Anne Bulford’s Speech to the DTG Summit
Speech by Anne Bulford, Deputy Director-General of the BBC to the DTG Summit on Wednesday 10 May 2017.
Good morning, everyone. It’s a pleasure to be here.
In the run up to this summit, Richard [Lindsay-Davies] talked about the need to navigate our way towards “a new, smarter, and deeply immersive age of television”.
We’re here because all of us understand the forces that are shaping this new age, and recognise their speed and impact. But we’re also here because, ultimately, none of us knows what exactly the new age of television will look like. These are extraordinarily dynamic and fast-changing times for our industry. In fact, these are extraordinary times full stop.
When a former reality television star is running the US, and a former UK shadow chancellor has danced his way to stardom on reality TV, you know you are in unchartered territory. I’m not sure what it says about modern politics, but I’m sure it says something about the enduring power of TV.
In uncertain times, it is often said that the best way of predicting the future is to create it – and this is the business we are in. And one thing we can be sure of is that, where we face common challenges across the industry, collaboration and thinking collectively will continue to be key.
That’s why I want to pay tribute to the work of the DTG, and the role it plays in bringing the industry together to deliver innovation in TV – whether it’s digital switchover, the D-Book, or the launch of HD services on Freeview. Wherever the industry needs to come together to understand new technologies or create new opportunities, the DTG will have a very important role to play.
Today I would like to touch on some of the common challenges we face. I would like to talk about the key priorities that are driving the work of the BBC as we seek to respond and deliver on an ambitious new vision for the years ahead. And I want to highlight two areas that are a special focus for me as Deputy DG, and that I believe will be crucial in helping us succeed.
Reinventing the BBC for a new generation
But let me begin with what matters most to our audiences: great programmes…
Watching that film, what strikes me – I hope it strikes you too – is the quality and range of what we do.
From Sherlock to Call The Midwife, Doctor Who to Let It Shine. From Planet Earth II and Spy In The Wild to Graham Norton and Strictly. Not to mention our coverage of Wimbledon, the Six Nations and the FA Cup.
This year, in drama alone, we’ve already seen Taboo and SS-GB, The Moorside and Apple Tree Yard. We’ve had more Line Of Duty gripping the nation, with more Poldark and Doctor Foster to come.
Over the course of the last Charter, the BBC won 60 National Television Awards, 76 Emmys, and 227 BAFTAs.
It’s a major part of the reason we were able to make such a strong case for the BBC in negotiating the new Charter: by not getting distracted and remaining creatively right at the top of our game.
And it is thanks to that – thanks above all to the support of the public – that we were able to emerge from the process with a Charter that reaffirms our core mission, endorses our scale and scope, and provides us with the firm foundations we need to invest in a strong, world-class BBC.
Of course, we have some tough choices to make to live within our means. But the BBC’s financial settlement means that we have real certainty in an uncertain world, and we mean to make it count.
That’s why we have set out a bold, ambitious vision for the years ahead. The challenge we have set ourselves, over the course of this Charter, is to reinvent the BBC for a new generation.
We know – Ofcom’s research tells us – that young people value public service broadcasting every bit as much as everyone else. It’s something they believe in. And today the BBC is still, by far, the media provider that young audiences use the most, and with whom they spend the most time. CBeebies is the top channel for the under-sixes, CBBC for the over-sixes. For the 16-34 age group, BBC One is still the channel they watch the most.
But we also know that younger people and indeed older people are consuming media in increasingly different ways, and we face extraordinary competition for people’s time.
We need to do much more to reach audiences – whoever and wherever they are, and however they wish to consume us – and we need to do much more to make sure that our programmes and services cut through in an extraordinarily competitive, global space.
Above all, our goal is to make sure that the BBC works for all audiences, young and old. To make sure that everyone gets value from the BBC.
Three major priorities for the future
To achieve this, we are focusing on three major priorities:
- Our creativity;
- our culture;
- and our global ambition.
First, our creativity.
Let’s be clear: you only have to watch that showreel to know that we are already on great creative form.
Planet Earth II alone was seen by more than 30 million viewers in the UK, and ended up topping the Sunday night ratings with more 16-34-year-olds watching it than watched The X-Factor on ITV. Now it has been sold to over 150 countries around the world. In the US, it was the most watched nature programme on television in five years. In China, it was seen around 50 million times, with over 200 million views of its short-form assets. And in France, it ranked in the top five highest-rated UK programmes of the past nine years.
It is real testimony to the BBC’s world-class quality and creativity.
But we all know we can never stand still. We always need to generate new ideas, innovate further, and take greater risks.
We want the BBC during this Charter to be defined by boldness and originality, not just on screen, but also in the online space – where competition is highest, new audiences are most present, and we can serve them in brilliant new ways.
That means reinventing iPlayer; making the very most of our world-class audio content; making the most of new technologies like AI, voice recognition, and VR; transforming the BBC’s public services to be more open, more creative, and to be available when and where the public wants them.
Our second priority is our culture – making the BBC a great place to work.
And here I want to say a bit about the work that I have been doing ever since I came back to the BBC three-and-a-half years ago, in charge of finance and operations.
My priority then, and now, is to make sure the organisation is run as efficiently and effectively as possible… To redirect spending and simplify procedures in a way that supports a sustainable and more creative BBC.
I’m proud of what we have been able to achieve – not just to live within our means, but to work towards a truly competitive environment with fewer barriers to creativity.
We have already done a lot to make the BBC simpler, leaner, and more efficient. We have brought down overheads to industry-leading levels: just six per cent of our total costs – better than most in the private sector. We have brought down our property bill by approximately £90 million in six years, reduced our enterprise technology spend by 23 per cent in three years, and all but halved the number of senior managers in eight years.
And a few weeks ago, I was able to announce that, four years after it opened, we have completed a refinancing of our London Broadcasting House building that will save a further £10 million a year. This will mature gradually to an estimated £34 million a year when the lease term ends. It’s a deal that provides real value for money for generations to come – securing the long-term future of our London base and demonstrating our commitment to the financial challenges we have to meet during this Charter.
Cutting our property bill is a key part of our business strategy and our property footprint is now around 40 per cent smaller – a significant public sector achievement.
We have reduced BBC overheads in many other areas too – management layers, divisions and boards. Our Compete or Compare approach is working well and bringing new rigour to our finances – shifting more money away from support functions and towards creativity. And Delivering Quality First, the savings plan we began in 2011, has now exceeded its £700 million per year target.
Of course, there is much more to do. We know we will need to push even harder: To reduce management layers and bring down overheads still further, to take more money out of support areas and direct it towards content.
And we know there will be more challenges ahead as we look to make the £800 million savings we need by 2020 – these cannot simply come from overheads.
That’s why we are setting future productivity targets that will stretch realistic efficiency to its boundaries with a rate of 1.5 per cent every year for the next five years.
But above all we are aware that the old way of doing things – working in silos, with big, inflexible project plans and budgets agreed five years out – simply can’t succeed in the future. We need to be more seamless in how we work together across technical and editorial teams, more nimble in how we allocate budgets, and more responsive in how we react to rapid changes across our industry.
If we are to truly reinvent the BBC for a new generation, we have to be much more entrepreneurial in our make-up, and this will be a particular focus for me in the months and years ahead.
Our third priority is being much more ambitious for the BBC globally.
Today we punch well above our weight worldwide. And, as one of the country’s most valuable exports, we help the UK punch above its weight too.
Right now, in the post-Brexit world, we believe that Britain needs the BBC more than ever. But also that we need to do more than ever for Britain.
In the fake news era, it is part of our mission to be a trusted voice in a crowded arena – to help audiences cut through the noise and separate out opinion from fact.
In a fragmented UK, it is part of our duty to represent the whole of the country – to reveal a changing UK to itself, and to reflect all of its diverse voices and increasingly divergent politics.
And as we seek to re-define our relationship with Europe and the world, it is part of the role we play for the UK to help it forge its new global identity – and send out a clear signal about modern Britain.
In the last few months, we’re proud that we have been able to announce what we will be doing to better serve and reflect all our nations and regions. And we have announced, too, our historic expansion of the BBC World Service – the biggest since the 1940s.
But we are also focusing on what we need to do to secure the BBC’s status as one of the very best programme-makers in the world. Capable of exporting the best of British creativity to the world and saying something really powerful about the culture and values of modern Britain.But also capable of bringing the returns back to the UK to reinvest in yet more brilliant British programmes and services. That means BBC Studios and BBC Worldwide each thriving, making the very most of our global reach.
An increasingly personalised BBC
I mentioned that creating a better, more entrepreneurial BBC culture is going to be one special focus for me. But there is also another area I would like to pick out, where I will devoting my time as Deputy DG. It’s something that I believe is absolutely essential to our success in the future, something that responds to the fact that audience behaviours are delivering viewing and listening patterns that we have never seen before. And that’s personalisation.
Tony Hall has called it “the myBBC revolution” – reinventing public service broadcasting through data. We know that data is creating a flight to quality. It means audiences can find the best of public service broadcasting – when they sign in. But we want to do it in a very BBC way – not telling you “what customers like you bought”, but what citizens like you might love to watch and need to know.
By finding out more about our audiences and what they like, we can make better content, make it more relevant, and bring it to them more effectively.
So far, 6 billion recommendations have been made to viewers and listeners, with 48 million favourites and 46 million topics being followed. Around 240 million stories have been opened after people received a personalised news alerts. And 2 billion personalised sports alerts have been sent via the BBC Sport app.
In fact, our coverage of the Rio Olympics last year was a great example of where we’re heading: 500,000 unique browsers used their My Sport page, and over 150,000 users followed Olympic sports to create their own personal Olympics destination.
Overall, signed-in users spend a fifth more time online each week with the BBC. So the public are really engaging with personal choice on the BBC – and that doesn’t even include all the phone votes we had for the 10 weeks Ed Balls was on Strictly.
We believe that the closer and more personal our relationship with our audiences, the more they will choose the BBC.
Our goal is that, by the time we reach our centenary year in 2022, we will have reinvented a BBC that is irresistible to all our audiences.
In a world of near-limitless choice, we want people to keep choosing us for our British content and viewpoint on the world.
But above all by our centenary, I want us to have shown that public service broadcasting has even more to offer the whole of the UK – all of its communities in all of its nations and regions – and even more to offer Britain in the world in its second hundred years than it did in its first.