BBC tightens belt

Fewer programs to be produced, acquired

LONDON — The BBC is to concentrate on making fewer, better programs but will beef up news coverage, buy fewer acquisitions and keep all existing services running.

In a comprehensive speech to opinion formers and policy makers BBC director general Mark Thompson outlined the pubcaster’s key priorities following a lower than expected license fee deal by the U.K. government.

The corporation was “not so much going through a period of reform as revolution,” said the BBC topper.

Resources should be targeted at “rather fewer, but better hours” of programming.

The Beeb employed 6,000 fewer staff than it did when he took charge of the org. three years ago, but more cuts were inevitable.

Making “fewer, but better” programs involved launching a new weekday evening news bulletin for flagship web BBC1, in contrast to markets like the U.S. where news and public affairs coverage were under threat.

He said: “Around the world, including in markets like the U.S. with no tradition of public intervention like ours, investment in news is undergoing a crisis…

“When I was a young journalist at the BBC, the U.S. networks had the most powerful international news-gathering operations on the planet — they were the equivalent of America’s carrier-groups and airborne divisions, ready to move at a moment’s notice to any point on the globe.

“What a different story today. As one senior American TV executive explained to me recently: foreign news is complex and generally dispiriting — audiences don’t like it very much — and it’s expensive and dangerous to make.

” ‘Soon,’ another U.S. editor told one of my colleagues, ‘international reporting is going to be the wire agencies and you.’

“Around the world, as in the U.K., take away the BBC and you will take away much of the coverage — it’s as simple as that.”

On acquisitions, Thompson said the BBC intended to spend less coin in future.

“For BBC One — indeed for all our channels — we will continue to acquire TV and film titles when we believe they will enhance the schedule as a whole, but proportionate spend will continue to decline.

“And often we will simply walk away. Our recent decision to withdraw from the auction for the Australian soap ‘Neighbours’ is a case in point.”

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