The BBC has published its latest Annual Plan and says it will continue to reinvent public service broadcasting for a new generation. So how well is that going? In the first two full weeks in March the BBC failed to deliver a single television programme in the top 10 ratings. Rather than focussing on persuading users to sign in to its online offerings, it needs to take a long hard look at its programmes, since fewer people than ever appear to be watching.
The BBC says it will continue to put creativity at the heart of the BBC. It cites the success of Bodyguard, which attracted 17 million people for its finale, and Killing Eve which had over 40 million requests on BBC iPlayer.
As we have previously noted, although a BBC commission, Bodyguard was an independent production by a company since acquired by ITV, which distributes the programme, promoted on Netflix as an original production.
Killing Eve was also an independent production, distributed by IMG, first shown on BBC America, before being shown on BBC One and as a box set series on the BBC iPlayer. In America it is available on Hulu.
The problem is that online services have deeper pockets to pay for drama series like this, that while distinctive are not uniquely a product of public service broadcasting.
The plan is to grow BBC iPlayer and BBC Sounds, with a focus on personalisation and programming across all genres and platforms to appeal to younger audiences.
The BBC says that this is its second major priority for the year. It says around 20 million people in the United Kingdom use a BBC account but they want to get more people signing in and using it.
The plan is to transform the BBC iPlayer from primarily a catch-up service to a ‘destination’, with all programmes available for at least a year, including complete series box sets for selected titles and more archive programming. That proposal has yet to be approved by the communications regulator Ofcom.
The massively promoted BBC Sounds app has had 1.8 million downloads and has an average of a million listeners a week, which is impressive but hardly transformational.
The BBC will continue to provide impartial news and will develop podcasts for younger listeners and make news available on smart speakers.
“Today, the BBC enhances the lives of almost everyone in the UK. Around 44 million British people use us every day — more than 90% of the adult population every week,” said Tony Hall, the director general of the BBC.
“All broadcasters face the challenges of a fast changing media landscape. The BBC can meet those challenges and succeed in the future, just as we have succeeded in the past.”
That is all very well, but a look at the BARB figures for the top 10 television programmes reveals something of a shock to the public service system.
In the week commencing 11 March 2019, the BBC did not have a single programme in the top ten. Its most popular programme Baptiste came in at eleventh, with a consolidated 7-day audience of 6.36 million. Of these, BARB reports that 232,070 watched on a computer, tablet or smartphone, while 2.43 million watched timeshifted.
Baptiste is a spin-off series from the drama The Missing and is another independent production, distributed by All3Media.
The BBC had only 4 programmes in the top 20, with ITV 1 taking all the other places, with its largest audience of 8.23 million. EastEnders, once a ratings winner for the BBC, did not make the top 20, coming in at 21 with a total audience of 5.50 million.
The BBC had 28 of the top 50 programmes and 12 of them were news bulletins, with the Six O’clock News achieving an average audience of 4.34 million.
That is at a time of national political crisis. Even that attracts only a limited audience, with many no doubt bored with Brexit and seemingly meaningless votes. The BBC News Special: Brexit Vote at 7pm on 12 March attracted an average audience of 4.06 million, or 21.5% of the audience watching television at that time. It ranked 42 among the most popular programmes of the week, some way behind Pointless Celebrities.
The BBC Annual Plan 2019/20 is available on the BBC web site.