Director general Tony Hall has given very few set piece speeches since joining the BBC in April.
But in the past few days, he’s given two. Last week, Hall set out his broad vision for the corporation – with a plan to offer audiences a more bespoke BBC with more content available via the iPlayer and the new BBC store.
Then today, in a little reported speech to tech entrepreneurs, he sought to position the BBC as an engine for growth in the UK’s creative economy.
And he hit back at critics who say that the licence fee funded BBC makes life difficult for commercials players in the media.
The speech was clearly given with an eye on Charter Renewal in 2016, and seemed to outline the basis of Hall’s strategy for securing a new licence fee settlement. Tellingly, Culture Secretary Maria Miller was in the audience.
Speaking at the Technology Innovators Forum in London (Tif-In London), Hall said that some had argued that the existence of the BBC might crowd out creative endeavour, stifle talent, and crush entrepreneurial innovation.
“Yet this argument…has always failed,” said Hall, who argued that BBC had done the very opposite – and gave three reasons why.
“The first is because of how creativity works. Every modern academic account of the origins of ideas and innovation stresses the idea of connectedness. Ideas carried by people collide with each other – they come together, producing more than the sum of their parts. The BBC acts as a catalyst for creativity. It acts as a great place where people meet and spark off each other, a great place to incubate ideas.
“Secondly, we help create a competition for quality which helps raise standards for audiences.” Hall said that the BBC’s high level of investment in public broadcasting, helped stimulate commercial investment in TV.
“And finally we have inspired and supported entrepreneurs because we work at it. We believe the licence fee gives us a responsibility and ability to stimulate this country’s creative industries.”
Hall went on to say that the UK creative economy accounts for around 1/10th of the whole UK economy and employs around 2.5m people – more people than the financial services and construction industries.
He then positioned the BBC very much as a creative catalyst for the UK creative industries. “It means that we must and we are going to help the industry to take risks. First we are going to provide the risk capital that gets creative projects off the ground. We do this already but going to build on what we do.”
Hall called the BBC “a stable source of demand for the best ideas.” He added: “We invest £1bn outside the BBC in the UK TV and radio sectors – that includes commissioning over 700 TV, radio and online production companies. And we are proud to broadcast some of the finest programmes from the independent sector – from Love Productions’ The Great British Bake Off to Wall to Wall’s Who Do You Think You Are?. A strong independent sector is a strong BBC.”
Hall went on to say that BBC had helped stimulate demand for new technologies – from colour TV through to iPlayer and digital terrestrial TV in the form of Freeview.
He explained that the BBC Store would help producers to increase their revenues from digital platforms, to date dominated by Apple and Amazon.
And he said that the BBC’s decision to locate key operations in Glasgow, Salford and Cardiff had helped spread economic benefit to all parts of the UK, not just the South East.
And he positioned the BBC as a key backer of new talent. He used his conference speech to announce plans to take on more apprentices at the BBC, lifting the proportion of apprenticeships to 1% of the total number of staff at the corporation.
Hall said that critics are missing the point when say BBC crowds out competition. “It aids competition, it lifts all boats.”
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