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U.S. ‘West Coast Giants’ Threaten British and Local Content, BBC Boss Warns

U.K. pubcaster locked in a 'Davis vs. Goliath' battle against the FAANGs, Tony Hall says

In his latest salvo across the pond, BBC chief Tony Hall is set to warn that Amazon, Netflix and other American “West Coast giants” do not have the same interest in connecting with British viewers as the BBC, making the U.K. pubcaster more important than ever in its home market.

“The country needs a BBC that helps society understand itself better…that explores our nation’s differences passionately and robustly…that projects British creativity and values globally,” Hall is expected to say in an address to BBC staff Monday. “These are not the passions of the West Coast giants – why would they be? They are our passions.”

The BBC director general has come out fighting against the competition after a tumultuous period for his organization, which is under fire for not adequately addressing its gender pay gap. In taking aim at some of the FAANGs (Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, Google), Hall is echoing concerns of other media executives like CNN boss Jeff Zucker, who last week said regulators should be scrutinizing those new digital behemoths as well as traditional media players.

Hall’s message will be that public broadcasting has assumed greater importance as the world’s biggest media companies build their presence in Britain and also merge and consolidate to achieve even greater scale. Acknowledging that “maybe we’re not the biggest kid on the block anymore,” Hall will say that BBC has been thrust into a “David vs. Goliath” battle, a battle the BBC “can win, but only if we accelerate reform.”

The BBC’s priorities in this new world are reaching younger audiences, setting a “gold standard” for news output, promoting new talent and backing homegrown creativity.

“Old business models are being ripped up before our eyes,” Hall is expected to say, according to an advance copy of his speech. “And we can see now, more clearly than ever, that the global media landscape is likely to be dominated by four, perhaps five, businesses on the West Coast of America.

“These are global businesses determined not just to produce their own content, but to control how it’s distributed and marketed right around the world through their own branded gateways. They are businesses that will skillfully mine every ounce of personal data to drive growth and profit.”

The BBC boss will argue that the role of local content and brands is more important in a landscape dominated by a handful of global players and that “local truly matters.” Amazon and Netflix are increasingly investing in local content, but producers have warned that the tap of co-production money could run dry.

“Today, Netflix and Amazon are available in over half of British homes,” Hall will say. “They are services that are admired and trusted. And yet, on average, the great majority of television output viewed in the U.K. each day is still British content, even among younger audiences.”

The new players will not invest in new British talent, Hall warns. “The West Coast giants will pluck established talent wherever they can find it, but their business isn’t to inspire the next generation of British talent. That is our job – and right now, nobody does it better.  It’s why Britain doesn’t need its own Netflix. It already has the BBC.”

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