BBC Defends Right to Make Shows for "Everyone," Touts Cost Cuts in Annual Report

BBC London headquarters HQ - H 2015
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Chief Tony Hall argues the public broadcaster should continue airing popular entertainment shows and warns of the risk of "a much diminished BBC" as the government starts debating the broadcaster's future.

The BBC in its annual report for 2014/2015, published on Tuesday, touted cost savings amid a debate about its role and argued against some proposals expected to be included in the new conservative U.K. government's first paper on its future, which will be published Thursday.

Director general Tony Hall also argued the public broadcaster should be allowed to continue airing programs "for all our audiences" and "for everyone," which observers took as a reference to The Voice, Strictly Come Dancing and other popular entertainment shows. The government is expected to criticize ratings winners like that in its paper.

"We face a big choice about the kind of BBC we want in the future," Hall also said Tuesday. "Alongside the BBC’s great strengths, we of course — like all broadcasters in this country — face a set of challenges. Our competitors are now global media giants, who own more and more of the U.K.’s media sector. The Internet is changing audience habits — we must reinvent public service broadcasting for young audiences, whose behavior is changing the fastest."

Concluded Hall: "We must make the transition to an Internet-first BBC, across all our genres and services. This is vital if the U.K. is to continue to punch above its weight as one of the most creative nations in the world. And grow Britain’s commercial success, and its global influence."

He said the alternative was "a much diminished BBC."

Hall also emphasized the need for the BBC to remain independent. "I believe in giving creative people creative freedom and trusting them to get on with it," he argued. "I have real difficulty with the idea of artificial restrictions on creativity — after all, the last time politicians tried to be creative, we ended up with the Millennium Dome. So it will be hard to support any proposal that stops us finding the next Strictly, the next Bake Off, or — dare I say it — the next Top Gear."

Hall cited such dramas as Wolf Hall and The Honorable Woman and 30-year-old popular soap EastEnders as key programming highlights of the past year. “It’s a year we can be proud of,” he said.

"As we enter a period of Charter review it’s inevitable that there will be much discussion about the programs we provide," Hall said. "I believe that the BBC should continue to make programs for all our audiences. Everyone pays for the BBC and it is right that we continue to make programs for everyone. A BBC that doesn’t inform, educate and entertain is not the BBC the public know and love."

He continued: "The case for the BBC doesn’t rest on ideological arguments, it rests on this, what we do day in and day out. Great programs and great services. That’s why people like the BBC. That’s why they enjoy the BBC. That’s why they trust the BBC. That’s why they value it ... We enhance the lives of everyone in the U.K., in more ways than ever before, and more often than ever before."

The BBC said that audiences spent 18.3 hours a week with the BBC, compared with 18.5 hours in the year-ago report. "When people have so much to choose from, it’s testament to the quality of what we produce that 46 million people in the U.K. choose to use the BBC every day," Hall said. "And they choose to stay with us for over 18 hours."

BBC Trust chair Rona Fairhead also commented on the annual report. "Over the course of the past year, BBC has had notable successes on screen and on air, remains as popular as ever with audiences and made good progress in delivering savings with more in the pipeline," she said.

"As we head into the Charter review with much more clarity on the funding than expected, the focus must now be on deciding the shape and role of the BBC for the next generation. The Trust will be working tirelessly to ensure that the voice of those who pay the license fee, the U.K. public, will have the pivotal voice in that debate."

The annual report covers the fiscal year ended March 2015.

The BBC's financial result swung to a deficit of $195 million (£125.2 million) from £150 million in the previous fiscal year. After various other factors, the BBC posted what it called "total comprehensive income" of $595 million (£382 million), compared with £280.2 million in the year-ago period.

Total revenue of $7.49 billion (£4.81 billion) compared with £5.07 billion. That included license fee revenue of $5.83 billion (£3.74 billion), compared with £3.73 billion in the previous fiscal year.

BBC Worldwide, the commercial arm of the broadcaster, reported a full-year profit of $216.0 million (£138.6 million), down 11.9 percent compared with $268.8 million (£157.4 million) in the previous year. It cited "the impact of [the] part-sale of BBC America to AMC Networks." That factor also was the key driver between the 3.9 percent revenue drop to $1.56 billion ((£1 billion). Excluding the deal, revenue rose 0.4 percent and profit rose 4.1 percent.

BBC Worldwide also said it returned a record amount to the BBC, up almost a third to $353 million (£226.5 million) and pledged to return around $1.56 billion (£1 billion) over five years starting from 2014/15, an increase of almost one quarter over the previous five years.

"BBC Worldwide delivered a solid performance, including record returns to our parent, the BBC, which remains our primary objective," said BBC Worldwide CEO Tim Davie. "Mindful of the ever-changing and competitive marketplace in which we operate we made a number of decisions to secure our future performance. This included entering into a significant partnership with AMC Networks for BBC America."

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