BBC Should Be More Aggressive, Says Director General Tony Hall

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Tony Hall

The boss called on the U.K. public broadcaster to be "less British" when it comes to promoting what it delivers to consumers in exchange for the license fee British households pay.

LONDON – BBC director general Tony Hall has called on the public broadcaster to be more aggressive and "less British" when it comes to employing its own bouquet of TV, radio and online services to make its case for the license fee.

Hall, speaking at the annual conference of the Voice of the Listener and Viewer in London on Wednesday, indicated that the BBC would be more assertive than in the past in fighting its corner and should not be afraid to use its TV, radio and online services to promote its cause.

Hall is laying the groundwork ahead of the battle -- which will be fought out in the mainstream press, the BBC and across other media, to secure renewal of the royal charter agreement, which sets out the BBC's scope and remit, and the annual $5.8 billion (£3.6 billion) license fee funding deal with the government.

Both the charter and the license fee agreements run until the end of 2016.

"We need to be less British about saying what you get for $0.65 (£0.40) a day," said Hall of the daily cost of the $237 (£145.50) annual license fee that households with a television pay, regardless of whether they watch the BBC.

"We have got to get aggressive about making this case to people," Hall told the annual conference.

"We do need to use our own airwaves to make the point what we offer. James Harding [director of BBC news and current affairs] came in with an interesting thought. For 40 pence a day you get a news service, on radio, online, you get Newsnight … oh, and by the way, you get drama and local radio, you've got music on Radio 1.

"We have to get more aggressive in using our own airwaves and I have got a team working on that."

Hall also told the conference it was "too early" to say whether BBC3 or BBC4 should be axed, as some media observers and critics have suggested.

In his speech, Hall admitted there will be "hard choices to come" about further cost cutting, with a further $162 million (£100 million) of annual savings to be found "to fund our new ambitions" on top of the existing $1.1 billion (£700 million) target.

Asked about the proposal by the corporation's former Olympics director, Roger Mosey, and Question Time host David Dimbleby, that the BBC could consider axing some of its TV channels to concentrate resources on BBC1 and BBC2, Hall said he was "trying to work out the answer to that question".

"I need to understand emotionally, and I need to understand the data that shows what we can do, and if we can't do things, I will say so," said Hall. He said it would be a "difficult year" ahead.

Hall's speech came ahead of a report in the leading U.K. television trade paper, Broadcast, that the BBC is prepared to spend up to $138 million (£85 million) on consultants over the next two to four years, amid growing pressure over its use of external support.

Broadcast reported that the corporation "expects to accept between 60 and 215 management consultancy firms onto what is effectively a preferred suppliers list, giving them access to a plethora of contracts across the BBC."

According to the trade paper, the framework agreement will be put in place by the BBC for a minimum of two years. After that, the corporation has the option to extend the arrangement for two 12-month periods, potentially taking its duration to four years.

Hall told the U.K. government's culture, media and sport committee last month that he wanted to cut the corporation’s spend on external support. “I want to reduce the amount of money that we pay on consultants. I am not an easy ride when it comes to consultants,” he said.