Over two decades since the dawn of digital television, in its centenary year, the BBC has outlined plans for a future led by what it calls digital services, by which it means online. The corporation is aiming to save £500 million a year by cutting some services and staff to address its funding freeze but will reinvest £300 million to drive what it describes as a digital-first approach for an on-demand age.
The BBC has announced that it will stop broadcasting some channels, including the CBBC service for children and BBC Four, although it says it will not do this for at least three years, which keeps them on the negotiating table. BBC Three recently returned as a broadcast channel after a previous initiative to make it an online service.
A single 24-hour BBC News channel will combine services to serve audiences in the United Kingdom and around the world, with more shared output while maintaining the ability to offer separate coverage depending on news events.
There is an ambition to reach three-quarters of BBC viewers through the online iPlayer each week. It is currently used by less than half. The corporation says that there are 45 million BBC accounts, with 25 million in use in any month, although only 10% of online usage is signed in.
The BBC aims to invest in its news and current affairs offer for iPlayer with new formats to build new viewing habits. It hopes to expand the range of box sets and archive programming, subject to regulatory approval.
There are also plans to drive listeners to BBC Sounds, aiming to move more of the 34 million people who listen weekly to radio stations to become habitual users of the BBC online audio app.
The BBC expects to invest up to an additional £50 million a year in product development from 2025.
Tim Davie, the director general of the BBC, told staff the stakes are high, describing his ambition to create a global digital media organisation.
“This is our moment to build a digital-first BBC. Something genuinely new, a Reithian organisation for the digital age, a positive force for the UK and the world.”
“Though broadcast channels will be essential for years to come, we are moving decisively to a largely on-demand world.”
“What we are setting out today are first steps, reallocating money towards content that works in the on-demand world, making tough choices on traditional distribution, investing more in online services.”
The strategy seems to be focussed on driving usage of on-demand services, partly in response to competing services, and partly in anticipation of future usage, given that 85% of time people spend with the BBC is still through traditional broadcasting.