Advertisement

BBC Boss Outlines Goals: “Pursue Truth, Back British Storytelling, Bring People Together”

The BBC needs more partnerships with media, entertainment and technology giants, such as one with the Walt Disney Co. for sci-fi hit show Doctor Who, and change how it does business further in a competitive and polarized world. That was the message of Tim Davie, the director general of the U.K. public broadcaster, in a major Tuesday speech outlining his team’s future focus amid technological and other changes as pursuing truth, backing British storytelling and uniting people.

The proactive, but considered, use of AI and “ethical algorithms” is also part of his plans for the broadcaster.

More from The Hollywood Reporter

Ahead of the BBC’s annual report detailing spending plans for the next year, Davie addressed the “future direction of the BBC and its role for the U.K.” during a Royal Television Society event, outlining how to use “limited resources” to best serve audiences, “rapidly modernize” and “transform the value we provide for everyone,” while “growing the creative industries.”

Saying that “jeopardy is high,” Davie argued that there are dangers for the U.K. “democratically, socially and culturally” and beyond, citing the likes of “noisy culture wars, disinformation, the persecution of the free press.” Helping here can “strong institutions, shared stories and social capital,” he said.

Pointing out “almost universal admiration” of the BBC around the world, Davie spoke out against “complacency, defensiveness and arrogance.” And he noted financial challenges, the need to rethink traditional business models and change amid changing audience behavior. But he said that the British public spends more time with the BBC and its streaming service iPlayer than all streamers combined.

Davie said the BBC has three essential roles to play and goals to pursue for democracy, society and the creative industries. They are: “pursue truth with no agenda, back British storytelling, and bring people together.”

On the first, he said that one key goal must be “holding our center of gravity, staying true to our values.” The BBC will launch two new digital services as part of that. One will be a destination for “deeper analysis, longer reads, and thought-provoking journalism.” The second is the launch of a BBC Investigations brand.

Davie also said the BBC would “proactively deploy” AI “on our terms,” supporting rightsholders, while “never compromising human creative control,” and sustaining the BBC’s editorial standards. “We are now working with a number of major tech companies on BBC-specific pilots which we will be deploying the most promising ones in coming months,” he said.

Davie also promised the development and use of “unique ethical algorithms” that include increased personalization, but are “not simply driven by the narrowing of an individual’s recommendation,” but also include serendipity, curiosity, and “an interest in what our BBC editors may judge to be important stories.”

“With the backing of BBC Studios, we will invest in stronger direct-to-consumer services globally,” Davie vowed. Relaunching BBC.com and the BBC app worldwide with appropriate commercialization to “build up as the number 1 British news brand online” is part of that goal, the director general detailed. “Over time we will look at adding the best of our documentaries and podcasts to that service.”

On backing British storytelling, Davie promised “authentic British stories, beautifully produced,” rather than a focus on an “abstract” notion of global appeal. He also said that the broadcaster will continue to push more creative work beyond London, targeting that more than 60 percent of the BBC’s TV production will be outside London by 2026.

“Our creative industries are a growing £125 billion ($158 billion) success story based on a unique, globally admired system of public and commercial investment that has profited society,” Davey said. “But in a competitive global market, the pressure on huge international businesses to deliver efficiency creates genuine jeopardy for local IP and the telling of our stories. …The BBC currently invests more in original British content than anyone. No one does more to champion new talent from every part of the U.K.”

He continued: “The BBC is a growth and innovation fund for the U.K., and we want to do even more to back British storytelling. This is not an insular strategy. We are a global brand. But as someone who ran BBC Studios, I can tell you that our most successful approach is to focus on our point of difference: authentic British stories produced beautifully, not worrying too much about an abstract notion of global appeal.”

On priority three, bringing people together, the BBC wants to ensure shared moments and common cultural experiences and position itself against narrow algorithms sowing division. That includes the goal to “not rely solely on U.S. and Chinese tech companies,” he said. In that, the BBC boss doubled down on his warnings about social media giants, such as TikTok and Facebook, and called “U.S. and Chinese algorithms the potential tastemakers of the future,” as had emerged on Monday ahead of his speech.

Despite “budget pressures,” the BBC will therefore “prioritize big national occasions,” Davie said. “Dramatic changes” in how the BBC operates will be needed for all this, he emphasized. A more audience-controlled broadcaster will be the result. If interested in a topic, audiences will get to mine BBC content across text, audio, photos video, and more.

“Noone is left behind in the digital transition,” Davie highlighted a final goal. “A free broadband-based TV service will be part of that, he said.

“These steps will help secure the future of the BBC, but more importantly, the vital role that a BBC can play for the U.K. at home and abroad in the years ahead,” Davie concluded.

What about funding this? Part of financial solutions will come down to refocusing existing capital to new priorities. For example, accelerating content spending “towards streaming value and away from broadcast-only output” is part of this strategy, the BBC boss said.

Working more closely with entertainment and tech giants will also be key, he said, promising: “We will utilize commercial partners much more actively in areas like programming and technology to increase our horsepower.”

Highlighting the “deep pockets” of tech titans, Davie argued: “We do need major global partnerships with some of the tech players. We’re an incredible testing ground. We are innovative, we can pilot things that maybe others can’t develop. We’ve always had that history, but I don’t think we can do it alone as a walled garden of R&D development. We’re going to have to work with big companies. We have done this for a while in natural history and BBC Studios.”

He explained that the BBC has developed new services and offers “through partnership, majority funding coming from outside the U.K. boundaries,” concluding: “I think we need to push that into other areas to attract capital and create joint businesses in the U.K.” Concluded the BBC chief: “We will need to work more strategically with the best tech companies to co-create solutions and form business partnerships that save money, inject capital and create better products.”

Davie touted the partnership with Disney as well. “Our recent deal with Disney on Doctor Who is a good example of how we can work to deliver more value through third-party funding, while protecting content for U.K. audiences,” he explained. “We will also continue to aggressively grow BBC Studios internationally, building our production capabilities and direct-to-consumer services like bbc.com and
now the wholly owned BritBox.”

Davie on Tuesday also said the BBC and government will have to rethink the BBC World Service and investments in it given how much Russia, China and others put into funding of their respective services. “One area that we will discuss with government is the World Service,” Davie said in his speech. “It is uniquely valuable and globally important. … However, we cannot keep asking U.K. license fee payers to invest in it when we face cuts to U.K. services. We will need to discuss a long-term funding solution for the World Service that comes from central government budgets. Even in the short-term we will need more help. Russia and China are investing hard, and not properly funding one of the U.K.’s most valuable soft power assets makes no sense economically or culturally.”

Also, a reform of the BBC license fee, through which U.K. taxpayers help fund the public broadcaster, including a close look at its scope and making it more progressive and fair, is needed, the BBC boss argued.

Late in his appearance, Davie also said that the BBC was small and had growth potential in the “shark-infested waters” of the global media market.


Best of The Hollywood Reporter