BBC claims programme spend up, overheads down

LONDON: The BBC increased spending on programmes and services by a further ?346 million last year.This is a 35 per cent increase since 2000. At the same time, it managed to bring the cost of overheads down to 13 per cent of expenditure from 24 per cent three years ago.

These findings are contained in the broadcaster's Annual Report & Accounts for 2002/2003. As part of the BBC's digital strategy in the UK, more new services were launched in the last 18 months than in the BBC's 80 year history. The range and distinctiveness of content was extended with new strategies on the main terrestrial channels for arts, politics, current affairs and religion.

BBC Chairman Gavin Davies said, "The launch of the new services and the greater investment in programmes has meant that the long-planned reduction in the BBC's cash balance has happened in the past year. The BBC is on target with all its medium term financial targets".

The cash balance deficit of ?74 million was planned in 2000 when the BBC's new digital strategy was first outlined and has been forecast each year since. The aim is to reach break-even over the current Charter period, with no debt in the public service.

Davies also pointed out that there was a clear improvement in range and ambition of programmes, especially on BBC ONE, which confirmed its position as the UK's most watched channel. BBC TWO claims to have been the only terrestrial channel to increase its overall audience share - to 11.2 per cent- in the face of increased competition.

Highlights from this year's report include:

- Increased investment in the nations and regions, with over ?50 million more being committed than two years ago, has led to increases in audience approval in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and across the English regions.

- Despite difficult market conditions the BBC's commercial businesses returned a record ?147 million of benefit to licence payers.

- The launch of Freeview, which underlines the BBC's commitment to the future of digital terrestrial broadcasting. Over 680,000 Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) boxes were sold between Freeview's launch in October and the end of March, bringing the total number of homes capable of receiving DTT to 1.4 million.

- BBCi's online service remains Europe's most widely visited content site. Monthly reach among people with internet access rose from 38 per cent to a 43 per cent peak - the equivalent of 8.3 million adults. In addition 37 interactive TV services were launched.

Defending the beebs coverage of the Itaq conflict Davies said, "As ever, the BBC had an overriding responsibility to licence payers to reflect and analyse the debate that was happening in the country and to report the war itself with a total commitment to impartiality and the truth. The troubled circumstances of war were no reason to compromise the editorial standards of the BBC's news output. Not only did audiences turn to the BBC as a source of news in overwhelming numbers but evidence shows that they trusted the BBC more than any other information source".

Also referring to the BBC's coverage of the war, BBC DG, Greg Dyke said, "News, broadcast impartially and independently, is at the heart of our public service remit. We have stuck to these principles, often in the face of intense political and commercial pressure, through a violent and uncertain period. One measure of how much the public trusts and values this commitment is that 93 per cent of the UK population used BBC television, radio, text or online services in the first two weeks of the war."

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