WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THE SHOW SO FAR? It's been a year since Greg Dyke took the role of director-general at the BBC. Anna Griffiths charts the highs and the lows of the most powerful man in broadcasting

Although Greg Dyke has the most powerful job in British broadcasting, there must be times when he wonders whether it's worth it. Everyone has an opinion about the BBC and Dyke's recent aggressive TV scheduling moves have sparked cries of foul play from competitors, advertisers and politicians. As David Elstein, the former chief executive of Channel 5, points out: 'You have to take a lot of stick and middle-of-the-night phone calls in that job - it's worse than being the home secretary.'

So, is there much to celebrate this week as Dyke marks the first anniversary of his appointment as John Birt's successor as the director-general of the BBC?

There is no doubt that Dyke's presence has been keenly felt internally as he cuts back the fat from the BBC's enormous and convoluted structure.

Expense accounts, chauffeur-driven cars, croissants at the morning meetings - all have fallen beneath Dyke's axe. Dispensing with such frippery is part of Dyke's drive to deliver cost savings of pounds 200 million a year from next year. This cash will go towards programming and the development of the BBC's digital offering, helping to reduce its dependence on the licence fee.

Dyke set out his stall back in April with a management restructure that he claimed would allow the corporation to be a place with 'more leadership and less management'. He has set up a central executive committee with 17 directors and is seeking to get closer to the key editorial and programming decision making. He has also scrapped the BBC's corporate centre, policy and planning units, while rationalising the warren of press, PR and marketing departments. And that's just for starters. Over four years, Dyke plans to cut 1,000 jobs from the BBC.

Despite such blood-letting, Dyke is viewed with more affection within the BBC than Birt. He is seen as a man of the people, less ethereal than his predecessor, who will do his damnedest to drag the corporation into the 21st century. Michael Jackson, the chief executive of Channel 4, says: 'He's brought a human side to the BBC and he has an engagement with creative content.'

And John Hooper, the outgoing director-general of the advertisers' body ISBA, may be keeping a wary eye on Dyke's recent BBC1 scheduling skirmishes, but he has a great deal of respect for him. 'The arrival of Greg Dyke at the BBC has made the TV world far more interesting - at least he's got us on our toes. Greg has direct one-on-one talks, while John Birt would never speak to me. Greg is a very approachable guy who is very upfront about what he's doing.'

Dyke is all too aware of the delicate position he is in and most would agree he faces an impossible conundrum.

He has a duty as a public service broadcaster to provide a unique service that continues to satisfy licence fee payers that they are getting value for money. But at the same time, he faces a fragmenting media environment with increasingly aggressive players and the task of managing eroding audiences. For Dyke, the answer is simple. 'I believe the stark choice facing the BBC today is that we either change or we simply manage decline gracefully, and none of us joined the BBC to do that.'

The recent sums paid for the Match of the Day rights, which saw the BBC pipped to the post by ITV, illustrates the nature of the challenge. 'Our competitors today are bigger, richer and more ruthless than at any time in the BBC's history,' Dyke notes. 'This is competition on a scale the BBC has never seen before.'

So, for Dyke, the gloves are off and he is shaping the BBC's TV offering with an emphasis on targeting audiences more accurately. Dyke declares: 'We need more of that kind of popular, quality programming. I believe we now live in a competitive world where the average simply isn't good enough.' Cue the announcement that BBC1 was moving its news from nine o'clock to ten. Dyke declared: 'We believe that more people will watch it, it's as simple as that.' The more people who watch the BBC, the safer the corporation will be in maintaining its licence fee beyond 2007. And with a relatively low share of viewing in digital homes, the BBC is understandably anxious to up the ante.

Reacting to criticism from the BBC's board of governors that the BBC's drama offering wasn't strong enough, Dyke is now seeking to repeat the success of period dramas like Pride and Prejudice with drama series such as The Scarlet Pimpernel, which is running during primetime mid-week.

And he is also bringing back popular comedy like the award-winning Royle Family. An extra pounds 95 million will be put into the channel's budget next year.

While ITV executives believe Dyke is 'trying to turn BBC1 into ITV without the ads', Dyke and his team are adamant that they are providing a service that the licence fee demands. Matthew Bannister, the departing director of marketing for the BBC, comments: 'Ever since there was any competition in broadcasting, we have competed with each other for the attention of the public. We believe we put out a totally different mix from those provided by other broadcasters.'

To bring the BBC up to date, Dyke has also levelled his guns at the digital arena, unveiling plans for a bouquet of seven services across five channels.

So, while BBC1 handles popular programming, BBC2 is to be moulded into an intelligent, factual channel as opposed to its present 'split personality' of factual programming mixed with edgy comedy and new talent. The latter will be transferred to one of the new digital channels, BBC3. This will be aimed at a younger audience and will emerge from the chrysalis of BBC Choice, with a lot more money thrown at it. BBC4 will be the intellectual digital channel to replace the existing BBC Knowledge, while two children's daytime channels will be launched targeting pre-school children and children aged between six and 13.

But the reaction to Dyke's new channel line-up has been mixed. The description of BBC3 sounds very similar to Channel 4, and Jackson is keeping a close eye on its development. 'I think it's legitimate that licence fee payers and competitors should be asking what is the public service component of all the new ventures. Are they really doing things that the marketplace would not be doing if left to its own devices? But within that is the context of the BBC needing to be resonant to survive.'

Bernard Balderston, the associate director of UK media for Procter & Gamble, is less concerned: 'The BBC has a huge amount of programming resource and you could argue that they are providing a fully rounded service to the licence fee payer.' Elstein is less impressed. 'BBC3 and BBC4 are not going to get any measurable or significant audience levels and there's powerful evidence that those sort of channels can be easily provided in the commercial sector. What's this all about? I've never been impressed by the BBC's digital strategy - it's always been the case of occupying territory and just keeping balls in play.'

While juggling its public service roles in TV, radio and online, the BBC is also stepping up the development of its commercial activities, which are housed within its BBC Worldwide. Although this lies beyond Dyke's remit, these commercial ventures have also landed him criticism from his rivals. The BBC says that its publishing, online and TV activities provide invaluable income that can be plunged back into developing its public services. In fact, in its last financial year, BBC Worldwide's turnover topped half a billion pounds for the first time, with revenues of pounds 514 million, up 15 per cent year on year.

And the BBC is also seeking additional revenue from selling stakes in its commercial businesses. BBC Worldwide's website beeb.com was recently bought into by a US investment group for pounds 32.5 million. There is also a possibility that Worldwide's joint venture with Flextech, UKTV, may float on the stock market, which could yield another pounds 200 million.

But while it is recognised that the BBC needs to raise money, when it comes to using its public airwaves to promote these commercial activities, rivals are less than happy. Last month, a group of publishers led by Emap Elan's president, Sue Hawken, took legal advice on whether to remonstrate with the Office of Fair Trading over the use of BBC airtime to promote Worldwide's new women's magazine Eve.

For Hooper, this is a perfect example of the BBC manipulating its privileged position. 'The BBC is saying that it is not an advertiser, but it is effectively getting free advertising. I don't think it is playing by the rules. We have to move to a single regulator and set reasonable ground rules - whether it is in magazines or in broadcasting.'

So is Dyke's new-look BBC in danger of jeopardising the licence fee itself, adding grist to the mill when rivals, advertisers and the public begin to question the need for a fully funded public service when the licence fee comes under scrutiny once again in 2007? Will Dyke still be able to put his hand on his heart and argue that the licence fee in its present form should exist?

Dyke, predictably, argues that fragmentation in the broadcast market and new technology such as TiVo, which allows viewers to skip ads, will weaken the economics of channels funded by advertising. This means that the role of the BBC, as a bastion of British production and programming, will become more clear cut. 'The public-service role of the BBC could well be clearer in ten years' time than it is today,' he predicts.

Competitors have a rather more fiesty view of the way things should pan out. Some argue that in the future the BBC should be funded by subscription services, while advertisers would naturally be delighted to have access to advertising opportunities. Balderston says: 'We don't suggest that the BBC should be solely funded by advertising because that would be uneconomical within the TV market. But we are suggesting that as digital TV grows, the justification for continuing to pay RPI-linked licence fees become untenable. From an advertisers' standpoint, we would strongly argue that going forward, some sort of serious relationship between the BBC and commercial world should exist.

We'd look at two relationships - sponsorship is likely to be of primary relevance initially, and at some point we would also believe there would be a role for spot advertising, which would have to be phased in on a gradual basis.'

For both Jackson and Elstein, there must be other solutions. Jackson believes advertising on the BBC 'would alter the whole ecology of TV', while Elstein argues: 'The natural way to fund the BBC is through subscriptions to allow flexibility to offer a bouquet of channels paid for by people who use them.'

Dyke is a bullish character who appears to thrive in carving a path through a tough market. But while some of his moves have caused controversy, there are industry observers who say that, so far, he hasn't changed the BBC's ecology that much. In the growing war for eyeballs, Dyke's swift decision to move the news to ten o'clock on BBC will be a very public test of his 'vision' for the channel. So far it has proved a smart move,drawing in new viewers. But it is this very success that will ensure Dyke is in hot water for quite some time yet.


                        Sept       Sept        Sept

                        1998       1999        2000

BBC                     28.2       27.8        29.5

ITV                     31.3       31.5        28.2

Total BBC               39.4       37.4        39.9

Total commercial TV     47.1       48.3        43.7

Source: BARB


                  Q1      Q2      Q3      Q4      Q1      Q2

                1999    1999    1999    1999    2000    2000

All BBC         50.3    49.0    50.3    51.3    51.0    51.1

All comm        47.5    49.2    51.1    47.2    47.1    47.2

Source: Rajar.

Become a member of Campaign

Get the very latest news and insight from Campaign with unrestricted access to campaignlive.co.uk, plus get exclusive discounts to Campaign events.

Become a member

What is Campaign AI?

Our new premium service offering bespoke monitoring reports for your company.

Find out more

Looking for a new job?

Get the latest creative jobs in advertising, media, marketing and digital delivered directly to your inbox each day.

Create an alert now

Partner content