The British Broadcasting Corp. made its first public contribution Thursday to the debate about its future role and financing, unveiling a detailed policy document in response to the government’s BBC Green Paper published two days earlier (Daily Variety, Nov. 25).
The document, a draft of which was leaked to the press two months ago, argues that the BBC can justify retaining its funding by the license fee only if its TV and radio services “extend choice,” rather than offering “more of the same.”
In the future, it says, the BBC “should clearly focus its activities on areas where there is a strong public need which commercial broadcasting may not fully meet.”
This means that the BBC will place a special emphasis on news and current affairs, a broad range of entertainment programs showcasing British culture, educational programming and communication between the U.K. and the rest of the world through World Service Radio, World Service Television and program sales.
The BBC will not abandon its ambition to reach the mass audiences, which it needs to justify public funding, but it will not become preoccupied with fighting head-on for ratings against the increasing number of private TV channels.
John Birt, who takes over as BBC director general next month, said the BBC expected to attract a third of the TV and radio audience by 2000, compared to its historical share of about 50%.
But for all the rhetoric about “change and adaptation,” the BBC blueprint for survival in fact argues for little more than the continuation of current BBC policies and services, with added efficiency and public accountability.
Although it talks of withdrawing from program areas “abundantly provided” by commercial broadcasters, the BBC remains committed to providing the full range of entertainment, including game shows and soaps. However, it will attempt to innovate in these areas, as in all others, and to avoid “derivative” formulas.
Birt indicated that the policy of withdrawal referred “chiefly to acquired material,” the kind of cheap Australian and U.S. imports that are likely to be the staple of new satellite TV channels.
Yet the BBC has not been in the market for such shows for many years, and will continue to compete for major Hollywood movies and upscale series like “Quantum Leap.”