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BBC cites Netflix in ‘global gatekeepers’ warning

A weakened BBC will lead to a UK media sector “dominated by global gatekeepers, partial news and American taste-makers” director general Tony Hall has warned.

Speaking at Deloitte’s Media & Telecoms 2016 conference in London yesterday, Hall said that “rapid growth” in global competition from companies like Netflix is happening as total investment in original British content is in “long-term decline”.

The volume of new UK content broadcast each year has gone by around 2,000 hours with investment falling by nearly £250 million (US$350 million) over the past few years, said Hall, who also highlighted Netflix’s expansion from 60 to 200 countries in the last year and the production of the latter’s first British programme The Queen.

“The choice we face is stark,” said Hall. “Down one path is a strong BBC, helping bind the country together at home and championing it abroad. A BBC which belongs to everyone and where everyone belongs. A beacon of British creativity to the world.”

“Down the other lies a BBC reduced in impact and reach in a world of global giants. Sleepwalking into decay, with the UK’s creative industries damaged, and Britain diminished as a result.”

The director general said that he believed that the BBC’s best days are still ahead thanks to the corporation’s long-term vision for an open BBC, fit for the digital age. He said that the BBC’s new programme-making arm, BBC Studios, is core to its vision of “a BBC that is stronger and more creative than ever before.”

However, Hall also warned that wider cuts to the corporation are on the horizon and, as such, there will be “tough choices ahead”.

“We need to absorb the falls in TV penetration that create an annual loss in income of £150 million,” said Hall. “We need to cope with rapid inflation in areas such as drama and sport. And we need to reinvest to stay competitive. The overall result is that, by 2022, the BBC will need to make overall savings of £800 million a year. That’s 23 per cent – and in some parts of the BBC, it will be more.”

In the coming weeks the BBC is due to announce a new structure to simplify the BBC, remove duplication of management, and create “fewer divisions, with clearer missions, and clearer accountability.”

Addressing the corporation’s charter renewal negotiations with the government, Hall said that a financial agreement struck last year for the licence fee to rise with inflation would provide a “firm foundation” for a sustainable BBC and stressed that the BBC “cannot live with any further cuts”.

He also said that a strong sustainable BBC needs new independence safeguards, backed plans for a new unitary board to set the editorial direction of the BBC, and called for an eleven-year charter so that the next renewal not caught up in the UK electoral cycle and is safe from political pressure.