BBC pledges to become 'open platform' for creativity

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Media caption,

Tony Hall said the BBC was being "reconfigured" to meet changing audience expectations

The BBC has pledged to work more closely with the UK's arts and science institutions to "make Britain the greatest cultural force in the world".

BBC director general Tony Hall set out plans for the next decade, saying the corporation will become an "open BBC for the internet age".

A children's iPlayer and a pool of local reporters who will share work with local newspapers are also planned.

Yet he said funding cuts would mean the loss or reduction of some services.

Lord Hall laid out the plans at the Science Museum on Monday, ahead of the BBC's charter renewal in 2016.

Citing the importance of "excellence without arrogance", he said his plans did not signal "an expansionist BBC".

He did warn, however, that funding cuts would mean it would "inevitably have to either close or reduce some services", without specifying which areas might be under threat.

Image caption,
Professor Brian Cox announced a strand titled The New Age of Wonder

New initiatives will include an Ideas Service, which Lord Hall said would be an "open online platform" featuring material from galleries, museums and universities as well as the corporation itself.

He said: "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."

Image source, PA
Image caption,
The BBC is creating a new iPlayer - for children

The government launched a consultation on the BBC's Royal Charter, which sets out the purpose of the BBC and how it will be governed, in July, promising to ask "hard questions" about the corporation's size and ambition.

Other BBC plans include:

  • A pool of reporters to provide impartial reporting on councils and public services that could be used by both the BBC and other local news outlets
  • A children's-only iPlayer - iPlay - featuring not just television programmes but blogs, podcasts, games and educational tools
  • Opening up iPlayer to "showcase" content from other broadcasters
  • New versions of BBC education, news and entertainment services in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland
  • "Significant investment" in the BBC World Service, including a daily news programme for North Korea and more broadcasts to Russia, India and the Middle East
  • A news service for Ethiopia and Eritrea on medium wave and short wave
  • A review of the BBC's website to make sure it is "distinctive with a stronger focus on online broadcast content"
  • New digital ways to help fans find new music or music from the BBC archive

The director general also said he wanted to enable "producers, directors, writers, artists to have the creative freedom to do things they would find it harder to do elsewhere".

Quality drama will also be a priority, he said, and the BBC will make "bigger and bolder series" that will be made available on the iPlayer in their entirety.

Physicist and BBC presenter Professor Brian Cox also announced a science strand named The New Age of Wonder, which will be part of the Ideas Service and will be created in partnership with organisations like the Royal Institution.

Analysis - BBC media correspondent David Sillito

"This is not an expansionist BBC" is perhaps the key political line in today's announcements. This is a response to the accusation that the corporation is "imperial in its ambitions" made by Chancellor George Osborne (along with several newspapers).

Partnerships with cultural bodies, sharing news with local newspapers, opening up the iPlayer to third party content - the mood music is all about co-operation rather than competition.

The second theme can be seen most clearly in the plans for bigger and bolder drama and giving people the chance to "binge" watch. The BBC is in a global marketplace - Netflix, Amazon, Google, Apple and HBO - the traditional media landscape is being blown apart.

The BBC's problem is looking after its core audience and responding to a technological transformation. It will take money and the BBC has just taken a £650m cut. Those "tough choices" mentioned in the speech is the theme that has not yet been announced.

Lord Hall described the recent agreement by the BBC to cover the £600m cost of providing free television licences for over-75s as a "tough deal" that would require "some very difficult choices" to be made.

He said: "Having already saved 40% of the BBC's revenues in this charter period, we must save close to another 20% over the next five years."

Details of how those savings will be made and which services might be under threat will be announced in the coming months, he added.

In a charter review proposals document published on Monday, however, the BBC suggests that "some existing services" might no longer be needed in future.

"Streaming news may replace rolling news," the document states. "Children may prefer iPlay to scheduled television. The Ideas Service might mean we no longer need BBC Four."

Later in the same document, though, the BBC states "it is too early to be specific about the service changes that we will need to make."

'Trojan horse'

The BBC's plans for "a network of 100 public service reporters across the country" did not find favour with the Scottish Newspaper Society, who labelled the proposal "a Trojan horse which will undermine long-established publications and destroy local news agencies".

"Instead of helping local news publishers, it would make the BBC even more powerful and would further concentrate coverage of news in the hands of the state-funded broadcaster," said its director John McLellan.

The News Media Association, which represents national, regional and local news media organisations across the UK, expressed similar concerns, saying the corporation's proposals represented "BBC expansion into local news provision and recruitment of more BBC local journalists through the back door".

"The local newspaper sector already employs thousands of journalists and is the only reliable source of independent and trusted local news across the UK," said its vice chairman Ashley Highfield. "There is no deficit which the BBC needs to plug."

"Under the guise of being helpful, the BBC would end up replacing independent local news services," Mr McLellan told Radio 4's The World at One earlier, calling the plan "a further expansion of the BBC's encroachment".

Yet this accusation was rejected by James Purnell, the BBC's director of strategy, who told the same programme it was "very much not the goal" for the BBC to "take over all local journalism".

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