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BBC must ‘reinvent PSB’ to take on Netflix and Amazon

BBC director general Tony Hall

BBC director general, Tony Hall

The BBC must “reinvent public service broadcasting” in a bid to take on digital video giants like Amazon and Netflix, according to director general Tony Hall.

In a speech to BBC staff in Birmingham to mark the beginning of the BBC’s new 11-year charter period, Hall said that the BBC iPlayer must “make the leap from a catch-up service to a must-visit destination in its own right”.

To do this, he highlighted personalisation as a “major priority” and said the BBC aims to grow the number of users who sign-in to the iPlayer from around three million today to 20 million “as quickly as possible”.

“Our goal, even in the face of rapid growth by our competitors, is for iPlayer to be the number one online TV service in the UK. That will mean doubling our reach, and quadrupling the time each person spends on it every week. And we want do it by 2020,” said Hall.

“By finding out more about our audiences and what they like, we can make better content, make it more relevant, and bring it to them more effectively. The closer and more personal our relationship with our audiences, the more I’m certain they will choose the BBC.”

Hall said that he also wanted the BBC to examine how it can “push boundaries” in areas such as voice recognition and virtual reality.

“As I’ve said many times before, we have to ride two horses: doing brilliant things on our existing channels and services, but also innovating in the digital space. Our task therefore is to reinvent public service broadcasting so that it works for all audiences, so that everyone gets value from the BBC,” said Hall.

Discussing today’s changing media space, he said that 16-24 year-olds now spend 25% of their media time on social media and messaging, and across the whole of the TV market, time spent with young audiences has fallen by 20-30%.

“The media landscape has changed beyond recognition. It is hugely more global and more competitive,” said Hall.

“We’re now in an environment where Amazon, Netflix, and others are willing to invest huge amounts of money with no certain return in an attempt to capture market share where Facebook is looking at commissioning its own TV programmes, and Twitter is buying up sports rights and where moves such as the Fox-Sky merger are making the very biggest players even bigger.”

To compete against these “big beasts”, Hall said that the BBC needs to be more entrepreneurial and must move away from working in silos – an old way of working that “simply cannot succeed”.

Highlighting the BBC’s global ambitions, Hall said that he never wants the corporation to become a “publisher-broadcaster” and that owning intellectual property rights is key for the future.

He pointed to the BBC’s production arm, BBC Studios, as critical to the BBC’s future global success and said this represents a “revolution in the way we source and make our programmes”.

“I’m convinced that Studios is the only way we will secure our future as one of the very best programme-makers in the world,” he claimed.

The BBC’s new Charter commenced on 1 January 2017 and under the terms of the new agreement, the BBC will scrap its governing body, the BBC Trust, as of April. In its place Ofcom will regulate the BBC and a new executive board will be created.

Hall’s comments came on the same day that the BBC confirmed that David Clementi has been put forward as the preferred candidate for BBC chair – the head of this new executive board.