BBC Must "Keep Reforming With Urgency," New Boss Says

new BBC director general Tim Davie - H 2020
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new BBC director general Tim Davie

Director general Tim Davie says he wants "a modern, highly efficient BBC that truly reflects Britain" as the public broadcaster in its annual report touts progress on diversity and the gender pay gap, but also mentions the "exceptional challenges" of the coronavirus pandemic and the need cut costs further.

The BBC on Tuesday touted further improvements in its gender pay gap alongside efforts to "prioritize" diversity, but highlighted the "exceptional challenges" of the novel coronavirus pandemic and need to cut costs and "keep reforming at an urgent pace."

Publishing its annual report for fiscal year 2019-2020 on Tuesday, the U.K. public broadcaster said that during the April 2019-March 2020 period, "over 90 percent of the U.K. population used the BBC each week," concluding: "It was a strong year for programs and services."

A summary of the report also lauded that it had reached "significant efficiencies, boosted commercial profits to help fund quality programs" and "made even more progress on gender pay."

However, the broadcaster also issued a warning: "This is good progress, but the BBC can take nothing for granted and must keep reforming at an urgent pace."

On the pandemic's impact, the BBC said: "The financial year came to an end just as the COVID-19 crisis hit. This ushered in a period of exceptional challenge for everyone – including the BBC. The crisis resulted in huge pressures on television production and BBC finances, coupled with a tougher than ever market environment."

The British broadcaster said it "refocused all its resources around the most pressing needs of our audiences, from trusted news and information to educational support to much-needed distraction and escapism. " Audiences came to BBC platforms "in huge numbers in response" – on screen, on air and online – "and the importance of the BBC’s public service mission could hardly have been clearer."

Again though, the BBC emphasized: "It is also clear, however, that we need to do much more to modernize and reform further and faster. An independent report on BBC efficiency, published today, shows how far we have come and how well we are performing relatively, but we can never be satisfied."

BBC chairman David Clementi said that going into the coronavirus crisis the BBC already had 31 percent less to spend on U.K. public services than if the license fee it gets as funding had risen with inflation since 2010. "Now the severe impact of COVID-19 means that we have to save an extra £125 million ($161 million) – on top of additional significant savings – in a tougher than ever marketplace," he said, confirming previous reports about the size of targeted cuts.

In the most recent year, the company said it had reached savings of £199 million ($257 million).

The BBC on Tuesday acknowledged that "some measures are not going in the right direction" though, such as staffing levels. "Headcount has increased from 19,231 to 19,572, and senior leader numbers have gone up from 250 to 253," it said. New director general Tim Davie has vowed to focus on cost reductions, including a smaller headcount for the public service operations.

"This annual report is a good base from which to create a modern, highly efficient BBC that truly reflects Britain," Davie said on Tuesday. "There are challenges ahead. We need to keep reforming with urgency so that we are trusted, relevant and indispensable in the digital age."

He added: "Our guiding principle is that we are a BBC for all – a universal public service to serve and represent everyone in every part of the U.K. ... That means we must renew our commitment to impartiality; focus on unique, high-impact content; extract more from online; and, build our commercial income. That is now our focus and challenge going forward. We should take nothing for granted."

In terms of the median gender pay gap, the BBC report said that it has narrowed to 6.2 percent from 6.7 percent last year, saying that was "significantly lower than the national average" of 17.3 percent and "the lowest in the industry." The BBC also met its target of a 55:45 split between men and women in on-air roles with top pay, saying that was a "huge shift" from the 76:24 split when it first reported this data for the year 2016-2017. This year there are four women in the list of the top 10 best-paid on-air talents, up from three last year.

Regarding diversity, the BBC annual report listed figures for actual on- and off-screen contributions by various groups. For example, it shows "Black, Asian and minority ethnic" people making up 26.8 percent of on-screen contributions, but only reaching 9.8 percent in off-screen contributions. For females, the contributions are listed as 55.7 percent and 54.7 percent, respectively, for disabled people 8.4 percent and 5.8 percent. Meanwhile, LGB contributions account for 11.5 percent on-screen and 12.1 percent off-screen, with transgender people reaching 0.4 percent and 0.2 percent.

But "we must do better," Davie said about the on- and off-air diversity efforts in a press briefing, vowing that his team will continue to push changes further.

In terms of competition from streaming services, the BBC report noted that 2020 started with 15 million streaming households in Britain, including around 13 million using Netflix. "Multiple new entrants," including Disney+ and Apple TV+, have also launched. "Linked to this, there was a further drop in the amount of broadcast television watched in the U.K. - though it was down less in 2019/2020 than the previous year," the BBC noted.

The BBC also highlighted success in using digital to make up for reduced linear viewing. On-demand service iPlayer now has content available for at least 12 months and, "for the first time, the growth of iPlayer has largely made up for the most recent falls in linear TV viewing," the BBC said.

Davie in a press briefing said impartiality will be a renewed focus for the BBC with the goal of making sure people of various backgrounds and in different parts of the country all feel the broadcaster represents them and their views. And he said the BBC must "dramatically reduce meetings and bureaucracy."

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