The BBC has this morning announced plans for a raft of money-saving measures that will dramatically change the TV and radio landscape – and will lead to as many as 2,000 job losses.
No channel or service has escaped budget cuts, though the BBC Trust has decided against closing either BBC3 or BBC4 altogether. The Corporation aims to save £670 million over the next five years as a consequence of having the licence fee frozen until 2017.
“This is a plan which puts quality and creativity first,” said director-general Mark Thompson in a speech announcing the conclusions of the internal Delivering Quality First consultation, which will now be followed by a public consultation on the planned changes. He added: “It’s a plan for a smaller BBC, but a BBC which uses its resources more effectively.”
“Around 2,000 posts will go, net [over the period to 2017],” Thompson said. “Some of our estimates show it being rather less. It’s very unlikely to be more. It’s still a substantial number of people, clearly. We can’t rule out compulsory redundancies, but we will do everything we can to minimise them.”
BBC1 is one of the least directly affected channels, only receiving a three per cent reduction in its budget. However, savings are to be made in the Corporation’s overall entertainment spend, which is sure to have a knock-on effect. There will be a “small increase of repeats on primetime BBC1”, said Thompson. Less original programming will be shown after 10pm.
A 15 per cent cut in BBC Sport’s spending will inevitably see further changes on BBC1’s weekend schedules in the near future. Thompson cited the deal to share the rights to Formula One with Sky, made earlier this year, as a good example of how savings will be made. Although he said the sports cuts were “significant”, he insisted the “crown jewels” of sport would remain protected.
BBC2 has felt the full force of the DQF axe, with all original daytime programming on BBC2 scrapped, effectively turning the channel into a repeats service until early evening on weekdays. BBC2 will also make fewer panel and chat shows, and share more arts and music programming with BBC4.
Digital channels BBC3 and BBC4 will not be closed, but Thompson noted that both channels would be “refocused” to work with their “sister channels” BBC1 and BBC2 more closely, reducing their scope as independent entities. As expected, BBC4 will commission much less original drama and comedy – but BBC3 receiving similar treatment comes as a surprise. Many within the Corporation thought the youth channel would be ringfenced.
BBC3 will move to Salford in 2016, and is immediately tasked with focusing more on its role as a nursery slope, developing new programmes and introducing new presenters.
There will be an across-the-board reduction in the number of acquired series and feature films – but foreign-language dramas and films on BBC4 are protected.
There will be a small reduction in the spend on BBC News and changes in politics and current affairs coverage, although this area will remain “relatively protected”, with Thompson citing investigations and global newsgathering as areas that would receive investment.
Children’s programming will be protected.
There will be no significant cuts made in radio. Across the radio networks, Thompson said the focus of investment would remain on breaking news and analysis. “We want to spend less money on filler material,” he added. There will be greater sharing of news bulletins between Radio 2 and 6 Music, between Radio 1 and 1Xtra, and between Radio 3 and Radio 4.
Radio 2 and Radio 3 will both spend less money on live broadcasts. Radio 3 will also cut back on original drama, although Thompson promised “a little bit of money to improve and protect the quality of the Proms”.
Although BBC local radio stations will remain open, the stations will be asked to share more of their output.
BBC Asian Network will remain open, but will receive a budget reduction of 34 per cent.
“We looked hard at just cutting a service,” said Thompson – but he added that during the research undertaken, members of the public tended to say that they were happy for the BBC to cut services, but they were never the services the people themselves used. “People are very, very keen to hang on to the services they get from the BBC,” he said.
Thompson also argued that closing whole channels didn’t make financial sense. “Shutting services doesn’t get you the headline number [of pounds saved]. The value-for-money arguments for shutting a service are not as good as the smarter approach we’ve taken here. The danger is you reduce range and you potentially start losing critical audiences for the BBC.”
Thompson also announced that 1,000 more staff will move to the BBC’s new offices in Salford over the next decade – principally support staff, although the Radio 4 programme You and Yours is to migrate north. In 2016, BBC3 will join CBBC, CBeebies and Radio 5 Live to become the fourth channel to be based in Salford.
Asked how BBC3 will work as a complementary channel to BBC1 while based in a different city, Thompson said the channel will benefit from being based alongside younger-skewing services such as children’s channels and BBC Sport: “Take that together with the advances we’re making in video-conferencing, and we can have the best of both worlds. Working it out in detail is going to be a challenge. That’s one of the reasons we’re saying it’s 2016, not sooner.”
Thompson confirmed that the BBC to leave its historical home, White City in west London. This will happen over the next decade, with BBC Vision moving to the new Broadcasting House. In addition, both radio and television factual production is to be closed down in Birmingham.
A new flatter management structure would mean, Thompson promised, that there would on any project be “no more than five people between the Director-General and the most junior member of staff”.
Lord Patten, chairman of the BBC Trust, said: “Even with the cuts, we will still deliver the best television and radio in the world.”
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