Belfast Telegraph

BBC Director General Lord Hall admits services will be cut in shake-up

The BBC will undergo a major shake-up to make savings of around 20% by 2020, the Director General has announced.

There are "some very difficult choices ahead" for the BBC and some services will have to close, Lord Hall said as he unveiled plans for its future.

Giving his first of a four-part response to the Government's review of its royal charter, he promised an "open BBC" that collaborates with rival media and the public, and serves as a "catalyst for this country's incredible talent".

In his speech at the Science Museum in London, Lord Hall said the organisation is going to "take risks, push boundaries", and "not be afraid of controversy".

The main proposals are:

:: Funding for "high-quality British drama" as part of a "distinctive approach" across all channels and programmes. The broadcaster has pledged to "aggregate UK original content to increase the traffic to, and investment in, UK original content" after Ofcom expressed concern about a fall in investment of original British content.

:: Ideas Service - a partnership with numerous independent organisations, including museums, universities, schools, Royal Shakespeare Company and British Science Association, to bring the public "the best of British ideas and culture". By focusing on arts, science and history in both broadcast and online it will "offer people new ways to participate, engage and learn".

:: iPlay - an interactive children's service giving on-demand access to content and programmes online. It will offer "tailored, age-appropriate material that changes and develops from childhood through adolescence" with learning at its core to encourage children to be "active creators, not just passive consumers".

:: Support for new music acts to promote "the best of new British talent", backed by the UK music industry.

:: "Responsive" radio to give audiences a personalised schedule of programmes. Listeners will be able to "easily create their own, individual radio channels" based on their needs or the time of day. It will be a combination of live and on-demand radio programmes with music playlists, news updates and alerts.

:: "Significant investment" in the World Service to areas with a "democratic deficit in impartial news", including a daily radio news programme in North Korea, increased coverage in North Africa and India, renationalised content on BBC Arabic in the Middle East and more digital coverage in Russian on YouTube and Rutube, the Russian equivalent.

:: The offer of a partnership with regional newspapers to help support local democracy, including shared content and 100 "public service reporters" funded by licence fees to cover councils, courts and public services across the UK. Reporting will be available not just for the BBC but to "all reputable news organisations" with any media company able to compete for a contract in each area.

:: Opening up BBC iPlayer to include content from other organisations and working with the "widest range of partners". It will be a platform for "Britain's institutions of ideas, our museums, theatres and festivals, our universities and research institutions" working in collaboration with other institutions, individuals and even competitors.

:: A review of the BBC's website to ensure it is "distinctive with a stronger focus on online broadcast content" and a transition from rolling news to streaming news. Television and radio programmes will be accompanied by online content to create "a new set of internet-first services" that will deliver breaking news to the public as one combined service.

:: New versions of education, news and entertainment services in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to "reflect deepening devolution" and to "capture the distinctive stories of our four nations". Each nation will be represented on a "pan-UK network service" with an interactive digital "channel" for each of the UK nations and a broader range of programmes and entertainment.

:: It is estimated the proposed services will cost around £150 million, which will be funded by "a mixture of re-prioritisation, changes to services and commercial income and policy changes". Reductions and closure of services will be announced later this year to meet the 20% savings imposed by the Government, which amounts to more than £550 million a year of savings by 2021.

TV licences

Lord Hall said that Chancellor George Osborne's July Budget had left the BBC with difficult decisions, including the reduction and closure of some services.

In a settlement reached ahead of the Budget, the corporation agreed to help finance spending cuts by shouldering the cost of free television licences for people aged over 75.

It will cost the BBC an estimated £750 million by 2020, almost a fifth of its current annual income.

Lord Hall said that it meant the BBC would have to save 20% of its income over the next five years at a time when its share of TV revenues was likely to fall.

"The BBC faces a very tough financial challenge. So we will have to manage our resources ever more carefully and prioritise what we believe the BBC should offer," he said.

"We will inevitably have to either close or reduce some services."

But he failed to specify where the cuts would be made, adding that he may not have the answers until Christmas.

Lord Hall said: "By Christmas I want to say how we will get to the first part of our financial challenge."

He added that some of the cuts "will come out of looking at management layers and the scope and scale of support services and so on".

"By Christmas I will tell you how we're going to make the rest of it add up," he continued.

"I want to ensure we're spending every single pound in the BBC on services that matter to our audiences."

The speech comes after Culture Secretary John Whittingdale announced consultations on the future of licence fee funding for the BBC, questioning whether the corporation should be "all things to all people" or have a more "precisely targeted" mission.

Internet age

Lord Hall said: "For the next 10 years, we will need to ride two horses - serving those who have adopted the internet and mobile media, while at the same time making sure that those who want to carry on watching and listening to traditional channels continue to be properly served too.

"This is where the idea of an open BBC for the internet age comes from."

The director general said that the internet had made it easier to find information but harder to know whether to trust it.

Describing what the "open BBC" would look like, he acknowledged that the mobile service it provided would need to be developed, adding that there would be a "bespoke BBC News" that would be the "backbone" of the broadcaster's global news operation.

Lord Hall announced: "In the future, the BBC would set aside licence fee funding to invest in a service that reports on councils, courts and public services."

The BBC's proposal says the aim is to put in place a network of 100 public service reporters across the country. Reporting would be available to the BBC but also to all "reputable" news organisations.

He added that the news service would be reconfigured to meet the expectations of audiences across the country.

"We will never give up our role in reporting the whole of the UK back to itself, but we also have to recognise that news in some parts of the country simply does not apply to others."

Another proposal outlined during the speech was the introduction of an "ideas service" as a "core part" of the vision for an "open BBC".

Lord Hall said the service would host content not only from the broadcaster, but also from the country's cultural institutions, from the British Museum and the Royal Shakespeare Company to the Edinburgh Festivals.

Other plans will see changes to the iPlayer that will allow rival shows to be seen on the catch-up service.

"I want to experiment with the BBC issuing bigger and bolder series all at once on iPlayer, so viewers have the option of 'binge-watching'," said Lord Hall.

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