BBC Chair Touts Broadcaster's Role in "Darwinian Success" of U.K. Creative Industries

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Rona Fairhead cites the public broadcaster's contribution to the British music industry as an example and calls for an "evolution, rather than revolution" as the government discusses the BBC's future role.

The BBC makes a "pivotal contribution" to the "Darwinian success story" of the U.K. creative industries, BBC Trust chair Rona Fairhead said in a speech Wednesday night.

At the Institute of Directors' Annual Dinner, Fairhead called for a new public purpose for the British public broadcaster, saying the creative industries should be inserted into the BBC's new charter to be put together with the government over the next year. It will define the BBC's role for the next decade.

"Our overall goal should be one of evolution, rather than revolution," she said, according to a copy of her speech provided by the Trust, the governing body of the BBC. "There is next-to-no public appetite for radical change in the BBC. People want the BBC to be nurtured, rather than subject to root-and-branch reform. Changes should be specific and targeted, rather than sweeping and grand."

Fairhead cited U.S. economist James Moore as one of the first people to describe businesses as working in an ecosystem. One of his key insights was that a viable ecosystem needs "central ecological contributors," which provide "a compelling vision for the future that encourages suppliers and customers to work together to continue improving the complete offer."

Argued Fairhead: "That, I would submit, is exactly what the BBC does." She cited the U.K. music industry as an example. “It’s a continuing source of wonder that the U.K. — a relatively small country in population terms — plays such a huge role in the global music business," she said. "The U.K. music industry employs well over a hundred thousand people, and it’s estimated that its overall [gross value added] reached £3.8 billion ($5.7 billion) in 2013, with 60 percent of that ... coming from exports." Fairhead quoted trade group UK Music as saying, "BBC output supports the entire U.K. music ecosystem."

She continued: "For example, the BBC Introducing website allows any U.K. musician to upload their material. The best gets airtime on BBC local radio and the best of the best are invited to play live on BBC Introducing stages at major festivals. That’s how Jake Bugg and Ed Sheeran got their big breaks."

Added Fairhead: "Countries where the public service broadcaster is weaker also have weaker creative economies overall — as is the case in Italy and Portugal. That’s why the BBC’s role in supporting economic growth is so important — creating ecosystems supporting highly specialist creative talent and projecting the outcome on the national, and often the global, stage."

Concluded the BBC Trust head: "The global achievements of the U.K.’s creative industries are a Darwinian success story in which the BBC has made a pivotal contribution. We should continue to help that success story evolve, not change the whole environment it has thrived in."