BBC launches 'competition revolution'
Joseph O'Halloran | 10 July 2014
The BBC has revealed the details of its widely reported plans to totally restructure its programming strategy introducing what Director General Tony Hall calls 'proper' competition in programme supply, overturning an unsatisfactory current system.
In a speech in London, Hall stressed that contrary to received wisdom competition was good for the BBC and he wanted to see more of it. He argued that the BBC strengthened rather than threatens diversity in what he called Britain's 'highly competitive' media market in Britain.
Hall said that he had observed a flourishing market for UK production both at home and abroad and that partly as a result, the production sector in the UK had changed rapidly. Indeed he remarked that the sector was far more consolidated than it used to be, with a small number of super-producers now dominating the supply of content to UK public service broadcasters and with many new outlets for their ideas. He also noted US capital and media companies spotting this and were swooping for UK producers, creating a changing market where even the biggest broadcasters in the world were feeling the need for allies. This process, he warned was is unlikely to be at an end and moreover, such 'managed competition' was producing an increasingly distorted market."
Under current production rules, half of the BBC's programming is made in-house, a quarter reserved for independent producers and the remainder offered to anyone else. Yet, Hall added, under the current structures some big, global producers no longer count as fully independent so their shows can't go in the 25% of BBC television airtime guaranteed to independent producers. "A big long-running independently-produced series like MasterChef has had to move into the 25% window of creative competition that's open to everyone," he explained. That squeezes out creativity and innovation. Big returning strands – brilliant as they are – now take up space designed for new ideas. A system set up to encourage competition and choice has begun to forcibly corral producers into three separate tribes."
To address this, Hall said that he wanted a system that supports British content and that both kept the UK competitive in a global market and also made the BBC as efficient as any broadcaster in the country.
He said: "We are – and must be – a great enabler for the creative industry in this country...We are going to go further than we have ever done before in opening the BBC to more competition. A competition revolution. And we are going to go further than we have ever done before in using external benchmarks and comparisons to drive up standards and drive down costs.' Compete or Compare'. That is our strategy. I want proper competition in programme supply, overturning the current system that no longer works as it should. I want a less regulated system that ensures that both our own BBC producers and those of the independent sector have creative freedom. I want a level playing-field between BBC producers and independent ones."
The result of the new plan, which would have to be agreed by the BBC Trust under Charter, he asserted, would see the old quote corporation transformed into a "production powerhouse that is a beacon for creativity, risk-taking and quality; and an amazing, world-beating independent sector."
Hall also assures that the new production plans would follow three basic principles. It would First, we must guarantee the secure supply of "brilliant and innovative new programmes" across the full range of BBC broadcasting; it must grow the country's creative sector, right across the UK; it must obtain value for money for the licence fee payer. Hall also emphasised, that the BBC couldn't have competition everywhere. "I am not ideological about competition – I want it where it will make things more efficient or better for our audiences, Hall remarked. One such ring-fenced area would be news gathering.