The BBC has blown a raspberry at both the Minister of Fun and the Chancellor, who want a smaller and more focused BBC, by setting out plans to embiggen itself.
The media giant’s new strategy, which has a pre-election feel to it, sees the Corporation expanding furiously in all directions while threatening to close down iconic middle class services such as BBC4 because of “cuts”.
BBC Director General Tony Hall outlined the strategy in a “key moment” – the first of four “key moments” (no, really: see footnote 1, here*) for “a more distinctive BBC.”
The biggest expansion beyond traditional boundaries sees the creation of a TED Talk-style multimedia project, and dipping a toe into music streaming. The “Ideas Service” will keep you up to date on management fads and feature luvvies from other publicly funded quangos. Hall thanked the Royal Society’s president (and former Socialist Worker seller) Sir Paul Nurse as an example. The Ideas Service sounds perfectly tailored for people who buy Malcolm Gladwell books and need to keep abreast of buzzwords – such as BBC managers.
Hall said the BBC will throw more money at the World Service, drama, and also threw a sop to local newspapers. The BBC would share 100 “public service reporters” with local papers, to cover courts and councils.
Please, sir, can I have some more?
The destruction of local news isn’t entirely the BBC’s fault, but reflects the basket-case economics of the internet, which raises only a fraction of revenue from online advertising that cash and print advertising once raised. Newspapers contributed to the crisis by failing to develop platforms, and by giving away their content for free.
Last week the organisation representing the commercial news biz, the News Media Association, called for the BBC to collaborate more, rather than just expand:
“Without a clear, externally regulated co-operation framework for the expansion of its news services, the BBC’s drive to ‘do more’ risks becoming a further contributory factor in the erosion of the wider UK news provider market”, the NMA’s report urged. (It is available on its website in pdf form)
The 100 “public service” reporters are a step towards the BBC generating wholesale content, but a very small one: the BBC has 8,000 journalists.
Hall also promised new investment in the World Service to reach “parts of the world where there is a democratic deficit in impartial news.” Apparently, he doesn’t mean the UK, but was referring to new transmissions into North Korea and Ethiopia. The BBC will also “[explore] digital ways to support music discovery to help audiences find new music and the best from the archive.”
Presumably much of the strategy was outlined before 7 May, when the BBC assumed a Labour government would leave it free to expand as it wished.
But DG Hall denied it was expanding at all: “An open BBC is a million miles away from an expansionist ambition. Indeed it is the polar opposite,” he said.
The BBC apparently threatened Chancellor George Osborne that it would go nuclear, and announce a plan to close BBC2, BBC4 and all local radio stations on Budget Day, if it didn’t win key funding concessions. Osborne caved, promising to peg increases in the TV licence to the inflation rate, to plug the iPlayer “loophole”, and mitigating the cost of free TV for the over-75s. The BBC later admitted to the Press Gazette that the deal was “revenue neutral”. In reality, with the number of UK households set to increase, it means more money.
Hall will outline more details of the BBC's digital education strategy – which includes building and flogging a home computer – later this week.
“The BBC has got an unfortunate history of never seeing an area of broadcasting, or increasingly a web presence, without feeling the need to get into it itself,” said Jeremy Paxman last year. ®
Those four "key moments" in full:
"Today’s paper is the first in a series of four key moments. The second paper, which will be published at the Royal Television Society conference later this month, sets out our proposals on the future of BBC production and Worldwide. The third, which will be published in early October, will be the BBC’s direct response to the government’s questions set out in their Green Paper. The fourth moment, later in the year, will set out the BBC’s money saving proposals."