Tony Hall speech at the Science Museum on the future vision of the BBC
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Ladies and gentlemen,
Welcome to the Information Age gallery.
In this room we can relive the history of a nation that has led the world in communication.
And we can determine to write the history of a nation that will continue to lead the world.
And, by the way, go and have a look round the corner there at 2LO, the BBC’s first transmitter, where it all began. Push a button and you’ll also hear Lord Reith reading one of William Blake’s great poems, Jerusalem.
From there, you can trace the first global TV broadcast, four decades later, on the BBC. I’m old enough to remember All You Need is Love – live – one of the turning points in our cultural and technological progress. And we can reflect that we are, ourselves, right now at one of those turning points.
For Charter Review is a moment for us all to reflect.
When I was asked to return to the BBC I knew that I would be here for the great Charter Review on which we have now embarked and I welcomed that prospect.
That is because I saw that while the Review would present great challenges, it would also give us great opportunities.
Opportunities to hear the views of others, to learn, to reflect on new ways we can serve our audiences - and to change as technology changes.
Therefore, opportunities to reshape what we do as the needs and expectations of our audiences change and grow.
And opportunities for this generation of the BBC to leave its mark on the information age.
And as we conduct this open, thoughtful exchange about the future of the BBC, we should set out our starting point.
We live in one of the most creative and advanced information societies in the world. And the BBC has been vital to that success.
In that British way, with a healthy helping of accident and a fair bit of design, we hit on something that worked. An organisation that could ensure extraordinary universal public provision while fostering one of the most impressive and diverse media markets anywhere in the world.
And the licence fee has been critical to that.
Because the BBC was funded by the licence fee, it had creative freedom.
Because it was funded by the licence fee, it could be universal.
Because it was funded by the audience, we needed to nurture a relationship of trust and consent.
Creative freedom. Universal reach. Trust and consent. These are the watchwords of the BBC.
When I was at the Royal Opera House, the great brand guru, the late Wally Olins, worked with us on how we could better express what Covent Garden hoped to achieve. Watching us, he said, the Opera House stood for excellence without arrogance.
Well you don't become a guru for nothing.
Wally Olins had put his finger on exactly the ambition a public institution should strive to achieve. I couldn't better express how I want the BBC to be in everything it stands for now and in the next decade - excellence without arrogance.
The challenge we face up to in what we're publishing today is how to continue to achieve excellence in a time of change.
The BBC is approaching its centenary in 2022, and in that time we have faced much technological change. And each new technology has seen the BBC adapt and prove its value in a new environment.
Yet, in this long history, I wonder whether there has ever been a technological challenge as bracing – and exciting – as this one. As bracing as the challenges - and the opportunities - posed by the internet.
Today we explain how we are going to meet that challenge.
We will show how the BBC will reform and thrive in the internet age to do what has always motivated us – to serve our audiences even better.
I believe our proposals will lead to a more creative, more distinctive BBC, and a BBC which is more personal to all of us. They build on the BBC's many strengths but remain true to our founding mission – to inform, to educate and to entertain.
Our proposals also reflect the economic times that we live in. And make no mistake: there will be tough choices ahead.
But, as you listen to what I am outlining, let me stress: this is not an expansionist BBC.
We are offering a BBC producing the highest-quality programmes and delivering services that provide great value for money. We understand how important this requirement is, and the hard work necessary to meet it. I really appreciate the commitment I see in our teams, and from the brilliant creative talent working with us. And can I just say to all of them, a very big thank you.
But if we make the right choices now, Britain can have a BBC that excels globally – a BBC that is a creative powerhouse for the whole of the United Kingdom.
The BBC belongs to everyone. We are stewards for an institution that’s part of their lives – and something they cherish.
As I said on my first day as Director-General I believe the BBC's best days lie ahead. The BBC. British, Bold, Creative.
I believe what we’re outlining today heralds a better BBC for everyone.
Now, I would like, briefly and personally, to talk to you about a few of the basic ideas that inform our proposals and which are especially important to me.
And in particular I would like to introduce you to our idea of an Open BBC for the internet age.
A BBC that is truly open to partnership - working much closer with others for the good of the nation. And a BBC that is more open to our audiences too.
To understand our vision for the future, the right place to start is with the case for the BBC.
Our future doesn't rest on ideological arguments, nor on debates between economists. It rests on what we do.
The BBC has a very simple purpose. We’re here to make great programmes and services. That’s why people love the BBC. That’s why they enjoy it. That’s why they trust it. That’s why they value it. That’s what they pay us to do.
The BBC strives to enhance the lives of everyone in the UK, in more ways than ever before and more often than ever before. We aim to fire the imagination and the curiosity of our audiences.
We invite them on adventures they never thought of; we allow them to wander through knowledge, to be introduced to new ideas, to stumble upon new interests, to fuel their passions.
We connect them to new worlds and to each other.
Sometimes we just make them laugh and that’s great too. We entertain, we educate, we inform, but we also enable and inspire. As the historian RH Tawney put it so well, "Only those institutions are loved that touch the imagination".
Forty six million people across the country use the BBC every day. Virtually everyone does every week.
At the heart of the philosophy behind the BBC is therefore a very simple, very democratic idea: everybody should have access to the best, whoever they are, wherever they live, rich or poor, old or young. We are here to bring the best to everyone.
For 93 years, the BBC has played this role in our culture; we are part of what makes the UK, the UK. We are part of the fabric of the nation. We are part of how other people see us and why many people abroad would like to have a BBC of their own.
And one more thing.
We are the cornerstone of one of the most successful media industries of the world.
If the case for the BBC rests on what it does, it follows that we must understand the foundations of that success and build on them.
Before we can create an Open BBC for the future we must support and advance what makes the BBC special today.
So here, more even than our plans, or our hopes, or our designs for the future, is the single most important point I want to make today.
We want the BBC in the next decade to be a magnet for creativity - the place people come to make brilliant programmes, programmes of distinction. For producers, directors, writers, artists to have the creative freedom to do things they would find it harder to do elsewhere.
And, by the way, that isn’t just coming from me. It’s what Peter Kosminsky, who directed Wolf Hall for us, Hugo Blick, and other extraordinarily gifted people - it's what they tell me.
We want to employ the best people with the best ideas doing their best work. To get great teams to work together. To help the next generation of talent find their voice.
We are going to take risks, push boundaries, try new things. Not be afraid of controversy. Investigate. Experiment. Innovate.
We are going to commit to small audiences as well as large ones, and to commit resources to the big moments and issues that shape national life and Britain's place in the world.
So, whatever else we do, we are going to change, we have to change, and we want to change – but, whatever else we do, we are going to be true to all that has made the BBC great throughout this century.
We are going to make the BBC the showcase of the best Britain can offer – not just to this country, but to the whole world.
And our aim, as we set out in the paper we’re publishing today, is to create a BBC that is more distinctive than ever - and clearly distinguishable from the market.
To repeat: to create a BBC that is truly British, Bold and Creative.
And to do so in a time of change.
The BBC’s mission was set nearly a century ago by its founding father, Lord Reith. It was to inform, to educate and to entertain. That mission is as pertinent today as it was then. And as necessary in the future as it is now.
Like every other broadcaster we are facing a world in transition – a changing digital world that presents new challenges, but also, let’s be clear, presents exciting new opportunities to serve our audiences.
At present, nearly all of our audiences enjoy the BBC’s programmes and services scheduled over the airwaves.
Now that isn't about to stop. The majority of people will continue to enjoy radio and television, as now, over the next decade.
But it’s changing.
Increasingly, in a way made possible by the internet and by mobile devices, people are enjoying what they want, whenever they want, wherever they are.
Indeed, it is perfectly possible that by the middle of the next decade that becomes the main route to what the BBC does.
So for the next 10 years, we will need to ride two horses - serving those who have adopted the internet and mobile media, while at the same time making sure that those who want to carry on watching and listening to traditional channels continue to be properly served too.
This is where the idea of an Open BBC for the internet age comes from.
The internet strengthens the case for the BBC and its enduring role in serving the public.
In the internet era, it is easier to find information but harder to know whether to trust it. It is easier to find small communities but harder for the nation to speak to itself and to the world. It is easier to make content but harder to find the financial support for high-quality work.
And the internet age is great for those who can afford it and access it – but those that can’t risk being left on the margins of society.
To these problems the BBC provides an answer. In the internet age our mission is simple: great British programmes and a trusted guide for every one of us.
We want to take all the opportunities the internet creates to inform, educate and entertain in new ways.
And to that traditional mission we would add a fourth imperative – to enable others to do that too.
We want to open the BBC to be Britain’s creative partner, to become a platform - a catalyst for this country’s incredible talent.
We intend to put our technology and digital capabilities at the service of our partners and the wider industry – bringing us closer together for the good of the country - to deliver the very best to audiences.
What will this Open BBC for the internet age look like?
First, the internet will transform our mission to inform in the coming decade.
It will be easier to offer more people information they can trust, more quickly. And they will demand more, more quickly. So, over the period of this charter, we will make a transition from rolling news to streaming news. News in the palm of your hand.
This year’s General Election represented a turning point in how we all consume news. The day after, one in five adults got their news from the BBC – on their mobiles. Those are record numbers.
So if we want to serve our audiences with the news they expect – and trust – from us - we have to develop still further our service on mobiles.
Mobile also provides the best opportunity to deliver a more personalised news service and to inform audiences in new ways - the relevant data, context and information that everyone needs, delivered to suit their requirements.
A bespoke BBC News, made to measure for you, wherever you are.
Inevitably, this will be a more video-based service - complemented by audio, graphics and text live from BBC News. It will be the place to go to find out the facts and to understand the story behind them.
It’ll also be the backbone of our global news operation helping us to reach 500m people, building on the unique power and brand of the World Service – one of our country’s greatest assets abroad.
This is a service we want to strengthen and expand through new proposals we are also publishing today. My own strong view is that this is one area where this country's voice could be much stronger - especially in the Middle East, India and Russia and the states that used to make up the Soviet Union.
And what we are offering will not just be a modern, made-to-measure, global service. It will also be far more open at a local level.
We will open up the BBC to other news providers, through a new partnership which we hope will help local journalism to thrive.
We've been working with our local newspaper partners on an exciting scheme.
Local democracy really interests me. I’ve seen for myself how important our local radio stations are, and I’m really proud of the way they serve their communities. But I now want us to go further.
So, in future, The BBC would set aside licence fee funding to invest in a service that reports on Councils, courts and public services. And we would make available our regional video and local audio for immediate use on the internet services of local and regional news organisations.
In my view, that's good for audiences, good for the industry but we look forward to hearing the views of others. Together with our partners we look forward to consulting on this scheme and adapting it as we learn from the consultation.
Part of a more bespoke BBC is that we also propose to reconfigure our news coverage to meet the changing expectations of audiences across the UK.
As the pace of devolution quickens we will need to adapt our services – on television, online and radio – to ensure that they fully reflect, and are able to report, the increasingly divergent politics of the UK.
We will never give up our role in reporting the whole of the UK back to itself, but we also have to recognise that news in some parts of the country simply does not apply in others.
We want to look at how, within existing resources, we might better configure the BBC’s news offering across the UK, and, by the way, how across the range of our services more broadly, we reflect the nations of the UK to the whole UK.
So an Open BBC in the internet age will inform.
And it will educate.
I was lucky enough to be with the Stargazing Live team at Jodrell Bank earlier this year – so I know how to answer this – but ask yourself this question: how do you find a supernova?
Well, you need 40,000 volunteers. The world’s most powerful telescope. And five days to go hunting for unidentified celestial objects.
A few years ago, this would have been a pipe dream. But, this year, it happened. Stargazing Live’s viewer volunteers classified two million heavenly bodies, including five supernovae.
Five supernovae. 40,000 citizen scientists. Two million stars. Five million viewers. A chain reaction of learning.
Only the BBC can do that. A BBC with a new, more open and collaborative relationship with its viewers and listeners.
And in the next Charter we want to do much, much more.
In science, we’ll be supporting the largest public engagement programme we’ve ever seen in our country. Meanwhile, we want to bring together our world famous arts institutions, and in doing so, open up our country’s combined riches to delight and inspire us all. And this is just the beginning.
In the 20th century, Britain created the World Service, a democratic gift to the world. In this century, building on the wealth of British knowledge and culture, we want to offer another gift: the Ideas Service.
It is a core part of our vision for an Open BBC.
The Ideas Service will be a platform for the ideas that matter and for the people who want to explore them. An open online platform.
The Service will host the best content from the BBC but also from some of our country’s leading cultural institutions: from the British Museum to the Royal Shakespeare Company, from the Edinburgh Festivals to the Liverpool Biennial, from this amazing institution - the Science Museum - to the University of Manchester.
It will draw together online all the great things the BBC already does that we know the audience love and cherish. From Radio 4, for instance, or BBC Four, BBC Two, Radio 3, or our iWonder guides.
All of these have been playing their individual parts in our broadcast and digital output, but until now we haven't effectively brought them together to become more than the sum of their parts. This is the new opportunity, together with our partners, jointly commissioning with them.
Because, crucially, the Ideas Service won't just be about what the BBC does. It will be as much about our partners as about us.
I’m delighted Brian Cox is here this morning – he’s been absolutely brilliant working with us on this. You’ll hear from him – and some other leaders who’ve been inspiring us - Sir Paul Nurse and his team at the Royal Society – Maria Balshaw who’s doing extraordinary work in Manchester - and Sir Nicholas Serota, director of the Tate museums and galleries.
Today, I want to invite everyone in Britain to take part in delivering this new service. Like Stargazing Live, it will only be possible if millions of people watch, tens of thousands contribute and a huge range of UK institutions have the chance to be part of it.
Our new, Open BBC will act as a curator bringing the best from Britain’s great cultural institutions and thinkers to everyone. Britain has some of the greatest cultural forces in the world. We want to join with them, working alongside them, to make Britain the greatest cultural force in the world.
We are extremely ambitious for this new service.
Where Google’s mission is to organise the world's information, ours, in a smaller way, would be to understand it. We will work with anyone who can help us understand this ever more complex world. We would cover the big questions the world cares about and engage in a dialogue with our audiences about them. And we will curate this service to make it easy for everyone to find what they need to know.
We are also ambitious for what the Ideas Service can deliver for Britain.
We know that the BBC’s year of science in 2010 led directly to an increase in applications to study science at university. Now we want to go further. We want to help raise the number of people who experience arts events each year.
We want to increase the nation’s knowledge of the sciences, of the arts, of culture, and of our history.
And in doing so, we will help Britain make the most of one its greatest strengths – our great cultural and intellectual institutions – helping them find new audiences in the UK and around the world.
But an Open BBC in any age wouldn't be the BBC if it didn’t entertain.
For our audiences, this is the number one priority.
And rightly so. Drama, comedy and entertainment help us to understand who we are, to make sense of our lives and they bring us together.
We know how much drama on the BBC means to our audiences. Drama is something this country excels at - it’s recognised globally. I want British drama to be the backbone of a more distinctive approach to all our services, capturing the public’s imagination with world-class work for a global stage.
It has occasionally been suggested that the BBC should stop being a mainstream entertainer, because the market can provide mainstream entertainment.
But is anyone seriously going to propose to licence fee payers that their fee should only go to the niche programmes and services, that we should stop doing all the things they love most?
What makes the BBC work is precisely the combination of popular programming with the depth and range that only a public service provider can guarantee.
Being a public service broadcaster puts on us a special obligation to make programmes of distinction, to ensure that BBC programming is bold and creative and the best. To ensure that overall we don’t just replicate what is already out there. So I want to make the BBC the most distinctive it’s ever been.
But being a public service broadcaster also means understanding what the public wants us to provide - a broad, popular, mainstream offering that makes people feel their licence fee has been well spent.
It is central to this plan that the BBC gets entertainment right. And gets it right for a broad and changing audience.
The internet has now transformed how drama and other long-form programmes are distributed. In the last decade, the iPlayer helped a nation make the unmissable, unmissable.
And I now want to experiment with the BBC issuing bigger and bolder series all at once on iPlayer, so viewers have the option of ‘binge watching’.
The iPlayer helped create a market, and others followed with successful players of their own. But the result is that consumers have to search across many different video players. And Britain is losing out to global players, who are busy building platforms that could become gatekeepers to British content.
We want to explore new opportunities to help bring original British content together, to help audiences and industry alike make the most of this opportunity to support our cultural crown jewels. Our aim would be simple – to increase the traffic to, and investment in, original British content.
At its heart would be a free offer, with BBC content funded from the licence fee. We would also aim to make it possible to buy and keep programmes, as we’re doing with BBC Store.
One possible route is to use iPlayer, which we will put at the service of the sector, using its brand, technology and reach. But there are other ideas too, all of which we want to discuss and agree with partners.
But the ambition is clear: a platform for Britain’s creativity, and an even better experience for UK audiences.
We want to build with others a gateway to the world for British creativity.
There is much in the paper we’re publishing today that I haven’t spoken about this morning.
There are many arguments made there that I haven't made in this speech.
I haven’t set out the data that tells the story of BBC success in the last decade. I haven’t talked in detail about how to define the test for distinctiveness. I had to leave you something to read!
There in the document to read too are many of our plans I haven’t spoken about. For example, our iPlay service to revolutionise children’s broadcasting, our plans for music streaming, our plans for more drama on BBC One.
Each of these could be a speech in itself. And knowing me, each one probably will!
Instead what I have tried to do is share our vision for the future. Give you a flavour of what to expect from the BBC. And introduce you to the idea of an Open BBC for the internet age - redefining the BBC’s relationship with the nation, with our world-class institutions and with its audiences. A BBC for Britain. A BBC for all of us.
Our proposals do not mean a bigger BBC. I believe they do mean a better BBC.
No one should doubt that the budget settlement announced by the Chancellor in his July Budget will mean some very difficult choices ahead. Having already saved 40 per cent of the BBC’s revenues in this Charter period, we must save close to another 20 per cent over the next five years.
Our share of TV revenues in the UK will fall, most likely, from about 20 per cent now to some 12 per cent by the end of the Charter.
Our size relative to the giants of the media world is small and over the next decade will diminish both relatively and absolutely.
In summary the BBC faces a very tough financial challenge. So we will have to manage our resources ever more carefully and prioritise what we believe the BBC should offer. We will inevitably have to either close or reduce some services.
We will also have to change the way we work. We all want a simpler, more effective organisation where as much money as possible goes on programmes and services. We all want a BBC which will pioneer, will innovate, and will adapt to the new challenges we face, whilst holding on to the core values of the BBC – values that we all hold dear.
Our new, open BBC will be a true partner with other organisations. It will also strike a new relationship with audiences that will allow them to do so much more. Our new, open BBC will inform, educate, entertain – and enable.
The innovations we’ve proposed today are the start of a new model for the BBC. The BBC as an open platform for British creativity.
We’ve always sought to bring the best to everyone. Now we will have the opportunity to bring the best from everyone too.
An Open BBC that uses technology as never before to give our audiences even more.
An Open BBC that works with creative organisations, partners – others in the media – to provide a platform for their work so more people can enjoy it.
An Open BBC that is truly seen as a partner.
An Open BBC where people can learn - from cradle to grave - and explore new ideas.
Let me be clear, an Open BBC is a million miles away from an expansionist BBC. Indeed it is the polar opposite. It comes from the desire to partner and share. It comes from the recognition that technology gives us the opportunity to do things very differently. It comes from the belief that the BBC must do even more for Britain as a whole.
That’s the direction of travel I favour – to make public service broadcasting better, by modernising it. To deliver a more original BBC. A digital BBC. A universal BBC. A BBC that continues to help Britain be a creative powerhouse, recognised the world over. A BBC that’s creating jobs - in one of the industries that’s a great British success story.
We will strengthen the things people love about the BBC while making them fit for the new age. Because a diminished BBC would diminish Britain. And because the story we tell in this gallery should always be a British story, with the BBC at its heart.
For all those who care about the BBC this is a time to listen and reflect, to make your voice heard – and for us to welcome that debate. The BBC Trust will be consulting on all of this.
Make the right choices now and Britain will enjoy a BBC that excels in a global, digital age, closer than ever to those who pay for it, doing a great and vital job for the creativity of these isles.
The BBC is a great national asset. We are all stewards for the next generation.
Thank you very much.
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