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BBC Chief Tony Hall Sets Out Vision for Broadcaster in Internet Era

LONDON — Tony Hall, director general of U.K. broadcaster the BBC, set out on Monday how it will respond to the challenges and opportunities posed by the internet era.

Speaking at the Science Museum in London, Hall said that as the network negotiated with the government to formulate a new Charter, the agreement that defines its purpose and the scope of its operations, it had the chance to refine itself to fit the demands of the new media environment.

Hall said that the watchwords of the BBC were “creative freedom,” “universal reach” and “trust and consent,” and that it should stand for “excellence without arrogance.”

He stated that one of its central challenges was to adapt to technological change, as it had done throughout its history. “The challenge we face up to in what we’re publishing today is how to continue to achieve excellence in a time of change,” he said.

He said the BBC, since its formation in 1922, had never faced such significant technological challenges as it does now. “I wonder whether there has ever been a technological challenge as bracing — and exciting — as this one. As bracing as the challenges — and the opportunities — posed by the internet,” he said.

“I believe our proposals will lead to a more creative, more distinctive BBC, and a BBC which is more personal to all of us,” he said. “They build on the BBC’s many strengths but remain true to our founding mission — to inform, to educate and to entertain.”

He said that his proposals were also shaped by the tough economic environment of the time.

“This is not an expansionist BBC,” he said, but, nonetheless, it should be a BBC that “excels globally” and be a “creative powerhouse” for the whole of the U.K. He set out a vision for an “Open BBC for the internet age,” based on partnership. It should be a “BBC that is truly open to partnership — working much closer with others for the good of the nation. And a BBC that is more open to our audiences too,” he said.

Hall said the BBC’s purpose was simple: “We’re here to make great programs and services.” He added: “The BBC strives to enhance the lives of everyone in the U.K., in more ways than ever before and more often than ever before. We aim to fire the imagination and the curiosity of our audiences.”

Hall said that at the heart of the philosophy of the BBC was a very simple and democratic idea: “Everybody should have access to the best, whoever they are, wherever they live, rich or poor, old or young. We are here to bring the best to everyone.”

He said the BBC should be a “magnet for creativity” — the place where “people come to make brilliant programs, programs of distinction.” It also should be a place where producers, directors, writers and artists “have the creative freedom to do things they would find it harder to do elsewhere.”

He promised the BBC would not be timid in its ambition. “We are going to take risks, push boundaries, try new things. Not be afraid of controversy,” he said.

He set out a number of proposals to enable the adjustment to the digital age.

First, in order to “offer more people information they can trust, more quickly,” there would be a shift from “rolling news to streaming news.” He said the BBC would focus on delivering “news in the palm of your hand.” This focus on mobile would be accompanied by “more video-based services — complemented by audio, graphics and text live,” he said.

Hall said that he wanted a “more bespoke BBC” with services tailored to the users’ needs, and to develop a more “collaborative relationship with its viewers and listeners” through a “public engagement program.”

He spoke of the creation of an open online platform called “The Ideas Service” that would be “a platform for the ideas that matter and for the people who want to explore them.” This would also involve partnerships with cultural institutions such as museums, universities and festivals, and would focus on the sciences, the arts, culture and history.

“Where Google’s mission is to organize the world’s information, ours, in a smaller way, would be to understand it,” he said.

Drama would be another focus for the BBC, and a way that the broadcaster can be distinctive. “I want British drama to be the backbone of a more distinctive approach to all our services, capturing the public’s imagination with world-class work for a global stage,” he said.

He said the BBC would continue to provide mainstream entertainment.

Hall also focused on the push further with the digital delivery of programming, following the success of its iPlayer streaming service. “I now want to experiment with the BBC issuing bigger and bolder series all at once on iPlayer, so viewers have the option of ‘binge watching’,” he said. He said the iPlayer may be opened up to other content providers. “One possible route is to use iPlayer, which we will put at the service of the sector, using its brand, technology and reach,” he said.

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