Television

UK based broadcaster BBC plans to build 'digital-first' focused services

BBC is likely to slash 1,000 jobs and will invest into digital services.

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Mumbai: UK pubcaster BBC director-general Tim Davie shared his plan to build a “digital-first” British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). The plan will see the broadcaster prioritising its apps and websites over traditional broadcasting channels, said in a company statement.

In the statement, BBC revealed closing its children-focused channel CBBC and art-skewing BBC-Four including slashing 1,000 jobs over time while putting more investment into digital services like iPlayer.

Davie also said, "Quite simply, the success of our online services is the success of the BBC over the next five years. Each needs to be in the top two or three in their market in the UK, with our online services growing globally too."

Elaborating on iPlayer he said, "Today, iPlayer reaches less than 50 per cent of BBC viewers on average per week. Our ambition is to grow this to 75 per cent. We’ll do this by re-allocating significant amounts of money every year into video that delivers on iPlayer, across a broad mix of genres.”

"We will propose to Ofcom to expand boxsets and archive, to have more BBC series available on demand. And we want to ensure that news and current affairs is as important to iPlayer as it is on broadcast, which means new on-demand content and formats to build new audience habits.”

"We will continue to personalise iPlayer to make it much more relevant to every age group and different parts of the UK."

While speaking about budget slashing he said, “What we are laying out today is a £500 million plan for the next few years. This is made up of two things: £200 million a year of cuts which are necessitated by the two-year licence fee freeze. This represents the majority of our £285 million a year challenge by 2027-28. £50 million of this £200 million is already baked into our current budgets. The rest is delivered by stopping things and running the organisation better where we can. Then there’s a further £300 million a year which is about moving money around the organisation and delivering additional commercial income. This means that we are not just cutting money everywhere but making choices where to invest."

He also said that the plan is not to simply deploy flat savings targets across every department but to act more deliberately. "Focussing resources on frontline areas where we can maximise the value we deliver to those that pay for us.”

Davie is clear that the future is digital. "The market challenge is clear. Though broadcast channels will be essential for years to come, we are moving decisively to a largely on-demand world. Today around 85 per cent of the time people spend with the BBC is with linear broadcasts. Too many of our resources are focused on broadcast and not online. And less than 10 per cent of our usage is signed in, so we can’t offer a properly tailored service, unlike all our global competitors. If we do not respond faster to these changes we will cede too much ground to those who are not driven by public service values.”

"The vision is simple: from today we are going to move decisively to a digital-first BBC. We have a chance to do something that no-one else is doing: build a digital media organisation that makes a significant positive impact, culturally, economically and socially. A global leader driven by the search for truth, impartiality, outstanding creativity, and independence."

So what will happen to linear broadcast with the enhanced focus on digital? "As we move money into digital, we will inevitably have to spend less on linear distribution. But we will do this with great care – our big channels will be popular for the next decade, at least, and they are incredibly powerful.”

Davie added: "We do plan to stop scheduling separate content for Radio 4 Long Wave, consulting with partners, including the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, ahead of the closure of the Long Wave platform itself. 5Live on medium wave will also close no later than December 2027, in line with a proposed industry-wide exit from the platform.”

"Over time we expect to consolidate and share more content between services, and expect to stop broadcasting some of our smaller channels on linear. This will include services like BBC Four, CBBC and Radio 4 Extra. But we won’t do this for at least the next three years because for the moment they are still delivering value to millions of viewers and listeners, at low extra cost."

He further said that when it comes to network TV, the UK pubcaster will reduce the volume of hours commissioned a year by around 200. "We’ll still offer thousands of originated hours and a very broad range, but fewer hours will mean we are not constantly thinning programme budgets.”

"We will focus our money where we are distinctive and more uniquely BBC. We will make tough choices about titles which may be performing on linear but are not doing enough to drive viewers to on-demand. A number of them will be cancelled this year. Importantly, higher-impact content will attract more investment from third parties to make our money go further.”

"And while we will continue to play a vital role in classical music in this country, we must be realistic about the resources we use. We will continue to support the classical music sector, invest in Radio 3 and improve our educational impact. However, we will look to reduce licence fee funding in our performing groups – preferably by looking for alternative sources of income where possible.”

In terms of news one of the things he mentioned was that putting digital first applies just as much to its international news services. The world service he pointed out is critical to the BBC, and its growing digital reach means bigger impact with audiences, more brand value for the BBC and the UK, and bigger opportunities for commercial growth.

"Broadcast services will continue to play a vital role but unfortunately the licence fee settlement means that we cannot offer every service on all the platforms we do today. So we propose to move some of our broadcast radio and television services off linear where digital provides the better future route to audiences. This builds on the model we’re already using in Latin America and parts of Europe. Of course, we will protect broadcast services where that’s likely to remain the best way of reaching people in the long term."

He said that the government’s commitment to extend its £94 million annual funding for the world service for a further three years is very welcome. But he also noted that UK licence fee funding for the world service, which has been around £254 million in recent years, is now running at over £290 million including world news – a level that is unsustainable following the licence fee settlement.

"We will set out plans in the coming weeks for how we will initially reduce licence fee spending on the World Service by around £30 million by the start of 2023/24, while protecting the full breadth of languages.”

"At the same time, our strategic review will identify the right longer-term model for a digital-first world service and lay out a strong case for more investment from the government over the coming years. This case for a strengthened world service is compelling but we can only expect UK licence fee payers to fund so much."

One of the challenges in digital is that on the tech front there is work to be done. "Around 30 million UK adults come to BBC online on average per week, and 200 million globally on digital platforms. We are now up to over 45 million UK accounts, with over 25 million signed in monthly. But we have much work to do to be a leading-edge player in functionality, user experience and data.”

"We’ve already begun investing more in product development, with an extra £10 million this year. From 2025 we expect to be investing up to an additional £50 million per year, transforming our level of personalisation and our use of real time data, and making our services as easy to use as possible.”

"In news, we will fully roll out and continuously improve the new News app as a signed-in experience. We will grow our live news pages and transform the quality, prominence and impact of local news.”

"In sounds, we will continue to improve our on-demand music offer. We will showcase some of the best non-BBC podcasts from British creators and host more of our podcasts on sounds first, before distributing more widely. We want to deliver local and network news better across Sounds and ensure we are securing distribution in connected cars."

He concluded by saying, "This is our moment to build a digital-first BBC. Something genuinely new, a Reithian organisation for the digital age, a positive force for the UK and the world. Independent, impartial, constantly innovating and serving all. A fresh, new, global digital media organisation which has never been seen before. Solely driven by the desire to make life and society better for our licence fee payers and customers in every corner of the UK and beyond. They want us to keep the BBC relevant and fight for something that in 2022 is more important than ever. To do that we need to evolve faster and embrace the huge shifts in the market around us.”

"I believe in a public service BBC for all, properly funded, relevant for everyone, universally available, and growing in the on-demand age. This plan sets us on that journey."

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