refreshment of entertainment programmes.
  • Analysis of new dramas over the past year shows that range and variety is now quite wide, and there have been some recent successes which represent the best British drama on offer. This demonstrates that BBC One can successfully offer more challenging dramas to large audiences.


  • BBC Two’s reach has declined since 2010-11 – just over 50 per cent of people watch each week.
  • Reach has fallen more amongst 16-34 year olds than those aged 55 or over.  The average (median) age of BBC Two viewer is now 60, up from 58 in 2010/11.
  • Heavy viewers believe firmly in the quality of BBC Two’s programmes and see it as offering something different from the other channels, with distinctive dramas and original comedies.
  • BBC Two’s average AI has risen more than any other BBC channel in the past three years.
  • BBC Two has successfully introduced innovative and popular factual formats which audiences rate highly and heavy viewers appreciate the depth of its factual programmes.
  • The only area where viewers felt BBC Two might offer something more in this area is in its treatment of challenging contemporary issues.
  • Financial cuts, including an end to original daytime programming and replacing it with archive content on BBC Two, initially resulted in lower viewing figures than forecast, although performance has since improved.

BBC Three

  • Viewers’ perceptions of the quality of BBC Three were mixed – its acquired entertainment and comedy are popular and highly appreciated and its less frequent documentaries are highly appreciated by those who watch them. Some viewers associated BBC Three with repeats and some factual entertainment programmes, which impacted negatively on their perceptions of the channel’s quality.
  • In our qualitative research, BBC Three was perceived more positively than BBC One or BBC Two for its relevance to viewers of all ethnicities.
  • Despite reach falling amongst BAME viewers, they still represent a higher proportion of BBC Three’s audience than any of the other channels.
  • BBC Three’s factual output was viewed by heavier viewers as very distinctive and made it stand out from other channels aimed at young people.
  • Despite offering over 30 hours each year of arts and music, BBC Three does not have a strong reputation amongst its viewers for arts and culture beyond its coverage of music festivals.
  • BBC Three has yet to establish itself as an online destination, with the Trust’s research showing that awareness of any digital innovation or experimentation by BBC Three online, beyond iPlayer, was low.

BBC Four

  • BBC Four, while remaining niche, continues to gain popularity and has the highest average AI of any channel.
  • BBC Four is the only channel to have increased its audience weekly reach, but growth has been much greater amongst over 55s.
  • BBC Four is deeply valued by its core audience for showing many types of programmes not offered by other channels, like in-depth single documentaries, niche arts and culture and high quality foreign drama.
  • The Trust has approved a change to BBC Four’s existing service licence requirement to premiere 20 foreign language films a year, but the Trust expects BBC Four to continue to show a good number throughout the year and for the channel to commit to showing a range of foreign language drama.

Notes to editors

  1. Under the terms of the Charter, the Trust is obliged to review each BBC service once every five years.
  2. The review was jointly led by BBC Trustees David Liddiment and Suzanna Taverne.
  3. The cost of the review as of publication today is £87,352.
  4. The review’s terms of reference can found here along with along with links to the Trust's 2010 review of BBC One, Two and Four and the review of services for younger audiences
  5. The Trust's findings were developed using a range of methods. A public consultation was carried out in autumn 2013 which received around 5000 responses from licence fee payers, as well as submissions from the Trust's four Audience Councils in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. These responses alongside the audience research, performance monitoring (both of which have been published) and discussions with BBC management and the wider Television industry outside the BBC went towards helping the Trust reach its overall conclusions.
  6. As outlined in the report, following a request from BBC Four to remove the channel’s commitment to premiere 20 international and foreign language feature films a year, the Trust has removed this condition from BBC Four’s service licence. The Trust expects BBC Four to continue to show a good number of foreign-language films and it retains a commitment to do so in its service licence. The Trust has also asked that BBC Four commit to showing a range of foreign-language drama, in terms of genre and style. The amended service licence has been published today and can be read here