The BBC’s new director-general has called for the public service broadcaster to reduce the range of its output and boost commercial operations as “the future of a universal BBC can no longer be taken for granted”.
Tim Davie, who replaced Tony Hall this week, also renewed the public service broadcaster’s commitment to impartiality, warning that “too many” people view it as “shaped by a particular perspective”.
In a speech to staff on Thursday, the former director of BBC Studios, the broadcaster’s commercial production hub, did not divulge what type of programmes the broadcaster should make less of. But he highlighted “outstanding” content such as the drama Normal People, the comedy Fleabag, the documentary Blue Planet 2, the dance contest Strictly Come Dancing and the World Service.
He criticised the corporation for having tried to cope with increasing competition by making more and “spreading ourselves too thinly”. “Of course, we need to offer a broad choice as the BBC,” he said. “But we have been too slow to stop things that don’t work,” he said, adding the organisation would “identify how we can have more impact by making less”.
Mr Davie is taking over a nearly 100-year-old corporation that is in the midst of an existential crisis.
Younger audiences have been fleeing the BBC for deep-pocketed streaming giants and platforms such as TikTok, leaving the broadcaster in need of funds as it battles for their attention. Meanwhile, rows over free licences for the elderly and perceived liberal bias have led to an increasingly sour relationship with Boris Johnson’s government, reviving debate over its publicly funded licence fee.
Negotiations with the government over the level of the BBC’s funding beyond 2022 and the renewal of its royal charter after 2027 will be among the more daunting challenges that Mr Davie faces.
“I do not want a subscription BBC,” Mr Davie told staff. “We could make a decent business out of it, and I suspect it could do quite well in certain postcodes, but it would make us just another media company serving a specific group.”
He did, however, call on the BBC’s employees to start thinking about “commercial returns” in an attempt to boost “financial value for licence fee payers”, citing the US launch of its joint streaming service with ITV, Britbox, as well as BBC studios as examples to follow. The commercial production arm last year made £1.4bn in revenues and returned £243m to be used by the BBC.
On the perception of political bias within the corporation, Mr Davie said: “If you want to be an opinionated columnist or a partisan campaigner on social media then that is a valid choice, but you should not be working at the BBC,” adding that new social media rules for employees were being drafted.
Mr Davie, who accepted a pay cut of roughly a quarter to £475,000 compared with his last role, will from next year have to work with a new chairman, when the government is set to appoint David Clementi’s successor.
He also announced a shake-up of his senior management team, which will see the broadcaster’s board shrink from 17 to 11 roles. Charlotte Moore, who was a contender for the top role, will as part of the shake-up become responsible for all of the BBC’s non-news content and join the board.
“The world has changed,” Mr Davie said. “If we really care about this precious institution we must protect it by reforming it.”
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