BBC vows to find 'fresh' ideas

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BBC director general Mark Thompson on Tuesday pledged greater ambition from the pubcaster and said that it will improve its appeal to younger viewers in the wake of audience research outlining a "performance gap" in program innovation.

Announcing the corporation's annual report in his first formal outing as BBC chairman, Michael Lyons said that only 51% of audiences were satisfied with the BBC's performance in the area of providing "innovative and distinctive content," according to research commissioned by governing body the BBC Trust.

"The public trusts the BBC and values much of what it produces, but audiences want the BBC to be more innovative," he said. "Whilst public approval of the BBC remains stable, audiences have told us that fresh and new program ideas must be a high priority and more effort is needed."

The BBC's total income — which covers flagship channels BBC1 and BBC 2, four digital networks, the online portal BBC.co.uk and local, national and digital radio stations — totaled £4.6 billion ($9.3 billion) in 2006-07, compared with £4.5 billion the previous year.

The income was comprised of a £3.4 billion ($6.9 billion) contribution from the license fee, £271 million ($546.5 million) from the government to fund the BBC World Service radio network and £974 million ($1.96 billion) from the BBC's commercial business operations.

Speaking at a news conference, Thompson said that the BBC will heed the audience research.

"It is interesting to hear that the public wants more innovation and risk-taking; it is a challenge that we can rise to," said Thompson, who pointed to a strong year of drama including "Life on Mars," "Doctor Who" and "Torchwood" as evidence of the BBC's innovative edge.

He also cited "copycat" programming on rival networks like ITV as evidence that the BBC was leading the creative wave.

Thompson singled out ITV's heavily promoted entrepreneur show "Tycoon" as "very like 'The Apprentice,' with possibly a bit of 'Dragons Den' in there as well" and said ITV's fashion makeover show "Trinny and Susannah Undressed" felt "quite a lot like (BBC show) 'What Not to Wear.' "

Thompson said that the BBC is moving to address a deficit in younger viewers, which its own research has shown are deserting the broadcaster in droves. The pubcaster launched the Creative Futures initiative last year after internal research suggested that one in four 16-year-olds did not watch any BBC programming at all.

"It's quite important to look at BBC programming as a whole; audiences for (youth music network) Radio 1 are improving as a whole and our interactive services do well (with young audiences)," he said. "We know we have issues with younger demographics. If we rise to the challenge from the Trust on innovating, that will go to the heart of making our programming more attractive."
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