UK audiences still turn to public service broadcasting in greater numbers and to a greater extent than streaming services, and the BBC still supports the UK production industry to a far greater extent than global streaming players, according to BBC director-general Tony Hall.
Delivering an impassioned defence of public service broadcasting to the Edinburgh International Television Festival online, Hall said that the BBC’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the reaction of UK viewers demonstrated the ongoing importance of public service broadcasting.
He cited the fact that in March, 94% of UK people used the BBC, including 87% of 16-34-year-olds. In some weeks, he said, TV viewing was up nearly 50% year on year.
“During this time, around 24% of all UK video, audio and online time spent by the average adult in a week was with the BBC. Netflix was around 4%,” said Hall.
Hall also said that the BBC remains central to the UK creative economy, with “every £1 we spend” generating “£2 for the UK economy”.
“But there’s one statistic that I think really brings home what our PSB system means for the strength of our creative industries. In 2018, PSBs delivered over 32,000 hours of UK-made original content. The big streamers? 221 hours,” he said.
In addition to its contribution to the economy, Hall said that the BBC also remained “the UK’s most trusted news provider” and an important means of challenging misinformation.
Hall also called for more investment from government to help the BBC expand its international reach through the likes of the BBC World Service, arguing that “the BBC is absolutely crucial to any vision of ‘Global Britain’.”
“My goal, when I arrived at the BBC, was to double our global audience to reach 500 million people by 2022 – our centenary year. With two years to go, we are today reaching 468 million people each week… 468 million. We have plans in place to double that ambition – to reach a global audience of one billion people by the end of the decade. But it needs extra investment from government and that bid is with them right now,” he said.