BBC to cut number of programmes it makes, says director general

Tim Davie suggests more stations could become archive services, as he prepares to announce deep cuts

The BBC will cut the number of programmes it makes and consider turning more television and radio stations into archive services, according to the corporation’s director general.

Tim Davie is preparing to announce deep cuts to BBC output in the coming weeks, with staff nervously wondering whether their programmes or channels will be axed. The corporation estimates it needs to find another £285m in annual savings as a result of government-imposed cuts to its budget.

Davie said the era of the BBC trying to do “everything with every service” was no longer viable because it ended up spreading itself “too thin”.

Speculation has been rife within the BBC that entire channels could be taken off air to meet financial targets. Davie suggested that while the media loved to talk about the BBC taking channels off air, real savings came from simply reducing the spending on a channel’s content.

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While traditional television and radio channels may stay on air, Davie suggested viewers and listeners should expect them to feature more reused content, adding: “What I’m not willing to do is to compromise on quality.”

He held up the example of BBC Four, which delivers healthy audiences as a traditional television channel despite in effect being an archive service that has given up on commissioning new content.

Speaking at the Voice of the Listener and Viewer conference, he said a real-terms cut in the licence fee imposed by the culture secretary, Nadine Dorries, had come at a tough time for the BBC. The cost of making programmes is increasing rapidly due to both rising inflation and competition from streaming services.

He said his focus was on maximising the value the BBC’s licence fee payers got for their £13 a month. “We’re not trying to be Netflix, we’re going to be highly distinctive and of the highest quality.”

Instead the focus would be on switching away from an internal focus on broadcast television stations – where the average viewer is aged over 60 – and towards digital. The corporation desperately needs to attract younger audiences to its iPlayer service and website in the face of competition from the likes of Netflix.

Davie said the overall shift to digital viewing could be seen in the viewing figures for the latest episode of Peaky Blinders, with almost half of its 8.7 million viewers watching on iPlayer. As a result the BBC’s challenge was much bigger than choosing which broadcast channels to keep open, said Davie. “How are you going to deliver public service media in a digital age for people who are primarily consuming on-demand?”

Responding to criticism from some BBC staff about racial diversity within the organisation, Davie suggested that a “very hot market for BAME talent” meant that the corporation was struggling to retain prominent members of staff. Several leading black executives have left the corporation in recent months for jobs elsewhere, while the BBC is also dealing with allegations of sexual harassment by black women against DJ Tim Westwood while he worked for Radio 1.


Jim Waterson Media editor

The GuardianTramp

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