The BBC is to merge its two rolling news channels, close some “smaller” UK channels, and reduce headcount in its publicly funded operations by around 1,000 as managers seek to move towards a “digital first” approach.
The moves come in response to a reduction in funding after ministers imposed a two-year freeze in the cost of the licence fee. Without changes the BBC would be facing a projected £285m annual funding gap by 2027/28.
Under plans unveiled today by Director-General Tim Davie, the domestic and international news channels will be merged into a single 24-hour global outlet, albeit retaining the ability to offer separate broadcasts depending on what’s happening in the UK and abroad.
The shake-up will also see the broadcast versions of BBC Four, Radio 4 Extra and CBBC closed “after the next few years” with content moving online. There’ll also be renewed efforts to “strip out any unnecessary bureaucracy, reduce running costs and simplify ways of working.”
Davie said the changes were part of a plan to deliver a digital first BBC which aims to reach 75% of viewers through iPlayer each week, produces new on-demand formats for news and current affairs content on both iPlayer and BBC Sounds, and gives audiences “the content they want…in the ways they want it.”
He also said there would be changes to local radio and regional news “to ensure high-quality, distinctive BBC local journalism is available every day when and where audiences want it” while pledging to “accelerate digital growth in audio and drive listeners to BBC Sounds, simplifying schedules and cancelling shows that do not deliver.”
Around 200 hours of content will be axed from the BBC’s TV schedules, with Davie telling staff that “fewer hours will mean we are not constantly thinning programme budgets.” He also said “tough choices” would be made about shows which fail to drive viewers to the iPlayer, warning that “a number of them will be cancelled this year.”
In addition, the BBC will be asking Ofcom to remove restrictions on the number of archive shows and boxsets able to be made available through the streaming service.
Full details of the plans and their costs will be outlines in the BBC’s annual accounts and report, but the broadcaster says work on the proposals “will start immediately”.
Addressing staff, Davie said: “This is our moment to build a digital-first BBC. Something genuinely new, a Reithian organisation for the digital age, a positive force for the UK and the world. Independent, impartial, constantly innovating and serving all.
“A fresh, new, global digital media organisation which has never been seen before. Solely driven by the desire to make life and society better for our licence fee payers and customers in every corner of the UK and beyond.
“They want us to keep the BBC relevant and fight for something that in 2022 is more important than ever. To do that we need to evolve faster and embrace the huge shifts in the market around us.
“I believe in a public service BBC for all, properly funded, relevant for everyone, universally available, and growing in the on-demand age. This plan sets us on that journey.”