BBC takes on SVOD as Bodyguard outmuscles Netflix's The Crown | Major Businesses | Business
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BBC Director General Tony Hall has come out swinging in a bullish riposte to those who believe that the BBC has been usurped by SVOD rivals, describing the BBC and UK creativity as ‘unbeatable’.
killing eve 31 jan 2018
Speaking at the Media & Telecoms Conference in London regarding the future of TV, Hall told delegates to cast their minds back to September 2018 when it seemed that the only topic conversation regarding TV was how flagship drama Bodyguard would end. He noted that 17 million people watched the denouement. He also noted that the year’s other mega-success, Killing Eve, drew 45 million iPlayer requests.

The context of this he said was a received wisdom that said that the time was up for public service broadcasting and that it can’t possibly survive. Hall flatly disagreed. “In reality, the goals and values that define public service media have become more relevant, more important, not less,” he stressed. “If we were designing a brand-new media organisation to respond to our world today, we would call on precisely the same fundamental values of quality and relevance, independence, impartiality and universality.”

Putting into perspective the BBC’s role in today’s television, Hall said that it was hard to overstate how profoundly and rapidly global video players such as Netflix were reshaping the market. He contrasted the latter’s $13 billion spend on TV and films, Amazon’s content spend of around $5 billion and Disney’s $100 million budget for a single series of Star Wars with the BBC’s TV content spend of £1.5 billion taken altogether across a whole year.

Yet Hall said that there were three ‘great’ advantages that set the BBC apart: it can make linear and non-linear, TV channels and video-on-demand, work together; that in his opinion PSBs were strongest in the content that UK audiences love; PSBs have the brand, the reputation, and the archive.

Hall insisted that what the BBC had done already with some of its biggest shows proved this. “Like releasing the full boxset back catalogues of Peaky Blinders, Our Girl or Luther to be a complement to a new series,” he pointed out. “With Luther, we saw 18 million ‘plays’ on iPlayer when we brought it back ahead of the launch of season five, a third from young people. Then the new series averaged almost 10 million viewers per episode across linear TV and iPlayer - our third most successful drama of recent times. And I mentioned the Bodyguard finale reaching 17 million viewers. That was in one month. Our data suggests [Netflix’s] The Crown reached 7 million users in 17 months.”

Going forward, and outlining what this meant for the BBC, Hall concluded his speech by stressing that the single most important thing is what must never change. That meant the BBC must continue to make the very best, most creative British programmes – for all audiences.

“Not long ago, traditional broadcasters and media organisations could each do our thing and expect audiences to make time to come to us,” he said. “Now we must fit around their lives. Deliver value directly to them. Or we all risk irrelevance...We need to be ready to inform, educate and entertain, no matter what the future holds. Above all, we need to live up to a simple promise in our second century: What we’ve always done brilliantly, delivered how audiences want today, at the heart of the TV of tomorrow.”