Thompson: BBC must spark 'revolution'

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The BBC must undergo "a revolution" if it is to survive in an era moving away from traditional broadcasting, BBC director general Mark Thompson said Tuesday, adding that the pubcaster will need to shrink in numbers and costs to retain public support.

"The BBC is not so much going through a period of reform as a revolution. A revolution in the way we make and distribute content," Thompson said Tuesday at the Queen Elizabeth II conference hall in Westminster. "Not all of this is going to be popular, to say the least."

In a speech outlining the future of the BBC, Thompson said that to protect the pubcaster's future in the era of Facebook, YouTube, Second Life and Skype, it will need to focus on such genres as news, comedy, drama and factual programming that will not be provided by its commercial rivals.

"Around the world — including in markets like the U.S., with no tradition of public intervention like ours — investment in news is undergoing a crisis," he told an audience of politicians and viewers. "In virtually every country I know, newspapers are cutting back their spend on foreign reporting and on investigative journalism as well."

Thompson added that without public service investment in comedy, "every independent comedy producer in the U.K. would go bust."

He also noted that the BBC's decision to shift significant swathes of its operations out of London, offer more commissions to the independent sector and cut its head counts will enable it to become more open and efficient.

The speech, which looked at the BBC's creative future over the next decade, conceded that the BBC will have to be a leaner, more efficient machine if it is to maintain public support.

"The BBC needs to become smaller," Thompson said. "Not in its impact, not in its delivery of public value — it needs to increase those — but in terms of its scale as an organization and in its operations."

The pubcaster has cut 6,000 jobs in the past three years, either through redundancy, outsourcing or the sale of BBC-owned businesses. But Thompson pledged that there will be further pruning of back-office expenses and that the savings will be plowed into program-making.

"Between now and 2012, the search for greater productivity, for greater value from the license fee must go on," he said. "This isn't going to be easy."

Thompson said that technology, integrated multimedia production and "end-to-end digital workflow" also will limit costs.
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