BBC Chief Tony Hall Promises a ‘Competition Revolution’

BBC director-general Tony Hall has pledged to open up the public broadcaster still further to competition from the independent sector, and liberate its in-house producers, drawing on comparisons with Hollywood.

In a speech delivered Thursday at City University in London, Hall paid tribute to the Hollywood moguls who “made a success as pioneers because they had liberty and a fierce desire to succeed.” He said he believed strongly in “the freedom and entrepreneurial spirit that made this possible,” and wanted to bring “the spirit of the entrepreneur and the pioneer to the BBC.”

He said the broadcaster would “go further than we have ever done before in opening the BBC to more competition,” a process he referred to as “a competition revolution.”

He added that he would not sacrifice quality, but wanted “great programs at great prices.”

Hall said that the BBC would move from a system of “managed competition” to “free competition,” which would include the ending of the present “quota” system.

At present, the rules governing the commissioning of BBC shows center on a quota that ensures that at least 25% of BBC TV programs come from independent producers, a minimum 50% come from BBC in-house producers, and 25% is left open to both in open competition.

Hall said that consolidation in the U.K. independent sector — such as the recent acquisition of All3Media by Discovery and Liberty Global — dictated a rethink in the BBC’s quota system, especially given that many of the so-called independent producers were now owned by U.S. media congloms, so their shows — like Shine Group’s “MasterChef” — didn’t qualify as “independent” under existing BBC quota rules.

While he intends to end the quota system, Hall also said he wanted to ensure there was “a level playing-field” for smaller independent companies, and said he was working with the U.K. producers’ org PACT to ensure continued support for those smaller companies.

Another change Hall put forward concerns the BBC’s inhouse production department, BBC Production, which produces shows like “Doctor Who.” At present, BBC Production has only one buyer for its shows, the BBC. Hall intends to change that. He said that in future BBC Production would be allowed to produce for other broadcasters, anywhere in the world. “The world should definitely be their market,” he said.

All these changes would form part of the general overhaul of the BBC’s rules of engagement, the BBC Charter, which will need the approval of the U.K. government.

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