Diane Coyle Unveils Priorities for ’21st Century BBC’


LONDON: Diane Coyle, acting chairman of the BBC Trust, outlined four "immediate priorities" for the public broadcaster in a speech yesterday, among them calling for an improvement in "the quality, variety and originality of new drama on BBC One."

Coyle began her address by talking about the reach of the BBC, noting that the broadcaster "is part of the fabric of our everyday lives, in some obvious ways and some much less obvious. It is a great public enterprise that we all own. It must speak to all of us. To maintain its relevance and to justify its funding long into the 21st century, the BBC needs to keep evolving."

One way to do this is through technological advancement, Coyle said. "The BBC must stay attuned to all the ways people increasingly expect to use their media. It will need to provide services online, on-demand, on smartphones—wherever people want and expect to find the BBC. And it will continue to have an important role in helping people discover new ways of engaging with ideas and creativity too."

The BBC must also do a better job of speaking to the needs of its diverse audience base. "So the Trust has now set the Director-General a priority, over the coming year, to make measurable progress in reflecting better the diversity of the U.K. population—both in the BBC’s workforce and its programs. And we were very pleased that last week he made a personal commitment to doing just that for people from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds, announcing new targets for on-screen representation, a senior leadership program and funding for commissioning."

Coyle also expressed concerns about the BBC's independence. "I think there is a real risk to the future of the BBC without a clearer definition of its relationship with government, parliament and the state…. [O]ver the last decade or so the BBC has become more and more entangled with parts of the machinery of government, parliament and the state in all sorts of other, more or less obvious ways.

"[T]here is a real risk that the BBC could in the future end up looking over its shoulder trying to please politicians rather than focusing on license-fee payers."

Addressing the next Charter Review, Coyle said, "We will also want to put forward some ideas about how to incorporate on-demand viewing to the iPlayer into any future license-fee system." She added, "There is every reason to think the licence fee, which pays for the creation of new programs no matter how they’re viewed, is the best model and a sustainable model for at least another Charter period."

Coyle outlined four immediate priorities that the BBC Trust is looking to see progress on in the next two years ahead of the new Charter Review. The first addresses BBC One's drama output. Coyle noted that "we are starting from a very high level of performance, in terms of quality and audience appreciation," citing hits like Sherlock. "Even so, there is a shared ambition between the Trust and the BBC Executive for the BBC to get even better. £200 million or so of BBC One’s budget each year goes on drama. BBC One scores strongly on audience measures of quality and distinctiveness, but not always quite as well as ITV or BBC Two. So we are challenging the management to stretch themselves and be as ambitious as possible. To see whether it can use the money even better in what is a very competitive market. And I’m delighted that Tony Hall has signaled that high-quality British drama is a major editorial priority for him, one he plans to invest in."

Coyle went on to say: "BBC One plays it too safe in parts of its peak-time schedule. This covers factual and entertainment programs, not just drama. The industry experts we’ve spoken to echo that view. BBC One is greatly appreciated. But it can sometimes feel too predictable. Its viewers expect still more from it. So we will use our report on the TV services next month to set out in more detail what we want the management to do to respond."

Another priority is controlling the headcount, including continued reductions in the number of senior managers. Coyle also noted the importance of the diversity initiative, as well as pursuing more partnerships with cultural and other creative organizations across the U.K.