BBC may move more staff out of London in "radical" shakeup
UK broadcaster the BBC could be set to move more of its operations away from London as part of a “radical” shakeup.
The Beeb has already decentralised some of its output and services, having shifted many positions and programmes to its centre in Manchester’s Salford Quays.
But Director General, Tony Hall, said he wants to see the organisation even more widely distributed across the nation.
Hall made the comments at the 2019 Royal Television Society Cambridge Convention, while discussing the challenge being faced by a “fragmented and a polarised country”, saying that a “big response” was required.
“I want the BBC to be the organisation that is most fully embedded and distributed around the UK; that best reflects the different communities of the UK in all their richness and diversity.”
“The biggest difference between the BBC and the UK as it is today is around geographical diversity. We’ve made enormous strides.
“A decade ago, a third of the BBC was based outside London and two-thirds was in London. Today, that balance is 50:50. We’ve moved from less than 10% of our network TV programmes produced in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to 20%.
“But I want us to think bigger. Imagine a world in which the BBC moved still more out of London.
“We could be really radical here… Now I know all the risks. It would take time. It would cost money. It could be hugely disruptive. But what an enormous creative and operational opportunity!”
Local radio plan
The speech also looked at “significant” changes to local radio, with Hall stating that other local media was retreating and leaving great swathes of the UK unserved and unreported.
“We need to grab the opportunity we have and root the BBC even more locally. The opportunity has never been so great. I’ve always believed in local radio, and I want it to thrive. We’ll be announcing our changes later this autumn.
“We have a lot of work to do, but let me be clear. This is about improving the clarity and the quality of what we do across England. It’s about being more local, not less, and giving a voice to communities who otherwise aren’t being heard.
“We’re going to create new models for local. We don’t want one-size-fits-all; we want to reflect peoples’ identity and that very real sense of belonging we all feel for where we live. I also want to build on what local radio was set up to do and focus still more on new talent. These islands are an extraordinary source of ideas and creativity."
He spoke about BBC Introducing - a local radio initiative - which unearthed Lewis Capaldi as its latest discovery, following in the footsteps of Rag’n’Bone Man, Little Simz, George Ezra, Florence Welch and Jake Bugg among many others.
"Now I’m delighted that we’re rolling out BBC Upload. It’s going to do for speech what Introducing does for music”, Hall said.
“It’s already live in Bristol and will be rolled out across local radio in January - giving storytellers, poets, writers and new voices the chance to share their story and their hidden talent.”
Hall also spoke about the “second wave of disruption” in the industry as more streaming services entered the market.
“The question is: How do we stay successful globally amidst this new wave of competition?” he asked.
“I believe we’ll do it by doing something different: By being the best people to tell the stories of the UK to the world. And by telling the ‘world’s stories’ to the world, but with a distinctively British set of values.
“To thrive in this intensely competitive market (and to unlock the BBC’s global potential) we must find new funding partners and new strategic partners - a mixed model of public and commercial, where each can deliver most value.
“Whatever we do globally helps us to do our job better in the UK - whether it’s in drama, natural history or other genres. And perhaps our global role is most apparent in news.
“The new money the Government put into the World Service has increased its audience by 13% in one year. We should build on this”, Hall said.
“Already 426 million people around the world - choose us every week. 426 million. And actually that’s closer to half a billion if you include the UK. How can we get closer to a billion users a week by the end of the next decade?
Hall insisted there was an enormous opportunity at stake here, which he said any government should recognise and invest in.
He told delegates that the BBC played an essential role in an age of “disinformation, propaganda and fakery. I want the BBC to help make the UK a focal point for the fight-back against disinformation and propaganda.
“This summer, we brought together a number of media organisations, including major social media platforms.”
He said that the BBC would lead and support academic research on the impact of fake news and would work to combat the threat of deep fakes or synthetic media - “so, for instance, we learn how to authenticate video and detect manipulation. This is urgent and important work - it’s a priority for all of us.
“Because at this moment, it feels like we are navigating our way through a new age of uncertainty. Not with the benefit of hindsight. Not comfortably through the rear-view mirror. But in real time. At full throttle. With the windscreen painted over.”
He said that the final plank of any strategy must be to make the BBC the place where the most talented people do the work they want to be remembered for.
“We start with a great advantage. People want to join an organisation that has a public purpose, a social purpose, and a clear mission. But we must continue to be the best attractor of new talent from all parts of the UK - and from all fields of endeavour.
“We must be a leader when it comes to diversity of all kinds and give that talent - on and off screen - the best opportunities to grow and develop across platforms, media, geographies and technologies. And we must be a global organisation that can make talent stars on the world stage.”