The BBC is likely to reduce the amount of content it produces rather than cutting whole channels in order to make massive savings, according to Director General Tim Davie, who had to deflect tricky questions about its relationship with disgraced DJ Tim Westwood.
A major announcement is coming over the next few weeks as to how the corporation plans to save around £1.5BN ($2BN) over the next five years and Davie hinted that cutting shows over services is the likely direction. He has operated with a policy of “fewer, bigger, better” since taking over 18 months ago.
“We’ll pay for less,” he told today’s Voice of the Listener & Viewer conference. “By doing everything on every service you spread yourself too thin.”
Cutting whole services such as BBC Three or BBC Four, on the other hand, was rejected almost completely outright.
“People love publicly saying ‘let’s kill a channel’ but the truth is you can reduce content without doing that.”
The key question, for Davie, is how the BBC manages the pivot to digital while having to make these massive savings, which come as the result of a government-enforced licence fee freeze for the next two years, before the £159 charge returns to rising with inflation.
“How much we are doing on linear, news, broadcast and then how much works well on iPlayer is the biggest decision for the BBC,” he explained. “How are we going to deliver public service media in the digital age so that people primarily consuming on-demand can get to it?.”
Davie is also “bullish” about the prospects of commercial producer-distributor BBC Studios bringing in greater returns to help ease the savings burden.
He said the corporation will try and “find other efficiencies to protect what you get for your licence fee” but is “beginning to run out of road.”
The next few months are “really critical” for the organization, he added, pointing to planned legislation on Public Service Broadcaster prominence and subsequently the BBC’s Mid-Term Charter Review, for which the government will assess how it is managing within its strict public service remit.
“I’ve set an agenda for the BBC and it’s very simply asking what we are valued for and what is our strategy?,” Davie said.
He had tricky questions to answer on Westwood, the superstar DJ who was yesterday accused of sexual misconduct by seven women in a joint investigation by The Guardian and the BBC, allegations that Westwood strenuously denies.
Westwood spent many years DJing for BBC radio stations but, under pressure, Davie said he had “looked at our records and seen no evidence of complaints.”
Calling the seven women’s testimony “powerful and appalling,” he subsequently made a wider point about company culture.
“We’re now in a position where we are very clear on culture,” he added. “If people have evidence that things weren’t followed up then bring them to us and we will dig and dig. All corporations have to create an environment where [these allegations are] completely unacceptable.”