The BBC is to close linear channels as it “consolidates activity under one simple, single brand,” Director General Tim Davie has revealed, as he unveiled a blueprint for a digitally-led Public Service Broadcaster.
Davie didn’t elaborate on the linear closures during an RTS talk this morning but the declaration raises the possibility of BBC One, BBC Two, BBC Three and BBC Four uniting under a single brand, which he described as “the BBC.” Channel 4 is soon to enact a similar move by rebranding its VoD platform All4 to Channel 4 and changing the name of its portfolio channels.
Deadline understands it could be several years until linear channels close.
“The BBC will focus its effort on the digital world and over time this will mean fewer linear broadcast services and a more tailored joined up online offer,” said the DG.
Some of this has already started happening, added Davie, who pointed to the controversial move to combine the BBC News Channel with BBC World News. BBC Four, meanwhile, still exists but has stopped commissioning original programing. To many people’s surprise, youth-skewing BBC Three went in the opposite direction, relaunching as a linear channel earlier this year.
Another way in which the BBC could “unite under a single brand” would be through combining iPlayer with Sport and podcast apps, for example, with more information on this activity due in the new year.
Davie, who has been in post two years now, stressed the need for more investment to lead the BBC into an internet-only digital future.
“Inevitably all this requires another choice and that is to actively, dare I say happily, invest in the BBC,” he added, in the speech to grandees, journalists and commentators in Central London. “Moving to digital is not the challenge in of itself, moving to digital while not losing most of your audience and burning millions of pounds unnecessarily is the challenge.”
His talk came a day after UK Culture Secretary Michelle Donelan said it is “impossible” for the license fee to remain the BBC’s funding model after 2027 and a review is currently taking place into the corporation’s future funding.
Beyond the increase of commercial outfit BBC Studios’ debt limit, more partnerships and loosened regulation, Davie struggled to put his finger on how the BBC will be able to attract the necessary capital for the transformation.
He said the BBC’s current £5.3B ($6.4B) annual income can just about keep the corporation afloat with prices soaring and the license fee frozen for the next two years.
“The bigger conversation here is whether we are OK to get into the 2030s to protect PSB,” he added. “If you look across the world, [media companies] are struggling to raise revenue. There will be a massive strain but we believe we can maintain universality and scale in UK.”
His blueprint for a thriving digitally-led PSB is four-pronged: “owning a move to an internet-only future with greater urgency,” “transforming the BBC faster,” “proactively investing in the BBC brand” and “moving faster to regulate for future success.”
By this method, Davie said the pubcaster will avoid “simply drifting to the point where the emergence of vast U.S. and Chinese players marginalize us while we put on a very British brave face as they do so.”
Part of the push involves owning more IP, an area that Davie stressed is far more important than having studio space.
“We need to own IP and find the writers who own them,” he declared. “This is a bigger question than who is operating the most effective shed [studio space]. Those sheds are brilliant at skills and apprenticeships but they are not going to underpin the future – that’s about IP and ownership.”