BBC Annual Report Shows Strong Year, More Reform Needed


The BBC’s annual report has outlined that while it was a strong year for BBC content, the broadcaster must keep reforming to be trusted, relevant and indispensable in the digital age.

The annual report, which covers April 2019 to March 2020, reveals that during this period, over 90 percent of the U.K. population used the BBC each week. It was a strong year for programs and services. The BBC also made significant efficiencies, boosted commercial profits to help fund quality programs for the license fee payer and made even more progress on gender pay. This is good progress, but the BBC can take nothing for granted and must keep reforming at an urgent pace, the organization says.

The BBC remains the most used media organization in the U.K., with 41 million people per day on average using it last year. The 90 percent of the U.K. population using the BBC each week rose to 94 percent in March this year during the coronavirus outbreak. BBC iPlayer broke new ground, with a record 4.8 billion requests to stream programs in 2019-20.

BBC iPlayer ended the year on a record-breaking high, with 4.8 billion requests to stream programs in 2019-20. In the first seven weeks of lockdown, iPlayer had one billion requests—over 60 percent higher than the same period last year.

Audiences came to the BBC in big numbers this year, particularly during lockdown. There were 55 million BBC iPlayer requests for Normal People from the end of April to early July. Of these there were 16.2 million requests in the first eight days alone, during lockdown, making it the biggest drama launch on BBC iPlayer ever. Season five of Line of Duty had an audience of 13.2 million for the first episode. The 18.5 million audience for the Gavin & Stacey 2019 Christmas special across all screens was the biggest scripted show of the decade.

Over 80 percent of children and young adults in the U.K. use the BBC on average each week. U.K. 16-34s spent more media time at 7:30 a.m. with the BBC on average per week in 2019-20 than any other brand. There were a record 27.1 million CBeebies and CBBC requests in the first week of school closures (March 23 to 29).

This year, June Sarpong was hired as creative diversity director. To represent the public better, the BBC set out a creative diversity commitment to prioritize £100 million of the existing TV commissioning budget—and £12 million of the existing radio budget—over three years from 2021-22 toward diverse and inclusive content. BBC set a new mandatory 20 percent off-air diverse talent target in all new network commissions from April 2021.

The BBC continued to serve audiences across the U.K. Over half of network television production was in the nations and regions, with 50.7 percent from outside London and 20.8 percent from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. It also remained committed to locating at least 50 percent of our employees outside of London and some 52 percent are currently based outside of the M25.

The BBC’s commercial subsidiaries—BBC Studios, Studioworks and Global News—together delivered dividends of £189 million, growth of nine percent year-on-year. BBC Studios saw record numbers across sales, profit, content investment, content sales and its returns to the BBC were the highest ever at £276 million.

The BBC is now leaner and more efficient with around £199 million of annual savings delivered in 2019-20. Since 2016-17 it has delivered £618 million of recurring annual savings, while license fee income is 31 percent less than had the license fee consistently risen with inflation. An independent report shows that 95 percent of controllable spend is on content, with less than five percent spent on the support services needed to run the BBC. There has been a 32 percent reduction over five years in overhead spending since 2014-15 and the BBC has retained its industry-leading position for low overheads.

Some measures are not going in the right direction, though. Headcount has increased from 19,231 to 19,572 and senior leader numbers have gone up from 250 to 253. The BBC plans to keep a focus on cost reduction so that the public-service headcount is smaller. The BBC also has to do more to better serve and reflect all license fee payers, the organization said.

BBC Chairman David Clementi commented: “This annual report tells the story of a BBC that remains of huge value at home and abroad, but is not without considerable challenges. Going into the coronavirus crisis the BBC already had 31 percent less to spend on U.K. public services than if the license fee had risen with inflation since 2010. Now the severe impact of COVID-19 means that we have to save an extra £125 million—on top of additional significant savings—in a tougher than ever marketplace.

“In this context, the BBC must redouble its efforts to serve all audiences, while maximizing commercial revenues and supporting the creative industries’ recovery across the U.K.”

Director-General Tim Davie commented: “This annual report is a good base from which to create a modern, highly efficient BBC that truly reflects Britain. There are challenges ahead. We need to keep reforming with urgency so that we are trusted, relevant and indispensable in the digital age.

“Our guiding principle is that we are a BBC for all—a universal public service to serve and represent everyone in every part of the U.K. Our focus must be on making sure we deliver outstanding and unique value to all audiences—those who pay for us and are in effect our customers—in return for their license fee.

“That means we must renew our commitment to impartiality; focus on unique, high-impact content; extract more from online and build our commercial income. That is now our focus and challenge going forward. We should take nothing for granted.”