Speech by Tony Hall, Director-General of the BBC at the Media & Telecoms Conference on Thursday 7 March 2019.
Check against delivery
I want to talk this morning about the TV of Tomorrow.
But I’m going to start by taking you back in time - to last September. Back then everyone, wherever you went, seemed to be talking about one thing: Bodyguard. The whole country was gripped. An extraordinary number watched the finale - 17 million.
A few weeks later, we aired David Attenborough’s Dynasties. And there was that moment when we discovered a pile of penguins and their chicks, trapped and freezing at the bottom of a ravine. Social media lit up. You could practically hear the cheers round the country when the chicks got free.
Meanwhile, Killing Eve became a sensation on iPlayer - with 45 million requests to view. The whole nation seemed to swallow it up, almost in one sitting.
And then there was our extraordinary commemoration of Armistice Day - including Peter Jackson’s unforgettable film They Shall Not Grow Old.
All of it, must-see TV for audiences old and young.
Two weeks ago, I was in Glasgow for the launch of our brand new BBC Scotland Channel. On its first night, an average viewing share of 13% made BBC Scotland the third most-watched channel. And it reached more 16-34 year olds than any other.
Still Game – a show that’s sitcom royalty north of the border - pulled in the highest-ever ratings there for a digital channel.
So what does all this tell us?
Well, it tells us that, whatever else we talk about, in the end it’s all about content. It tells us that on our best creative form, the BBC and UK creativity are unbeatable. World-class.
And it also tells us that there remains a proud and powerful place for public service broadcasting, right at the heart of today’s TV landscape.
PSB today and tomorrow
Of course, we often hear the opposite. That time’s up for public service broadcasting, that it can’t possibly survive. That it’s the TV of yesterday.
In reality, the goals and values that define public service media have become more relevant, more important, not less.
If we were designing a brand-new media organisation to respond to our world today, we would call on precisely the same fundamental values of quality and relevance, independence, impartiality and universality.
In a world awash with misinformation and disinformation, audiences want trusted, impartial news about the UK and the world. In an increasingly global marketplace, British audiences want programmes and services about their lives and their culture. In divided times, it’s never been more important to reflect and represent every part of the UK. All views and voices.
That’s why, at a time when others are pulling back from local radio, we’re doing just the opposite. Creating new evening shows on our local radio stations. Moving more local. More regional. Less London-centric.
The truth is, PSB values have never been more vital.
And there’s another truth too: they’re not limited by technology.
The BBC’s mission - set in the 1920s, let’s remember - is to inform, educate and entertain. Not “to make wireless programmes”. These are enduring human needs. They’re not just about radio or TV - they’re timeless ideals.
In fact, far from being a threat, every technological advance represents a real opportunity. Because it opens up exciting new possibilities for how we can deliver our mission to today’s audiences. And it increases competition and choice.
The challenges might never have been tougher. But we need public service broadcasting more than ever. And we can deliver it better than ever.
Our role in a fast-changing market
What does this mean for our role in today’s television world?
It’s hard to overstate how profoundly and rapidly the giant global players are reshaping the market around us. Analysts estimate that Netflix spent as much as $13 billion on movies and shows last year. Amazon has a content spend of around $5 billion. They’re reportedly setting aside a reported $1 billion for five series of Lord of the Rings. Disney has a $100 million budget for a single series of Star Wars.
Let’s just pause on that… Remember: the BBC’s TV content spend taken altogether is around £1.5 billion across a whole year. And all the time, new competitors are flooding in. Disney, Apple, Comcast, WarnerMedia… We’re expecting new streaming services from them all.
It’s no wonder streaming has overtaken pay TV for the first time. No wonder that 16-34 year olds spend more than half of their screen time each day watching non-broadcast TV.
How do traditional PSBs respond?
I’ve already talked about the essential importance of our values. Ofcom’s research shows UK audiences continue to support them strongly, across all ages. Three-quarters of 16-34s say they believe in our mission and want it to continue.
But I want to pick out three great advantages that set us apart and make us unique.
First, we can make linear and non-linear, TV channels and video-on-demand, work together.
What we’ve done with some of our biggest shows proves it. Like releasing the full boxset back catalogues of Peaky Blinders, Our Girl or Luther to be a complement to a new series. With Luther, we saw 18 million ‘plays’ on iPlayer when we brought it back ahead of the launch of season five, a third from young people. Then the new series averaged almost 10 million viewers per episode across linear TV and iPlayer - our third most successful drama of recent times.
And I mentioned the Bodyguard finale reaching 17 million viewers. That was in one month. Our data suggests The Crown reached 7 million users in 17 months.
The reality is, there’s no substitute for that great combination of linear and on demand.
Second, PSBs are strongest in the content that UK audiences love.
Stories about them and their communities. British passions and British concerns. We make the content that resonates with the country and responds to what matters most - right here, right now. Of the top 2,000 programmes broadcast in 2018 - according, I should mention, to Enders - only three were from overseas.
And remember: Ofcom’s data suggests that less than 10% of the catalogues of Netflix and Amazon is content produced in the UK.
Third, PSBs have the brand, the reputation, and the archive.
We know the BBC brand really matters. We mean something special to audiences - not just as the national broadcaster, but as a national institution. And I’m always reminded of what we mean to the UK when I go abroad.
Look at the phenomenal impact of Sherlock in China… Or Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor Who in the US - where, by the way, ratings among younger female viewers have doubled.
Look at the fact that three-quarters of a billion people have seen Blue Planet II - three-quarters of a billion.
No one can match what we have. It gives the PSBs an incredible head start.
How we must adapt to respond
But whatever the advantages, all PSBs have to adapt to a dramatically different market and dramatically different expectations from our audiences.
What does this mean for the BBC?
Well, the single most important thing is what must never change. We must continue to make the very best, most creative British programmes – for all audiences.
I’m determined that we spend every penny possible on programmes and services.
Let me remind you, I keep saying it. We’ve reduced overheads to industry-leading levels: just six per cent of our total costs. Better than most in the private sector. That means the proportion of the licence fee we spend on content is at a record high.
It’s helped to ensure that, creatively, we’re on top form. And we’re determined to keep pushing the creative boundaries - innovating and taking risks with everything we do. To keep investing in new talent that helps us reach new audiences. Like BBC Three, with its fantastic pipeline of success. To keep commissioning content from the broadest range of producers across the UK. And supporting the smaller, more specialist producers that are so vitally important to us and British creativity. And alongside all this, we need to keep backing BBC Studios as one of the best places for creative talent to work.
I was up at the Studios Showcase in Liverpool last month. There was a real sense of flying the flag for brilliant British creativity. Brian Cox’s The Planets and David Attenborough’s One Planet, Seven Worlds. Riz Ahmed’s passion-piece, Englistan. The brand new Top Gear team - I met them, they’re going to be great.
It’s an incredibly powerful production line of talent and content to take to the world - with the returns coming home to re-invest in British content. It’s a virtuous circle.
So our strategy, first and foremost, must be to put great content first. Without it, nothing else matters.
Delivering the TV of tomorrow
But what needs to change is how audiences get to that content.
It’s 11 years since iPlayer went live. Back then it blazed a trail. Today it’s still one of the country’s biggest and most recognised brands. But it’s a sign of how quickly things have changed that - while our audiences love the quality and brilliance of our content - they now expect more than just catch up.
This is why we talk about iPlayer being a destination in its own right. A place some audiences will come to first, to browse and discover something new.
Our plan is simple. We want iPlayer to build on the very best of the past, to deliver the TV of tomorrow. The best mix of live and recorded programmes.
I mentioned the 45 million requests for Killing Eve. We had a similar number for iPlayer’s live coverage of the World Cup. The broadest range - from Bodyguard to BBC Alba. Where else would you go for something in Gaelic? Where else would you find something as outstanding as Norma Percy’s Inside Europe, alongside something as surprising as Keeping Faith from Wales? Not to mention the brilliant Bros documentary, After the Screaming Stops. The freshest and newest shows like Fleabag and Famalam, and the best of the archive like Blackadder and Bleak House.
This is what the BBC has always done. On our channels we’ve always seen the best of the new, narrative repeats, the best of the old.
And in an algorithm-driven world, we can offer the public service mix we’ve always been excellent at, even more effectively. And we can offer the best and latest functionality too.
Our iPlayer strategy
So our iPlayer strategy is clear.
First, we’ll have programmes available for at least 12 months after they’re first shown. And some of those as multiseries boxsets. This means more value for the licence fee. And we know it’s what audiences expect. 19 million of our Killing Eve requests came before it was broadcast. So did 5 million of the 12 million requests for Peter Kay’s Car Share.
Our research shows that a majority of people would like more boxsets and full series available, and available all year round. And Luther, Our Girl, Miranda... When we’ve brought them back to iPlayer in the last few months, audiences have shown their appetite to go right back to the start.
Second, we’ll have more personalisation, with more people signed-in. We know that personalising the iPlayer homepage increases viewing - and, again, therefore value. Audiences tell us they want a tailored, personalised offer. They want us to deliver a mix of data-driven content and curated programming - a mix that only the BBC can provide.
And third, we’ll have more live programming, and more content from our archive. Audiences see live programming as something that sets iPlayer apart in the VoD landscape, especially our music and sport. And of course our archive is unique.
Our Christmas boxset releases proved what an appetite there is for our classic television. 7 million of nearly 60 million requests were for titles over ten years old.
And the first ten series of Doctor Who have seen over 25 million requests in the last six months.
For our audiences it’s simple.
This is the telly of tomorrow.
The same BBC mission and values. The same broad range of brilliant, British creativity - unique amongst today’s vast array of global content. But tailored, attuned and delivered to meet the new expectations of audiences. Creating a service that will be wholly distinctive in the UK video-on-demand market.
Commercially, by the way, what we’re proposing for iPlayer is in a sense nothing new. It’s the extension of our initial public service window, that’s not normally available for commercial exploitation in the UK. So it won’t affect our ability to maximise commercial returns.
When we need to go beyond that, we’ll pay fair market rates.
It doesn’t impact either on sales outside the UK - where the majority of commercial investment and return comes from. And we’ve seen a continuing healthy commercial appetite for the BBC’s boxsets in the UK, even when they have been on iPlayer longer.
Our commercial strategy in the UK
Nowhere is that clearer than in our new commercial partnership with ITV.
You’ve heard from Carolyn already. For me, this is a new model of public service and commercial partnership in the UK. It builds on the success we’ve had with BritBox in North America.
BritBox will provide an unrivalled collection of British boxsets as well as new original series that you won’t see anywhere else, on demand, all in one place. And, crucially, UK audiences will always know who to credit for what they’re watching. Both ITV and the BBC will have full branding and attribution at service and programme level.
This is a partnership that supports the whole PSB ecology. And we hope others come on board too. And Britbox will itself commission new programmes from that ecology. So it will support producers, actors, writers, directors - in fact our whole production community.
For me, it’s another reminder of just how central a role the PSBs play as the engine-room of our creative economy. Businesses have been built on those foundations. Exports around the world are built on that creative strength. PSB values and purposes infuse the whole system.
In the future, we will make that link more explicit.
Our UK commercial activity will play a greater role in supporting the BBC’s public purposes. It always has done.
In the past, a DVD of a David Attenborough landmark could inform, educate and entertain just as much as the original broadcast. UKTV has been extending the reach and value of the BBC’s brand for years. Britbox offers another new way to do this. And a new way to bring commercial investment back to re-invest in great content.
Linear regulation in a digital world
Of course, all these proposals are subject to regulatory processes. Clearly this could mean a delay.
Here I have to make an obvious but vital point. If we need to change and adapt to a new global, digital marketplace, so does the regulation around us.
The landscape in which we operate has changed beyond all recognition over the past decade. But our regulation has stayed largely the same. We are operating a linear framework in an on-demand world.
If we want PSB to continue to be relevant in the next 10 to 20 years, and to thrive at the heart of a uniquely powerful media ecology, we have to support it.
We’ve talked a lot about prominence, together with Channel 4 - I know Alex will touch on this later... We need to make sure audiences can still find the content we know they value and want to watch - on both linear and on demand.
We need to look afresh at regulation, and ask whether all the historic interventions that have built up over the decades are still necessary.
Regulation and competition reviews must take into account what’s happening now. How the market is developing, not what it was in the past.
It can’t be right that - as Ofcom themselves have pointed out - the same programme can be regulated in half a dozen different ways in the UK, depending on who’s hosting it. And all this needs to happen at pace, so PSBs can respond in real time. Remember, Netflix updates its app weekly. With no hold up and no regulatory approval.
We know from our iPlayer research: audiences expect us to evolve at the same speed.
Delivering value in the digital age
I want to leave you with one thought. For me, it’s really important. We can talk about changes to iPlayer, catch-up windows, regulatory frameworks. What it’s all about is this: Because of the way we are funded, we need to deliver value to everyone.
I sometimes hear people talk about the BBC as a “free” service, or about content they already get “for free”. I always correct them. Our audiences pay for it. They need to get value for their £154.50. And today our audiences, particularly young audiences, expect to get that value through our digital services - iPlayer, BBC Sounds, News Online.
It might be five years away, it might be 10, but soon our digital services will be the only ones some audiences use. And increasingly, their idea of what constitutes value will be unique and personal to them.
Not long ago, traditional broadcasters and media organisations could each do our thing and expect audiences to make time to come to us. Now we must fit around their lives. Deliver value directly to them. Or we all risk irrelevance.
This is a profound shift.
It means we need a new contract with our audiences.
They still expect great value for money. But more personal, over time. In a more relevant, one-to-one way. To fit with their lives.
We need to provide something of value to everyone, but in very different ways and at very different times. We need a new and personal relationship with individuals and households. We need to be ready to inform, educate and entertain, no matter what the future holds.
Above all, we need to live up to a simple promise in our second century: What we’ve always done brilliantly, delivered how audiences want today, at the heart of the TV of tomorrow.