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BBC needs to reorient focus around core roles, top boss says

The role of the broadcaster is to entertain, inform and educate the public, Tim Davie affirmed in a speech this week.

The role of the broadcaster is to entertain, inform and educate the public, Tim Davie affirmed in a speech this week.

Broadcasting House, the headquarters of the BBC, as it appeared in 2014.
Broadcasting House, the headquarters of the BBC, as it appeared in 2014. (Photo via Wikimedia Commons, Graphic by The Desk)

The head of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) says Britain’s top public broadcaster needs to reorient its focus around three core groups: To educate, inform and entertain the television audience it serves.

The note was made during a speech at the Royal Television Society at Savory House Hall this week, during which BBC Director General Tim Davie outlined his vision for the short-term and long-term future of the oldest broadcast television network in the world.

“The future of the UK, democratically, socially and culturally is at risk,” Davie said to a packed house on Tuesday. “And, for us to succeed, far from following where the market is driving others, we must double down on what audiences see as our unique value.”

Davie said the BBC needs to adopt three essential roles: To pursue truth with no agenda through its news organization; invest in homegrown talent and creativity to boost British storytelling; and connecting people to high-quality television content sought out the world over.

That mission has been made difficult by a complex situation in which the BBC faces higher costs due to inflation and lower income from a television tax imposed on British households that receive traditional or online linear TV broadcasts.

To that end, the BBC will rely less on the television tax as a source of income, and start to diversify its global business by focusing more on revenue-generating products through connected TV platforms.

On that last point, the BBC has already made some progress: Earlier this month, it acquired ITV’s stake in Britbox International — which operates the Britbox streaming service in the United States and Canada — giving it full control of the subscription streaming platform. Last week, it worked with U.S.-based partner AMC Networks to bring its global news channel BBC News to free, ad-supported streaming platforms, including Pluto TV, Xumo Play and Plex.

Last year, the BBC relaunched its ad-supported news website in the United States with a cleaner look and a focus on incorporating more domestic news stories in an effort to attract a larger American news audience. The refreshed BBC News website is now rolling out to other territories, where revenue from ads helps support the BBC’s domestic and international operations.

There is still more work to be done, Davie said, with the BBC still not fully realizing synergies across different departments — television, news, BBC World Service radio and BBC Studios.

“In the future BBC, you will be able to move across the content seamlessly, not limited by media type,” Davie affirmed on Tuesday. “If you are interested in a topic, you should be able to easily mine the whole BBC — from archives to live output, audio-video World Service and local.”

At the same time, Davie said the television tax charged to British citizens was in need of careful reform. Starting early next month, the cost of the license will increase to nearly £170 per year (about $215 per year), which helps cover the cost of production and transmission at the BBC and allows content on the BBC’s domestic channels to be offered without commercial breaks.

The TV tax — called a license — has the potential to cut off some British households who might find the BBC’s content more attractive, and could do more harm than good to the brand if it locks people out who would otherwise watch, and perhaps pay for, the BBC’s shows and series at some point in the future.

“We should not create another commercial walled garden or a narrow BBC that provides a niche service for the most hardcore users,” Davie affirmed. “The very wonder of the BBC is that quality news sits next to genres such as drama and sport, thus ensuring widespread usage.”

An internal review will look at whether the BBC is offering enough resources to low-income and older British citizens who are less likely to be able to afford the television license, and explore ways to reach those consumers with its quality content.

That could mean subsidizing the license for more low-income Britains, the way the BBC covers the license for TV households whose primary head is over the age of 75, or it could mean including sponsorships and advertising across some or all BBC channels.

Next year, the BBC will kick off a public outreach campaign that will allow citizens to offer their feedback on the matter.

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About the Author:

Matthew Keys

Matthew Keys is a nationally-recognized, award-winning journalist who has covered the business of media, technology, radio and television for more than 10 years. He is the publisher of The Desk and contributes to Know Techie, Digital Content Next and StreamTV Insider. He previously worked for Thomson Reuters, the Walt Disney Company, McNaughton Newspapers and Tribune Broadcasting.
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