Funding, streaming and the future: BBC boss on the next 100 years
As the BBC looks ahead to the next 100 years, Chief Content Officer Charlotte Moore breaks down what the future holds in an exclusive interview with RadioTimes.com.
One hundred years after the British Broadcasting Corporation was formed, the BBC is yet to be complacent.
When I speak to Charlotte Moore, Chief Content Officer and the woman who has been tasked with the responsibility for all the BBC's TV channels for the last eight years, one of the first things she says is the centenary isn't about the past: "It's about looking forward to the next 100 years."
And what a time it is for the BBC to find itself at such a historic milestone.
Facing arguably its greatest – or at least most vocal – opposition in its 100-year history, including but not limited to government plans to abolish the licence fee which funds it, change, in some guise, seems to be in the air.
"We've been on fire creatively," Moore says of the organisation's performance in recent years. "But I do think our challenge is to really evolve with the time and to take even more risks with what we make in this world of so much choice and competition."
That said, she emphasises the importance of the BBC continuing to reflect and portray British audiences "as they evolve all over the UK", something she sees as vital to its purpose.
"We've got to make sure that we're producing what they want, wherever and whenever they want it," she says of its audiences. "And, as we're in this world of so much choice, I don't think that's simple."
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Faced with the ongoing challenge of continually defining what it is and its place in the global media landscape, Moore says the BBC, in the next 100 years, has to concentrate on carving out a place with audiences where it provides something others simply don't.
Moore's role is that of the creative lead for all the BBC's key genres and portfolios, overseeing commissioning and production for the national TV channels and iPlayer, as well as the radio output and BBC Sounds.
She is one of the people upon whose shoulders the responsibility rests for ensuring the BBC holds on to its place in the rapidly changing world of media – amid the proliferation of streamers, increasingly polarised views, so-called 'culture wars' and, well, everything else.
But Moore seems unflappable, intent on keeping things straightforward, with a grounded attitude towards navigating through those turbulent waters.
We're the UK's number one most-used media brand and our mission remains as strong as ever.
The mission is simple: "Our purpose is still to inform and educate, entertain; I don't think that changes. That still holds absolutely true as it did 100 years ago. And possibly, it's becoming more important than ever.
"We are free from commercial imperatives, funded by the licence fee. So the BBC's place in answer to that is to continue to not only entertain, but to always inform and educate alongside.
"I think that tenet is still critically important," she continues. "And we want to do that in a way that reflects and is relevant to audiences across the whole of the UK."
That's what defines the BBC in contrast to global competitors, she says.
There's an edge of defiance and pride to her voice as Moore goes on to defend the BBC against criticism I didn't raise, but which hangs in the air since the government's proposal to cut the licence fee waved a red flag in the faces of detractors.
"We're making shows that really represent and reflect the subjects and the stories and the big themes that really matter in a much more local and national way," she says firmly. "We're the UK's number one most-used media brand and our mission remains as strong as ever and I want to make sure that we can continue to do that."
As the BBC embarks on its next chapter, Moore tells RadioTimes.com: "We've been the creative lifeblood of this country. And I think I would really want the next five, 10, 25, 100 years to make sure that the BBC continues to have that place.
"Because we're in a world of global streaming now," she adds, comparing the BBC and Hollywood on the worldwide stage. "The BBC kind of is the lifeblood of that creative force in this country and I think it's irreplaceable at home and it's unbeatable abroad.
"The BBC needs to continue to be that investor in British content, UK content, and do more than anyone else to break new talent and champion that British creativity."
The BBC has been the creative lifeblood of this country.
That said, there are undeniably some difficult decisions ahead for the BBC.
Back in January, the government announced plans to abolish the licence fee that funds the broadcaster in 2027, as well as announcing that funding would be frozen for the next two years.
Moore says the financial stability of the licence fee is "critical", adding: "Obviously the two years of cash flat and four years of keeping pace of inflation does mean we're going to make some tough choices. But I have great faith in the BBC's future and we're going to do everything we can to ensure the BBC continues to punch above its weight."
The intention is for the BBC to continue to create ambitious programmes in the face of some financial adversity and the strategy is to push forward with a move to a model focused more on digital than ever before.
Nonetheless, Moore says: "We've got to have that range that feels unrivalled for audiences across the UK so that people feel the BBC is absolutely necessary to their everyday lives."
There will be fewer hours of content – this much is certain. Less money means less content. So it's all about being shrewd: "We will have less hours, and that's why our strategy is to really think about the content that has the biggest impact.
"That's very much driven by the fact we're not creating programmes and commissioning programmes just for a schedule anymore, because digital and the way people consume content now and audience behaviour show us that so much is on demand these days."
The BBC has (and will continue to have) "very rich" linear schedules, she says. "But we're driven by a digital-first strategy of really thinking about the lifespan of a programme on iPlayer."
Gone are the days audiences (or bosses at the BBC) viewed iPlayer as a catch-up service. Streaming platforms have evolved into something between an adventure playground and a TV guide – a source for discovering new entertainment as much as it is for accessing favourites.
"It is less about hours that fit a schedule and much more about a huge range on iPlayer – at any one time – of drama, entertainment, comedy, factual, news, current affairs, live events," Moore explains.
"One of the unique things that the BBC does is not only have this huge on-demand service, but we also very much are live and on demand."
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Whether it's Wimbledon, Glastonbury or the Queen's funeral, live coverage of events is another string to the BBC's on-demand bow.
"These moments are massive for the BBC, when we bring audiences together," she says. "That mix of being there for live events and on demand really makes us unique in the marketplace, particularly for British audiences."
Moore sees the BBC's power to "bring people across the UK together", entertain millions, educate children with free online study support resource Bitesize, and inform people all over the world through its news service at the heart of the matter when it comes to funding issues.
"It's incredibly important that the way we're funded – it's a very unique way – continues so that it ensures the BBC is genuinely an independent, universal broadcaster," she says. "We're committed to serving everyone, not just the interest of advertisers or subscribers or shareholders, but we're genuinely here to serve everyone and we're here to invest in British stories told by British people."
Back in April, the BBC published the results of a "deprivation study", in which 80 homes had no access to any BBC content or services for nine days.
The study, conducted by research company MTM on behalf of the BBC, was primarily focused on licence fee-paying households who felt the BBC was of little or no value to them.
For nine days, households in the study were unable to access any BBC services, across TV, radio, online and apps, and were also not permitted to watch any BBC content available on other services such as Netflix or YouTube. In return, they received the cost of the licence fee for those days: £3.90.
At the end of the study, 70 per cent of the 60 households who initially wanted to pay less, or stop paying altogether, changed their minds and were willing to pay the full licence fee or more in order to keep BBC content and services.
Many had underestimated the value their households got from the BBC in their daily lives.
In the face of present opposition, the BBC remains a powerful force in delivering a trusted news service, entertainment and education.
When it comes to what the BBC means to us a nation, Moore cuts to the point: "People see themselves reflected; when they tune into the BBC, it feels relevant to their daily lives.
"They see themselves reflected: they see their lives, their concerns, they feel that they are represented in the content, whether that's the things we laugh about or the things we cry about or the factual television – it is their lives reflected before them. It feels like it belongs to them because it's about them."
While she might be focused on the centenary heralding the start of a new chapter, Moore also takes the time to reflect on what the BBC has achieved in its first 100 years.
"I'm really proud of some of the really challenging and important stories that I think only the BBC has had the courage to tell," she explains.
Praising the BBC's record for breaking new talent, noting the nurturing of the likes of Normal People's Daisy Edgar-Jones and I May Destroy You creator Michaela Coel, who catapulted to superstardom with the launch of the groundbreaking series, she continues: "I'm incredibly proud that the public has huge trust in us in a really challenging and fast moving global media landscape. That's something we should all be very proud of, but never take for granted.
"I'm really proud of the fact that, as the BBC, we do continually evolve and reinvent ourselves and think about future generations.
"I'm really proud of our commitment to creativity, and innovation, and taking risks because we feel that's our remit to do so – and pushing those boundaries and not being complacent about what we do."
Here's to 100 more years of trust, authority, representation and pushing boundaries.
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