BBC Director General Tony Hall has said the corporation has “learned” from its online experiment with youth-skewing brand BBC Three, which is again facing a linear future four years after it was taken off the air.
Speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show on Sunday morning, Hall said: “We’ve learned. I think it’s absolutely right that an organization should learn. We took (BBC Three) off linear because we wanted to save money and because we thought we could really launch it as an online vehicle because that’s where audiences are going to be, and it’s been a fantastic creative success.”
Hall, who is to step down as Director General this year, said BBC Three/Hulu co-production “Normal People” was “just the latest example of how well that’s done.” The show has been a smash success for the BBC, garnering 38 million requests on the broadcaster’s catch-up service iPlayer.
“But what we’ve also learned is if you’ve got linear channels working alongside an on-demand service, that works very powerfully and that’s why we’re thinking of bringing (BBC Three) back.”
The BBC confirmed earlier this week that it is “considering the case” for moving the brand back on air, in a bid to drive some of the extensive demand for BBC Three shows back to linear. The corporation’s Annual Plan, released Wednesday, said the BBC will double its spend on BBC Three commissions over the next two years, with its budget rising from around £30-40 million ($36-49 million) to between £60-80 million ($73-98 million).
Hall also spoke on the BBC’s evolving relationship with the government, which prior to the COVID-19 crisis, was calling for a complete upheaval of the broadcaster’s funding system via the mandatory license fee. Hall suggested that the relationship had improved, with the BBC working with the government to launch its education programs during the crisis, and teaming with the DCMS and Treasury to match donations for recent lockdown fundraiser “The Big Night In.”
Hall, a staunch supporter for the license fee system — which requires Britons to pay £157.50 ($191) annually to fund BBC TV channels, iPlayer and radio stations — allowed that the corporation must be “open-minded” about how its funding mechanisms can change in the future.
“Can it be fairer, more proportionate, and can you charge it in different ways?” Hall told Marr. “All these questions should be answered between now and 2027,” when the BBC will next renew it charter.
Hall also highlighted that the BBC will not “be expansionist” following the crisis, having revealed in its Annual Plan that it is facing a £125 million ($152 million) loss as a result of COVID-19.
What happens in the future for the BBC, however, will not be of Hall’s direct concern for much longer, as he is due to step down later this year. However, while his successor would have been named by now, the process could be delayed given a thin shortlist of candidates. Those in the running include BBC Studios boss Tim Davie and BBC director of content Charlotte Moore.
While he could not be drawn on Marr’s question about the necessary characteristics for his successor, Hall said, “What you need is a profound belief in public service broadcasting and a realization that to preserve those things that matter, you have to adapt and change. Whatever you do, take the values you stand for and adapt for the future.”
Hall, who was meant to step down formally in July, said he “shall do (the job) for as long as the board want me to.”