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Tim Davie’s introductory speech as BBC Director-General

03/09/20
Speech by Tim Davie, Director-General of the BBC in Cardiff on Thursday 3 September 2020.

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Good afternoon everybody. It is an honour to be speaking to you as Director-General here, today, at the BBC in the very heart of Cardiff.

During this strange lockdown summer, I have had time to reflect on why I choose to work at the BBC, and what this organisation means to me personally. Since I got the job, people have congratulated me with an almost sympathetic look while muttering: “Good luck”. They seem somewhat surprised that I count myself incredibly proud and optimistic to be DG number 17.

All of us have options about how we choose to spend our precious, limited, time and many of you, like me, will have worked elsewhere. So why do we give so much of our lives to this wonderful, unique, addictive, often frustrating organisation in the full glare of public accountability?

Well, the challenges of 2020 – which have been so tough for so many – have led all of us to reflect on what is important. Family, friends, colleagues, our community, and those institutions that we trust to serve us. The things that make us who we are, and the things we believe in and want to fight for.

In a crisis we find out what is important.

My belief that a universal BBC really matters has strengthened even more over these past few months. It is important to us and our families, to who we are, to our economic growth, to our amazing cultural life, to a thriving, questioning, open democracy, to our future. The BBC is the triumph of the idea that in an increasingly, diverse society, the things that hold us together can be bigger than those that force us apart. The BBC is a force for good that others across the world look at with envy. A brilliant example of what makes the UK so very special. It is worth championing, it is worth reforming, it is worth investing in.

But our challenge is not to convince each other that we are relevant. That is the easy bit. We can surround ourselves with people like us. We see this institution as essential and important. We debate the latest political shenanigans, internal dramas and the latest press flare-up as though these things represent what matters. This is dangerous. It means that we can take our eyes off the key issue of how much value we are delivering to each member of the public, and the UK as a whole. A world where the supply of content is almost infinite. This digital world demands that we ask profound questions about the role of public service broadcasting.

I have been thinking this through over the past days and weeks.

Looking at the facts, I have mixed news for us all.

First the good news. We are still relevant in millions of people’s lives. In the UK we reach 91% of adults every week, for nearly 18 hours. And despite the challenges to attract younger audiences, eight in ten of those under the age of 35 come to us every week. More than that, we are creating work of outstanding public value across the globe, where 468 million people use our content weekly. Our purposes remain highly relevant. We are by far the most trusted provider of news. And when we get it right, as we did so often in these Covid-stricken times, audiences come to us in huge numbers – whether that be local and national news coverage, landmark dramas, our remarkable Bitesize educational offer, or our ambitious coverage of events like VJ day that bring us together. There has been stunning creative content, delivered across online, radio and TV, in the most demanding of circumstances.

But as we look to the future, there is no room for complacency. The truth is that for all our extraordinary efforts there is significant risk. If current trends continue we will not feel indispensable enough to all our audience. We must evolve to protect what we cherish.

The evidence is unequivocal: the future of a universal BBC can no longer be taken for granted.

We have no inalienable right to exist.

We are only as good as the value we deliver our audiences, our customers.

We must grow that value. That is our simple mission.

For the avoidance of doubt, I do not want a subscription BBC that serves the few. We could make a decent business out of it, and I suspect it could do quite well in certain postcodes, but it would make us just another media company serving a specific group. The UK’s creative industries have been a global economic success because of a rather enlightened blend of the free market and smart universal interventions like the BBC, and our landmark museums… open to all. It is a brilliant national success that future generations deserve to benefit from.

So we must act now to secure our future and ensure that more people feel the BBC is for them. We all recognise when someone says: “I would pay my licence fee for Radio 4, for Strictly, or for the website”. But this kind of connection is under pressure and cannot be taken for granted. Across the UK, across all political views, across all of society, and across all age groups, people must feel their BBC is here for them, not for us.

So I want a radical shift in our focus from the internal to the external, to focus on those we serve: the public. From Cornwall to Shetland, from Suffolk to County Fermanagh. This is not just an obsession with youth, it is a determination, an obligation to make all parts of the UK feel it is their BBC. Ensuring everything we do is not only in line with public service values – that is no longer enough by itself – but also making the highest impact with our limited time and money.

This is a winnable battle. Our aim is not to beat others at their own game. It is to focus on being more rather than less BBC, more distinctive, and committed to our unique public service mission. We do not need all of everyone’s media time, but we do need habitual use of the BBC and a deep attachment to at least some of our content.

So how do we do it?

We have identified four priorities to focus on, with the sole aim of ensuring all audiences get significantly more value from us. These priorities will guide our choices over the coming weeks and months.

And then I want to talk about us – the BBC – and the type of 21st century organisation that I think we need to build together.

So, these are our four priorities. This is where we are going to start:

  • We will renew our commitment to impartiality
  • We will focus on unique, high-impact content
  • We will extract more from online
  • We will build commercial income

Let’s start with the number one priority: to renew our commitment to impartiality.

Trust in our impartiality is not a nice to have, it is the very essence of who we are. It is the bedrock of why people come to us.

Research carried out by Ipsos Mori shows that over 60% of people in the UK turn to us first as a source of trusted news. The next nearest source gets 8%.

This trust extends across the world. In a recent study we were the most trusted news brand for Americans, ahead of all major US news brands. In the age of fake news, social media campaigns, echo chambers of opinion, and noisy partisan media outlets, this, surely, is our time.

But while we do many things right, I do hear questions about whether due impartiality is deliverable, even desirable, in these more polarised, divergent times. Importantly, it is not simply about left or right. This is more about whether people feel we see the world from their point of view. Our research shows that too many perceive us to be shaped by a particular perspective.

We urgently need to champion and recommit to impartiality. It is deliverable and it is essential. If you work here, nothing should be more exciting than exploring different views, seeking evidence with curiosity and creatively presenting testimony. Making use of our own experiences but not driven by our personal agendas. I wonder if some people worry that impartiality could be a little dull.

I would just turn to our finest work: it is exhilarating, passionate and ground-breaking.

To be clear, this is not about abandoning democratic values such as championing fair debate or an abhorrence of racism. But it is about being free from political bias, guided by the pursuit of truth, not a particular agenda.

If you want to be an opinionated columnist or a partisan campaigner on social media then that is a valid choice, but you should not be working at the BBC.

Also, we need to explore new ways of delivering impartiality. Seeking a wider spectrum of views, pushing out beyond traditional political delineations and finding new voices from across the nation. We have begun this work but we can go further. I want staff to spend much more time outside the BBC listening to those who pay for us.

We’ll take action in coming weeks, but to be clear, there will be new guidance on how we best deliver our impartiality guideline; new social media rules, which will be rigorously enforced; and clearer direction on the declaration of external interests. There will be new training across the organisation, to explore the tough, but interesting dilemmas that the modern world presents.

So that’s impartiality.

Our second priority is to focus on the content which delivers the best value for licence fee payers. That means unique, high-impact work that is loved, including by those who feel more distant from us. We are surrounded by global players with monster budgets. We must pick our battles carefully and make sure we get the biggest bang for limited bucks.

We may talk about grand strategy but for most people what it really boils down to is that moment when they finally get to the sofa and turn on the TV, or grab their phone and click on the news. In that moment, we simply need more, differentiated “must have” content which they feel is for them. As DG, I want to oversee a period when we make the most ambitious, exciting, unique content. If we get that right then life tends to be ok.

We know what it feels like when we do: our outstanding regional and national news, the connection that a strong local radio station builds with an audience. Outstanding dramas like Normal People, Line Of Duty, Fleabag, a Wimbledon final, Blue Planet II, the stunning Once Upon A Time In Iraq, a season of Strictly, fresh British comedy like This Country, VE Day 75, Bitesize, an EastEnders special, the World Service and our audio output, across networks and Sounds. I could go on…

But the truth is that we have tried to cope with increasing competition by making more and spreading ourselves too thinly.

Of course, we need to offer a broad choice as the BBC, and we should not retreat to a narrow offer. But we have been too slow to stop things that don’t work. And we duplicate work between different parts of the organisation, not making the most of ideas across one BBC. This limits money for new ideas and for investment into things which are working well.

A creative, innovative organisation needs the space and money to make new things happen. If we try and do too much we can feel starved of the financial oxygen to breath life into new creative ideas. So we are going to do something quite simple. We are going to look in all areas and identify how we can have more impact by making less. I want us to consider what we would do if we could only make 80% of our current hours. What would we stop? To be very clear, this is not about cuts to save money, it is about re-allocating funds to where they generate most value – to ensure that we make our output world-beating and utterly distinctive.

A quick word on channels. We are well across the bridge from linear to on-demand, but we will be in a hybrid world for decades to come. We have no short-term plans to shut channels or radio networks. I think it would be silly to close the shop windows that showcase our work to millions.

But I do think this moment marks the end of linear expansion for the BBC.

We will not propose to take any further DAB or traditional TV channel capacity for our services. If we want to launch a new offer, and we will consider our options, it would need to use the current space. And, as we move further towards an online world we will not hesitate to close channels if they do not offer value to our audiences.

Our third priority is extracting more value from online.

We have made great strides with BBC online, and with News, Sport, iPlayer and Sounds. We can be very proud of our pioneering history. But if we don’t keep moving fast we will fall behind. Accelerating digital is essential to our success. Far from eroding our value, surely the BBC online offers a big opportunity for us to connect deeper with audiences, helping them to find more, get information faster, and interact with us.

We want to ensure that our priority services really lead the field and become more loved and chosen more often.

We will need to be cutting edge in our use of technology to join up the BBC, improving search, recommendations and access. And we must use the data we hold to create a closer relationship with those we serve.

All this will drive love for the BBC as a whole and help make us an indispensable part of everyday life. And create a customer experience that delivers maximum value.

Our final priority is simple: to build our commercial business. We need to do this for two reasons. Firstly, in this increasingly global game, we must secure the investment and partners to make the best programmes possible. Secondly, we must build our commercial returns to ensure that we are maximising financial value for licence fee payers.

We have made progress, and I am biased, but BBC Studios has led the way, proving that we can create an organisation that attracts the best talent and creates unmistakably BBC content, while generating competitive returns.

Looking to the future, and at the success of initiatives like Britbox in the US, there are big opportunities to develop direct-to-consumer services in news, video and audio across the globe. We need to keep building major partnerships with the likes of FX, Discovery, ITV and Tencent, so we grow as a global provider of services and premium content. Also, we should be open to consider what other areas of the BBC could benefit from a Studios model in order to safeguard our supply of content and talent.

Of course, this will happen alongside our investment in providing trusted news globally via the matchless World Service and World News channel. We will continue to invest in these services but our ambition is to go further, and with the support of government, to reach a billion people globally over the next decade, further building the reputation of the UK and the BBC.

So, those are our four priorities as we seek to bring more value to all:

  • We must renew our commitment to impartiality
  • We must focus on unique, high-impact content
  • We must extract more from online
  • We must build commercial income.

Now, we cannot do any of this without you. Everything I have talked about relies on us attracting and keeping the finest talent, by creating an inclusive, diverse, inspiring and trusted environment. A creative, buzzing, modern organisation that is focussed on outstanding creativity. An organisation that responds to change, and rewards action and delivery, not talk.

We can be proud of so much that we do here but, going forward, working at the BBC will be different. I don’t believe this is just a challenge for the leadership or a problem with one division or another. It is a challenge for us all.

We are all the BBC and I am asking everyone to play their part. It is so easy to roll your eyes when we hear of bureaucracy and internal politics as if it cannot be changed. But we can and should be better than that. We must make changes because it will harm the BBC if we don’t. We intend to set out very clear expectations for the organisation, our culture and our leadership. We want everyone to commit to making a better culture. People say the BBC is slow to change: try telling that to the newsroom at ten to ten when a story is breaking. We are just slow to change when we feel it is not essential. Well, our organisation needs to evolve now – and fast.

Here are a few things that you will be hearing about over the next few weeks and months.

Firstly, if we are going to get closer to all audiences, then we must create an organisation that is much more representative of the UK as a whole. We can claim, proudly, that we are leading the industry in many areas of diversity and inclusion, but it is simply not enough. The gap between rhetoric and action remains too big. I regret that we have not gone further to create a more diverse and inclusive environment where everyone feels they are treated fairly and given equal opportunities.

Our ambition is to create an organisation which reflects more accurately the society we serve. That’s 50% women and 50% men, at least 20% Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic, and at least 12% Disabled. A modern 50/20/12 organisation. Alongside this, we will deliver plans to build our socioeconomic diversity, as well as ensuring we are truly inclusive for all LGBTQ+ employees.

We are challenging every division to make plans to deliver this, at leadership levels as well as in total. Once we have done this work over the next 12 weeks, we will come back to you to talk details and set timing. Every leader of the BBC will be assessed on how they are making progress towards these targets. From now on, if you are a leader looking to secure a new role we will look at your overall team engagement scores; how you improved the diversity of your team; and how you created an environment where we treat everyone fairly and equally, no exceptions. We must move away from any sense of a “BBC type”, and not hire in our own image. All senior decision-making groups must be diverse. Also, in this area, like others, we should be transparent with our data. Let this be a confident, open organisation that reflects and celebrates modern Britain.

And, whoever you are, I want people to treat each other well. We will be setting out clearly the expectations of BBC leadership and our staff. Our commitment to each other. I love our values but they mean nothing if they do not result in the right behaviour. We have too much to do to tolerate situations where people are not contributing positively. Also, we have many brilliant leaders who deserve all our support. In return for this, they will be expected to be kind, talk straight and make very clear decisions.

Meanwhile, if we are going to get closer to our audience we need an organisation that is based more across the UK, helping to stimulate the creative economy around the country. We will look to make the BBC less rather than more London-based, taking the learnings from this year – and building a more sustainable organisation in the process.

Finally, with the pressure to keep focussing our money on audiences we must create a simpler, leaner organisation. In recent years the BBC has made much progress on efficiency and I know many of you, like me, have been through numerous programmes to reduce costs. But the truth is that, despite some excellent work, we have actually increased our public service headcount over the last three years and we all feel that there is still too much bureaucracy. We must act now to create an organisation that responds faster and offers better value to those who pay for us.

We will keep a focus on cost reduction – so BBC UK public service headcount will be smaller. We will deliver agreed changes in News and Nations & Regions – a reduction of 900 roles – and look across the BBC to further reduce duplication, layers and overheads. This does not mean that we are not growing elsewhere. Our commercial Studios business is investing in new jobs, for instance, where we are winning work in areas like Natural History.

Alongside this, we will remove unnecessary committees and meetings. We will trust teams to do their work while holding each other accountable for delivering on our commitments. I have already agreed to remove a number of senior meetings and we will halve the paperwork we take at the Executive Committee. I want every area of the BBC not to moan about bureaucracy but dismantle it. Also, as you will have seen in your email, we have reduced the Executive Committee of the BBC from 17 to 11 to streamline decision-making and work as one BBC. Importantly, Charlotte Moore’s appointment as Chief Content Officer will mean we work across the BBC to maximise the impact of all our content across audio and video.

I hope that this will create a transformed, modern organisation where you are happy, treated fairly, doing outstanding creative work, clear about expectations and focussed on the challenge at hand: delivering value for all. The best-run public service organisation in the world.

I started by saying why I joined the BBC. I believe in Public Service Broadcasting. I believe in the BBC. I believe it is needed, now more than ever.

Our work is important. But the world has changed. If we really care about this precious institution we must protect it by reforming it. Repeating what we have done over the last few years will not be enough – we must all lead reform. The vision is crystal clear: a BBC that is utterly obsessed by its audience, focussed on what it does uniquely, and indispensable to modern Britain. Utterly impartial and alive with programming ideas. Run for the audience’s benefit. Valued and loved by all. It requires everybody to do things differently and to act with generosity and urgency. I am very proud to be leading us to deliver this.

It is challenging but exciting. Let’s get to work.

This speech was originally published by the BBC.

Written by DTG Team
 

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