BBC to consult commercial media owners on strategy

The BBC has committed to consulting commercial media owners on its programming and investment plans as part of its new strategy published by the BBC Trust today.

Sir Michael Lyons: BBC Trust chairman
Sir Michael Lyons: BBC Trust chairman

As part of the new strategy the BBC will regularly engage with the industry in areas of greatest market sensitivity, trailing significant new investments and "actively seeking" industry reactions to initiatives that are likely to require Trust approval.

The BBC will also publish an annual business plan and an annual budget that will provide greater details about the BBC's plans for each of its services and how licence fee payers' money will be spent in the coming year.

Commercial media owners’ opposition to the BBC’s expansion into new areas has been well documented – particularly concerning online local video and the purchase of the Lonely Planet travel guide brand – and the BBC has already promised to scale back.

In March the BBC executive published its strategy review, Putting Quality First, which proposed a number of changes, including the closure of BBC Radio 6 Music and the reduction of online spend by 25%.

The Trust’s interim decisions were published in July when it granted a reprieve for 6 Music, after a concerted campaign to save it. The Trust said the BBC needed to do more to ensure its content was higher quality and more distinctive.

Launching the final findings today Sir Michael Lyons, BBC Trust chairman, stressed that the BBC remains a public service and as such it needs to distinguish itself from the rest of the market and maintain the confidence of licence fee payers.

The Trust highlighted four policy foci, including increasing the distinctiveness and quality of its programmes and services, improving the value for money it provides to licence fee payers, setting new standards of openness and transparency and doing more to serve all audiences.

Lyons said: "People pay their licence fee for great programmes and services. They also want to know they are getting value for money. This is a strategy to ensure licence fee payers get that, building on much good work that is already going on within the corporation.

"At its heart is the conclusion that as a public service the BBC needs to distinguish itself from the rest of the market, hold the trust of audiences and above all produce programmes and services that inspire, entertain and delight people and that are distinctively BBC."

While the BBC is still resisting publishing the exact pay of talent and mangers it will publish an annual report on senior manager pay, breaking down information into bands, and talent costs, broken down by band and indicating the number of individuals in each band.

As part of the BBC’s commitment to serving all audiences, the trust reiterated a commitment to DAB radio, including reaching levels approaching FM equivalence as soon as feasible and evaluating options for improving regional coverage.

The radio industry has recently been involved in a row over the funding of local DAB, which was not guaranteed in the licence fee settlement. Today the BBC Trust said the BBC would work with the Government "to assess the level of investment needed to boost the local tier of DAB".

The BBC licence fee settlement, rushed through in October ahead of the Coalition Government’s spending review, froze the licence fee for the next six years and added the funding of the World Service and S4C to its obligations.

Today the Trust said a new financial review will identify long term savings required under the new licence fee settlement to identify a realistic target for efficiencies and how any remaining funding gap can be met.