Not for the first time this year, the BBC has hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons. The decision to stop providing free licenses to over 75’s being just one controversial move. Now, payments for employees have been shared with some netting more than £1m a year. Not bad.
While it would be easy to jump on the bandwagon, when you consider what the BBC is trying to do, the waters get murky. It’s no longer black and white. You see, the corporation needs to remain competitive without being commercial.
Held accountable to the general public, it is not always as easy as you may think to run an organisation that has to have total transparency. Every decision is scrutinised. The truth is, you can’t please all of the people all of the time.
Attracting the best talent
Like any organisation, the BBC wants to attract the best presenters. I was watching the news on the BBC this morning and Dame Esther Louise Rantzen DBE made, what appeared to be, a very good suggestion.
She said, cap the pay of all BBC employees to that of the Prime Minister. At £150k a year this would be a significant pay cut for many of the leading figures at the corporation. That said, most of us would be more than content to agree this as our annual salary.
On the surface this idea worked. Make significant savings in wages and pass it back to those over 75 who have historically benefitted from a free license.
However, when you delve a little deeper you must remember that the BBC has more to worry about than free licenses. It needs to attract the very best talent in order to remain competitive. It is, along with programming, arguably its biggest asset.
Consider you are a presenter and you have worked your way up to a primetime position. You have achieved what you set out to do. You are a celebrity in your own right, and you earn the big bucks. Then someone comes along and tells you to give the majority of your ‘hard earned cash’ back for the greater good.
It is fair to suggest, in this scenario, many of the presenters would leave and work for an alternative commercial station. Not ideal for a company that needs to retain and grow audience figures.
Then there is the fact that BBC presenters can’t top up their salaries with work outside of the ‘establishment’. Take Nagga Muchetty as an example, who was recently criticised for appearing in adverts for Natwest while working for the BBC.
It’s easy to see why presenters may find the suggestion of a capped salary hard to swallow, whatever they earn.
The balance of maintaining and attracting audiences
While the BBC may have a loyal following, it also needs to become more appealing to a younger audience. This means creating relevant and compelling content that resonates.
The challenge is that it needs to invest in digital programming to attract a younger demographic, while retaining those viewers that have followed the corporation for years. Not an easy task.
It’s just not as simple as to create programmes that will be watched by everyone. Times have changed and so too have viewing habits. The harsh reality is that the BBC needs to decide which audience will support its growth and future sustainability.
Changing viewing habits
Digital media has changed viewer habits. We don’t sit down as a family to watch programmes at a given time anymore. Programmes are available as and when we want to watch them. We can stream live or catch up at a time that better suits our needs.
The power has passed from programmer to the public.
Those channels that don’t keep up with these expectations are never going to attract a younger audience. They have access to content 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They aren’t going to wait around to watch something or be dictated by schedules.
The announcement that the BBC may remove the news at 6pm and 10pm within a decade was a further indication of this. The theory being that younger people don’t want to watch ‘linear broadcasting’.
The argument again goes back to the older audience. They have become creatures of habit and like to catch up with what is going on in the world. They know when and where they are able to do this. Take this away and many of them will become even more isolated than they already are.
It would be unfair to suggest that the programming on the BBC is in any way poor. It’s just that, as an audience that’s been brought up with access to it, we take it for granted. Other channels are competing hard for audience figures. It’s become a daily struggle.
Take Virgin Radio as an example. Attracting Chris Evans to the breakfast show, using the same format and even the same team. The advertising to migrate the audience was intriguing and certainly got people talking. Many, as a result, will have tried out the station.
While this was great for Virgin, the BBC had to sit back and watch. The corporation can’t advertise. It had to wait and to do its best to retain figures, keep talent and continue to be innovative. That’s not easy for any business.
The BBC can’t push boundaries like other commercial channels can. Again, it goes back to governance and accountability. This is a hindrance but one that the corporation must address if it is to appeal to a mass audience once more. A further example of why the BBC has more to worry about than free licenses.
A world without the BBC
As someone who has watched the BBC for years and works with journalists and reporters from the corporation, I have to show it my support.
Like any business, it has its challenges, but when we consider a world without the BBC, it would be a darker place. It is a valuable and trusted new source, as well as being company for millions of viewers and listeners worldwide.
The BBC has been a staple for many of us, but it must change and evolve. Adapting to new audiences is just one of hurdles it will face if it is to have a sustainable future.
Going back to the very start of this blog, the BBC has more to worry about than free licenses. However, this also needs to be addressed. There must be a way that an organisation with such exceptional talent, experience and reach can meet the needs of a both young and old.
It remains to be seen. For now at least, I will continue to enjoy the news, along with other family viewing offered by the BBC. As a household of three generations, we all have our favourite programmes and we will share in the success of an institution that perhaps, in some instances, is easier to criticise than to celebrate.
For more information about Open Comms and how we get our clients into the headlines for all the right reasons, please click here.