BBC Chief: British Content Is ‘Under Serious Threat’ as Netflix and Amazon Ramp Up

Tony Hall warns of a £500 million funding drop for British programs

tony hall bbc
David Vintiner for Variety

BBC chief Tony Hall says that British content “is under serious threat” in the face of inroads by Netflix and Amazon and that spending on TV programming in the U.K. looks set to fall by as much as £500 million ($661 million) over the next decade.

In a speech to be delivered Thursday night, the head of the world’s most renowned and prestigious public broadcaster is expected to say that his organization needs to innovate and reinvent itself to compete with global streamers, whose own outlay on British content will not make up for the looming drop in spending within the U.K.

“We have to face the reality that the British content we value and rely upon is under serious threat,” Hall will say at an event in Liverpool. An advance copy of the speech was made available to media outlets.

“In the U.K. we often think of the BBC as a big player, but today the media market is truly global. And in that vast solar system, we are tiny compared to the huge gas giants of the U.S. And every day they’re getting bigger,” the speech says. “That is why we must continue to innovate, back new ideas and take creative risks. We will never simply compete on money alone. It is why the reinvention of the BBC for the modern age is so important.”

Hall’s warning comes on the heels of comments this week from one of the U.K.’s best-known drama producers that the well of co-production money from Netflix and Amazon is set to run dry. Jane Featherstone, the former Kudos boss who now runs Sister Pictures, said the streaming giants will pull back from co-production and the content they commission out of Britain will narrow in focus.

The BBC generates £3.7 billion ($4.9 billion) in license fee income annually. Netflix will spend about $6 billion on programming this year and  more in 2018. The streaming service has commissioned “The Crown” from the U.K. and has several British projects underway, including “Troy” and “Duty/Shame,” which are co-productions with the BBC. Amazon has “The Grand Tour” from Britain, its most popular show globally.

Hall’s remarks will echo Featherstone’s concern that uniquely British stories will fall by the wayside as the global SVOD players make their production choices. “The reality is that their investment decisions are likely to focus increasingly on a narrow range of very expensive, very high-end content – big bankers that they can rely on to have international appeal and attract large global audiences,” Hall is expected to say.

His comments will be underpinned by the findings of research commissioned by the BBC into programming challenges in the current media landscape. The report by London-based consultancy Mediatique acknowledges the investments made by Sky and BT in British sports rights and programming but says these will not cover the gap.

Hall will say that the tide can still be turned. “The BBC has always shown a great ability to adapt to new challenges and make them opportunities. If we get the response right now, and the rest of the industry does the same, then we can safeguard the future of home-grown content, and rather than British content diminishing, we can kick start a new golden age for British production.”