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The Strategy Review - some questions answered

John Tate

Director, Policy and Strategy

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Thank you for all your comments both on Mark Thompson's post, and elsewhere. I'm John Tate, the BBC's Director of Policy and Strategy, and I'd like to take this opportunity to answer the main questions and concerns that seem to be emerging, outlined below. We'll be commenting more over the coming days across the BBC's blog network, but here are some initial thoughts from me.

Why is the BBC doing this strategy review at all? What's the point?

Mark Thompson outlined the purpose behind the strategy review in his blog yesterday, where he said:

"The BBC has one mission: to inform, educate and entertain audiences with programmes and services of high quality, originality and value. That is not for debate. What today is about is how we are going to deliver that mission.

"My ambition is for us to become more confident and proud of the fact that we exist to be different. Our purpose is not to make money, it is to enrich people's lives by capturing the essence of Britain today and making sure everyone can access excellence in programmes and content, whoever they are."

The external environment has changed radically over the last two years, with explosive growth in digital, platforms converging, big changes in audience behaviour and a commercial sector facing real strain and new pressures.

We felt it was the right moment to take a hard look at what the BBC should be doing and where it delivers the most value.

The strategy we outlined yesterday focuses the BBC on putting quality programming first, with a smaller and more focused BBC that does fewer things better, leaving space for others with clearer limits. And we'll focus on areas that build overall public value, and that are most at risk of being ignored or under-invested in elsewhere.

We are proposing changes that will put the BBC in a stronger position to deliver the kind of high quality and distinctive programmes we exist to provide, free at the point of use.

The BBC stated yesterday that the strategy review was "Putting Quality First", and yet a great demonstration of quality, 6 Music is to be cut. How is this justified and not contradictory?

Many of you are passionate about radio, and proposed changes to 6 Music and the Asian Network have provoked strong reaction.

I spoke about this issue today on The Media Show and you can listen to my answers here.

In addition Tim Davie, the BBC's Director of Audio and Music, will be blogging on proposals for BBC Radio networks here tomorrow.

Discussion has also centred on the future of the BBC's web presence. If Digital is the BBC's 3rd platform alongside TV and radio for future, why are we cutting the site?

Online is very much part of the BBC's future - the bottom line is that we remain absolutely committed to the web as our third platform alongside TV and Radio. Whereas BBC TV and Radio have natural boundaries, currently these don't really exist on the web. After a period of rapid expansion online, now is the right moment for us to re-focus and re-prioritise.

Precisely because online is so important, it must meet the same thresholds of quality and effectiveness as our other services. It's about imposing a clear remit on BBC Online, and re-shaping the service with a stronger focus on the five editorial priorities (the best journalism; inspiring knowledge, music and culture; ambitious UK drama and comedy; outstanding children's content; and events that bring communities and the nation together): doing less but doing it better. This will re-balance BBC Online with an emphasis on high quality, distinctive content and services which provide greater, long-term value to the audience

It's also about ensuring that it can introduce to people the best of what's available inside the BBC AND across the web.

Keep an eye out on the Internet blog for more detail on this in the coming weeks.

Political implications have also come up - whether these proposals are to pre-empt the election and a possible Conservative government, and whether this is simply a political move. Are they?

The strategy we're announcing today is rooted in a really clear vision of what the BBC is here to do, and the value it delivers every day to audiences here and around the world.

As I said at the start of this post, we are proposing changes that will put the BBC in a stronger position to deliver the kind of high quality and distinctive programmes we exist to provide, free at the point of use, underlining our core mission: to inform, educate and entertain.

We began work on this review last June and it is the result of many months work.

As I mentioned earlier, the past 18 months has forced everyone to think very carefully about the balance of the media sector and where we can add the most value.

You announced yesterday that the BBC would be reallocating £600m - how and where will this money be spent?

We announced proposals yesterday to reprioritise nearly £600m of existing licence fee funding into programmes and activity that will increase the quality of our programmes in the 5 priority areas we've been discussing here.

Of this £600m, almost £400m of funding will come from existing service licence and genre budgets, and will be spent in new ways to drive higher quality content in local radio, BBC One, Two and Four, Children's programming, Radio 2, and the revised budget for Online. A further £100m will be raised by reducing the running costs of the BBC, and through continuing efficiencies, while the final £100m will come from service closures and by reducing spend on BBC Online and acquisitions.

Another question coming up is why the BBC does not further reduce spend on management pay, rather than cut services - why don't you?

We are committing to reducing the cost of running of BBC and the amount we spend on infrastructure projects so we can spend more on content. First of all, 10 years ago, the BBC spent ¼ of the licence fee on running the BBC. We have halved that to 12p in the pound today, and the strategy review pledges to cut that by a further ¼ to 9p by the end of the current Charter.

We are already taking tough action on reducing senior management pay - these proposals recommend a combination of both. We've already committed to dropping senior management headcount by 18%, and their pay bill by 25%, and executive pay has been frozen, and bonuses suspended.

Mad Men, The Wire and other US imports are some of the best programmes on TV, and fall into that high quality drama category highlighted in the review. Why are these going when they add so much value?

The proposals are not about individual shows but the BBC's future focus - there will always be a place in BBC schedules for high quality programming and distinctive acquired programming.
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There is an expectation that the licence fee should be spent on the best UK originated programming - what the majority of our audiences watch, listen to, and love. There are some distinctive things we will want to acquire, including international documentaries, foreign language films, and uninterrupted family films at special moments of the year such as Christmas Day, as well as selected high quality series. By cutting spend on acquisitions by 20%, we will invest more on original UK programming for our 5 editorial priorities outlined above.

Lastly, it's worth reminding you that the BBC Strategy Review proposals are now with the Trust, where they will undergo a public consultation. This will run until May 25 2010, after which the Trust will look at all the submissions which they have received, including those from the public and industry, alongside other research and analysis which they will carry out. The Trust will then form a final view on what the future strategic framework for the BBC ought to be, and will aim to provide a provisional view of their conclusions this summer and a final strategy in the autumn.

Anyone can participate, and full details are available here

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