BBC boss Lord Hall admits the corporation needs to change… but he vows not to abandon older viewers in an attempt to attract young people
- Tony Hall said older Britons are BBC ‘super-users’ and will be ‘super-served’ by it
- BBC knows elderly ‘are often the people who value and rely on us most’, he said
- The BBC decided to strip millions of over-75s of their free TV licences last year
BBC director-general Tony Hall has promised not to abandon older audiences amid fears the corporation’s attempts to appeal to youngsters will leave them feeling ignored.
Writing on this page today, Lord Hall said older Britons are ‘super-users’ of the broadcaster’s services and vowed they will always be ‘super-served’ by it.
He said the BBC, which has decided to strip millions of over-75s of their free TV licences, knows the elderly ‘are often the people who value and rely on us most’.
BBC director-general Tony Hall (pictured) has promised not to abandon older audiences amid fears the corporation’s attempts to appeal to youngsters will leave them feeling ignored
It comes as the BBC battles to stop younger audiences deserting its services in favour of streaming giants like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Spotify. Lord Hall also announced that the corporation is to launch a major initiative, which he called a ‘big listening exercise’, aimed at asking the public to tell the broadcaster what they want it to produce.
Involving events throughout the country, the exercise is described as ‘one of the most significant pieces of public engagement the BBC has ever undertaken’.
The peer’s comments are a response to the criticism the corporation has faced across a range of issues, such as the TV licence reform. Ministers are currently consulting on whether to decriminalise non-payment of the licence, a move which the BBC has said could cost it around £200million a year. The Government has also suggested the charge could be scrapped in 2027, with claims it could be replaced by a subscription service.
Writing on this page today, Lord Hall said older Britons are ‘super-users’ of the broadcaster’s services and vowed they will always be ‘super-served’ by it
It emerged yesterday that Lord Hall and other senior executives have been called to give evidence to MPs on the Commons digital, culture, media and sport committee about the proposed changes to the licence fee. In his article, Lord Hall welcomes a debate about the BBC’s future and funding model, saying it needs to ‘change with the times’ or will ‘fail its audiences’. And he said the BBC will need to make ‘more difficult cuts’ and ‘more tough choices’.
His comments come after BBC presenter Carrie Gracie launched a ferocious attack on the broadcaster’s overpaid bosses on Monday. The former BBC China editor, who has been a leading figure in rows over equal pay, said there were ‘too many managers’ who were ‘paid too much’, adding that she would ‘take them all out’.
She also revealed that, with 450 jobs being axed in news departments, she is preparing to walk away from the BBC. She said: ‘I’m an expensive person, I should go.’
The BBC decided to strip millions of over-75s of their free TV licences last year (stock image)
Let’s listen to what you say… and promise to do better
Let’s have a debate about the BBC. We’re always up for it. We are probably the most hotly debated organisation in the country. That’s good. It means we matter.
The former culture secretary Nicky Morgan wrote recently that the BBC needs to accept that no change isn’t an option. I couldn’t agree more. A BBC that doesn’t change with the times is a BBC that fails its audiences. And they own the BBC after all. The BBC has always been the first to embrace change. We were perhaps the original disrupter, pioneering the wireless, TV, colour broadcasting, high-definition, the transition to digital with DAB, iPlayer and more.
Let’s not forget that iPlayer was absolutely groundbreaking. The head of Netflix, Reed Hastings, credits it with blazing the trail for his company, creating a whole new market for video on demand.
Let’s have a debate about the BBC. We’re always up for it. We are probably the most hotly debated organisation in the country, writes TONY HALL
I believe British innovation is something to be proud of. Some say if the BBC was that innovative we would have invented Netflix ourselves. The truth is, we did.
More than ten years ago, back when Netflix was still delivering DVDs through the front door, the BBC joined forces with other public service broadcasters to set up a British video-on-demand service. It was blocked by the regulators, opening up a gap that Netflix and others were only too happy to exploit.
More recently, we were blocked from making planned updates to iPlayer. Audiences told us they wanted straightforward changes, like more box sets and more programmes available for longer. They said this was what they expected, what they demanded as value for the licence fee.
The delay while the regulator checked our plans cost us valuable time. Meanwhile our US competitors were free to update their own platforms on a near-weekly basis, with no permission needed.
We’ve worked hard to modernise our organisation. Driving down efficiencies to industry-leading levels. Cutting jobs and management layers. Streamlining our news operation. Reshaping what we do to meet the needs of today’s audiences. We know we have to do more to serve young people in particular.
It’s an area where we need to be radical and I’ll be setting out big plans on this in April when we publish our strategy for the year ahead. But don’t let anyone tell you this will come at the expense of older audiences.
We know they are often the people who value and rely on us most. They are our super-users and they will always be super-served. Big change at the BBC will need to continue. We will need to go further to switch spending from activities that no longer serve audiences towards those that can serve them better.
I believe British innovation is something to be proud of. Some say if the BBC was that innovative we would have invented Netflix ourselves. The truth is, we did, writes TONY HALL
We will need to make more difficult cuts and more tough choices. But in looking to change, we must not undermine what makes the BBC such a valued asset for Britain. Today the country faces a broad range of challenges. It is part of the BBC’s public service mission to help the nation respond. That means working alongside other institutions and news organisations to keep everyone informed about coronavirus, for example.
Not only does the BBC have a responsibility to report the information the public need in a manner that is calm, measured and accurate, we also have a reach and influence that few can match.
This reach extends throughout our nations and regions.
One of our biggest priorities in recent years has been shifting the organisation away from London, from our 3,500 staff in BBC North to our brand new HQ for BBC Wales. A decade ago, a third of the BBC was based outside the capital. Today it’s half.
The recent floods highlighted what a vital role we play at local level. Our local radio reporters have worked hard to keep communities safe, informed and prepared, even as their own homes were affected. One MP speaking to BBC Hereford & Worcester called it public service broadcasting at its very best.
Our reach also extends around the world. Today the BBC is used by around 430million people. At a time when Britain is seeking to reshape its international identity, we have an important role to play in carrying the nation’s voice, values and cultural influence worldwide.
The BBC is not a perfect institution. Like everyone else, we can and do make mistakes. But we always strive to be better. And we are always accountable to our audiences, who are quick to highlight our weaknesses but equally quick to praise our strengths.
We will talk to the public about what kind of BBC they want as we approach our second century. We will carry out a big listening exercise, with events up and down the country. It will be a chance for audiences to speak to us directly, and tell us what they want us to be. I will set out full plans in the spring, but I want this to be one of the most significant pieces of public engagement the BBC has ever undertaken. I won’t tie the hands of my successor, but I want them to have all the insight they need from the people who matter most: the public.
So yes, let’s have a debate about the BBC. Let’s even debate our funding model when the time comes. But let’s not put the cart before the horse. Let’s first decide what kind of BBC we want for this country, then work out how best to achieve it. I genuinely believe at this important moment, the BBC matters more than ever and can work even harder for the UK at home and abroad.
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