The BBC’s director general, Tony Hall, will call this week for video streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon to be regulated to the same extent as the UK’s traditional broadcasters – or else risk killing off distinctive British content.
He will also raise the prospect of moving more BBC staff out of London, while making a pitch for the BBC to find a way to “spend more on the highest-quality content” – a move which could require either more funding for the corporation or cuts elsewhere in its output.
“It cannot be right that the UK’s media industry is competing against global giants with one hand tied behind its back,” Hall is expected to tell the Royal Television Society’s London conference on Tuesday.
“In so many ways – prominence, competition rules, advertising, taxation, content regulation, terms of trade, production quotas – one set of rules applies to UK companies, and barely any apply to the new giants. That needs rebalancing, too. We stand ready to help, where we can.”
Hall will use the speech to warn that young British audiences now spend almost as much time watching Netflix – which only launched its UK streaming service in 2012 – as watching BBC television and iPlayer combined.
“This new competition has meant that the time that young audiences spend with the BBC has fallen in recent years,” Hall will tell the conference. “In TV, it’s fallen from well over five hours a week eight years ago, to around three hours. In radio, from six and a half hours a week to around four and a half.”
As a result, the corporation is now attempting to drive more Britons directly to the BBC’s iPlayer and to its audio output, which is due to be rebranded under the BBC Sounds banner later this year, in an attempt to increase consumer loyalty.
Hall will also say the British media industry is “changing so rapidly and the long-term consequences are so profound” that history will judge its current leaders on how well they responded to long-term challenges, rather than remember the day-to-day successes of particular programmes.
He has already floated the possibility that the BBC may have to end the provision of free TV licences for the over-75s, with the average age of a BBC One television viewer currently standing at around 61 and rising.
Citing Ofcom figures, Hall will warn that Britain’s public service broadcasters – the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, and Channel 5, and regional equivalents – have cut spending on content in real terms by around £1bn since 2004.
He will claim that global streaming companies are not spending enough on British productions to make up the difference, while their UK-based productions tend to focus on material which has a global appeal rather than a distinctly British flavour.
“This isn’t just an issue for us economically, commercially or as institutions,” Hall will say. “There is an impact on society. The content we produce is not an ordinary consumer good. It helps shape our society. It brings people together, it helps us understand each other and share a common national story. And people are hungry for that. They want content that is relevant to their lives, and they want to see people like them on screen.”