Nine things to expect from the BBC in the coming year

What does the BBC’s latest annual plan mean for viewers and listeners? Ben Dowell unpicks the Corporation’s policy announcement

BBC Broadcasting House pic

The BBC has published its second annual plan – its policy making statement of intent for the next financial year.

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The first was published last year – and the BBC will be publishing a new plan every year for the decade-long length of its current charter, its guaranteed period of funding via the licence fee. The new charter came into being a year ago.

This latest announcement is a weighty document with some fresh things in it – and it also offers pointers for things to come for the next financial year from April 2018 to April 2019.

They are….

1. A renewed BBC assault on fake news

The BBC has taken aim at “false information and fake news” in its annual plan, which it says is aimed at “bringing the nation together”. Schools will be a major target and the document commits the Corporation to a media literacy initiative involving around 1,000 schools across the UK. This will see BBC journalists offer mentoring to help young people identify and filter out “fake news”. Earlier this month the BBC made free online materials, video tutorials and interactive activities to schools. The document acknowledges the financial challenges of delivering world class impartial news, however –  BBC News has to deliver savings of around £80m per year by 2019/20 as part of the current licence fee settlement.


2. BBC1 becomes more more pre-eminent

The BBC is increasing its television content budget for the coming year, with overall TV spend set to rise from £1.6bn to £1.72bn in line with the licence fee settlement which pegs the charge to inflation (meaning that it is likely to increase every year). This will mean that BBC1’s budget rises from £1bn to £1.12bn, making it the biggest beneficiary of the BBC’s spending plans. BBC2 will see a small fall from £386m to £371m annual spend in the next financial year.


3. A boost for drama

The Corporation has committed to 15 new dramas on BBC1 over the next twelve months. In many respects one would be surprised if the Corporation didn’t launch at least one major drama once a month or so on BBC1 but the statement enshrines this commitment and offers a sense of what the BBC regards as its upcoming highlights. This year’s major titles include Bodyguard, the new Jed Mercurio drama, Hugh Grant’s A Very English Scandal, Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor Who and Toni Collette-fronted relationship drama Wanderlust. BBC2’s highlights include Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson’s King Lear and the adaptation of China Miéville’s The City and the City.


4. A boost for BBC Three comedy

The BBC is committing to at least five long-form BBC3 comedies over the next year following the success of shows such as Phoebe Waller Bridge’s Fleabag.


5. BBC4 will get a more international flavour

BBC4 is expanding its international remit with at least three new factual acquisitions “aiming to offer insight into global history and culture” according to the BBC.


6. More bespoke content for Scotland

The BBC has restated its commitment to introducing a new Scottish channel later this year – subject to regulatory approval. It promises to “offer a rich mix of comedy, sport, drama, entertainment and factual programming”, and at its heart will be a new, hour-long news programme that will “blend Scottish, UK and international coverage”. If approved (a decision will probably be made later this year) this will broadcast each weekday at 9pm.


7. A new culture of assessing performance

The BBC wants to move away from relying on traditional ways of assessing performance such as programme ratings and the audience appreciation index (AI) to measure its performance. The report outlines a desire to find new ways of assessing the BBC’s values to consumers including “time well spent” with programmes and a shift from measurement of the BBC by platform (e.g. TV, radio) to purpose (news, children’s & learning). Another aim is to find “a new cross-media measurement system” to “track users across TV, Radio and Online content on all platforms”. But this is likely to require effort and money…


8. A season on mental health

Science strand Horizon will return with an edition which sees former Labour spin doctor Alastair Campbell exploring the science behind his history of depression. Radio 4 will also focus on mental health in the summer with the All in the Mind Awards and a three-part series by psychologist Dr Sally Marlow on the state of young people’s mental health.

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9. A battle with Netflix and Amazon?

The document contains a fresh warning that the BBC risks being squeezed out of an “ever more competitive global market” promulgated the likes of Netflix and Amazon as well as the Hollywood studios unless it finds new ways to bolster its income. This is not news. Tony Hall has said this before but he repeats the warning in a way which points to the Corporation’s aims. “Major new entrants such as Amazon and Netflix have meant that the global media market is increasingly dominated by a small number of US-based media giants with extraordinary creative and financial firepower,” he says. The facts, as outlined in the report, are stark and a measure of the BBC’s determination to rise to the challenge. According to the report, 82% of children go to YouTube for on-demand content, half to Netflix and only 29% use BBC iPlayer. Children aged 5-15 now spend more time each week online (15 hrs 18 mins) than they do watching TV (14 hrs). 43% of 12-15s now use their mobile phone to watch TV. The BBC will renew its push to recapture the hearts, minds and eyeballs of the young.