The Future of the BBC

14th Mar, 2014

It is very rare that an organisation with the reach and recognition of the BBC stays out of the news for very long, and this week has been no exception.

With the current royal charter set to be renewed in 2016 and its centenary approaching in 2022, the BBC has been thinking publicly about its future. Our recent work for Greene King and Butlins, among others, ensures we’re well acquainted with the challenges facing historic institutions as they seek to modernise.

Perhaps the most widely reported piece of internal BBC news this week has been the decision to move BBC Three online only – which has been met with protest reminiscent of the plans to cancel BBC Radio 6 Music in 2010, although this decision is far less likely to be overturned. It is no coincidence that Director General Tony Hall made this announcement only a few days before the Office for National Statistics announced that it would add video streaming services – such as Netflix – to the basket of goods that make up the inflation basket.

On-demand TV is gaining traction in the UK and although the majority of TV is still watch as live, the amount watch online or time-shifted is steadily growing – especially amongst younger people (the primary audience for BBC3). Added to this is the revamp of BBC iPlayer, which promises a Netflix like experience with personalised recommendations and a tailored homepage. In terms of consumer tastes and trends, the BBC has taken positive steps in its digital strategy.

The future funding model of the BBC is perhaps less clear cut. Another item on the not too distant horizon are the negotiations on the currently frozen licence fee.* Some reports have suggested the BBC will argue the fee should be linked to inflation (to prevent further station closures). Other changes are already underway, with the BBC keen to make the most of its commercial assets (best evidenced in the recent changes to the World Service and BBC Worldwide).

One slightly more leftfield suggestion has been for the BBC to embrace the ‘John Lewis model’ – although exactly what this would involve, beyond referring to ‘our BBC’ rather than ‘the BBC’ is unclear. If a move to more online services recognises the changing preferences of a younger audience, could a post 2016 licence fee also recognise a younger generation’s very transactional approach to subscription services – something Sky have responded to with their Now TV model.

Whatever the future of the BBC, it is encouraging to see a vast organisation recognising the need to adapt to change.

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*The annual report on the licence fee, Telescope, was released recently, and can be found here.