As expected, Tony Hall, director general of the publicly-owned British Broadcast Corporation, Sept. 18 issued a call to arms of sorts, as the public service broadcaster competes against international over-the-top video behemoths Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, among others.
In a keynote to the 2018 Royal Television Society London Conference in London, Hall said the BBC, which is funded by the government through a special tax, is increasingly asked to do more with less as operating budgets get cut.
He said that while Netflix and Amazon will spend a combined $13 billion on original content this year, the BBC and other public broadcasters will spend around $3.3 billion. Hall said the spending gap is resulting in a dearth of local content production, which he claims impacts British culture.
“Netflix and Amazon are not making up the difference,” Hall said. “Ofcom’s data suggests that less than 10% of the [catalog] of Netflix and Amazon [is] comprised of content produced in the U.K. Two separate estimates have suggested their investment into new U.K. programs is around £150 million a year.”
The executive believes reduced spending on localized content negatively impacts British viewers and the country.
“The content we produce is not just an ordinary consumer good,” Hall said. “It helps shape our society. It brings people together, it helps us understand each other and creates an incredibly powerful shared narrative.”
Specifically, the BBC claims to be a superior value economically to British consumers. Hall said each hour of BBC TV costs households 8 pence per hour to consume. For an equivalent SVOD service it’s around 17 pence and hour. And for a pay-TV service it’s 35 pence.
He said British media content is also a source of “soft power” required to combat fake news and online disinformation, which Hall claims contributes to the “undermining of traditional truths and values.”
The executive outlined five courses of action the BBC is addressing, which include original local content production, reinventing BBC services, investing more in children’s and young adult content, fighting fake news, and thinking beyond its London headquarters.
“But while we believe the BBC’s public mission is as important as ever, and that we can do more for Britain, we do not believe this ambition is sustainable with the resources we have,” Hall said.
He called on Britain to do more to support the broader PSB “ecology,” while sustaining “great relationships” with companies like Google, Apple, Netflix and Amazon Prime Video.
Indeed, many “original” Netflix shows in the United States are licensed from the BBC, including, “River,” “The Great British Baking Show,” “The IT Crowd,” “Foyle’s War,” “Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell,” “Wallander,” “Broadchurch,” “Planet Earth,” “London Spy,” and “Call the Midwife,” among others.
Netflix just announced it has secured exclusive U.S. rights to BBC One Drama, “Bodyguard, set to begin streaming Oct. 24.
“It’s important we work with them now and in the future,” Hall said.
At the same time, Hall argued “it cannot be right” that the U.K. media industry is competing against global SVOD giants with “one hand tied behind its back.”
He said the BBC is often hamstrung by government-mandated competition rules, advertising, taxation, content regulation, terms of trade and production quotas – rules he said “barely” apply to Netflix & Co.
“That needs rebalancing,” Hall said. “The big picture is a simple one: the public believes in public service broadcasting and a strong BBC.”
‘[Netflix & Co.] have their job to do, their services to provide. We have ours. Scale is not everything. Smaller can be beautiful,” he said.