The BBC's iPlayer is to extend its broadcast window from seven days to 30 and allow viewers to watch shows in advance of the schedule in transformational plans announced by Lord Hall, the Director General of the BBC.
Lord Hall outlined a new "personal BBC" where the broadcaster uses iPlayer to monitor the interests of its viewers and offers bespoke schedules - but he has told staff to find £100m-a-year in savings to fund his ambitions, which include a host of new technology features.
The Director General is seeking to fundamentally change the relationship between the BBC and its audience in the lead up to difficult negotiations on the future funding of the organisation in the wake of public upset over the Jimmy Savile and executive pay-off scandals.
During an address titled "Where Next?", Lord Hall said he wanted the BBC to cast off its "paternalist" attitude. "At the moment we treat audiences like licence fee payers. We should be treating them like owners," he said, expressing a desire that viewers would talk not of the BBC "but my BBC, our BBC".
In a landmark address six months after taking up his post, Lord Hall identified music as a key strength of the BBC and said Radio 1 would be given a position on iPlayer to encourage its growth as a visual network. He said the BBC will partner with Google's YouTube and the music streaming sites Spotify and Deezer to offer a new service called Playlister, where listeners will be able to tag any BBC radio tracks they hear and play them later on any digital device.
BBC radio's speech output will be collated into a new service called Open Minds as a "home of intelligent content for curious people" that can be listened to outside of the linear schedule. An online shop, BBC Store, will enable audiences to download BBC classics and own them permanently.
All of these offerings are an attempt to win back confidence in the BBC after an unexpectedly traumatic opening six months for Lord Hall. The former chief executive of the Royal Opera House has struggled to make his mark on an organisation that has been beset by continuing allegations of sex abuse against former members of staff, and scandals over wasteful spending on executive redundancy payments and flawed IT projects.
Although he was attempting to strike a positive note, the Director General showed contrition as he attempted to show that he did not take the public's support for granted. "To be given the right to be funded by a licence fee is a tremendous privilege," he said. In a reference to the embarrassment he felt over the "very serious failure" of generous pay-offs given to departing executives from a previous BBC regime, he said: "I want to ensure that when we do make mistakes they are caused by trying to serve our viewers, not by looking after ourselves."
As the BBC's output is increasingly accessed online and as the internet supports a seemingly limitless wealth of free content, the organisation faces a battle to convince younger viewers - many of whom are not watching on television - of the validity of the £145.50 annual licence fee, which they are still obliged to pay for watching live broadcasts on mobiles and tablets. Lord Hall said: "We'll make sure that everyone who should be paying the licence fee is."
In an attempt to get public support in new licence fee negotiations which will begin soon after the 2015 election, the BBC will try to give viewers the sense that they are receiving an individual service. "Audiences will be invited to sign in - they will get personalised recommendations," said Hall. "They'll be able to rate our programmes, to discuss, participate and vote. That will influence what we commission, when we schedule, how we run the BBC. They can become their own schedulers, our next creators, our future innovators."
BBC sources said the use of its websites could also be used to gather information on a user's likely programme tastes - but that the broadcaster aimed for a "gold standard" service in terms of privacy and personal data storage because it was motivated not by commercial factors but by providing the best possible user experience.
Emphasising the need for the BBC to be at the forefront of technological innovation, the Director General said a modern toddler regarded a magazine as "a tablet that's bust", while a contemporary teenager valued a mobile more than a radio or television set. Lord Hall, 62, said little about older audiences. He set out plans to help schools in teaching computer coding from 2015. In 2016, the BBC will mark the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare by making its archive of the Bard's plays and poems available to schools.
He outlined his ambitions in the arts, including a new BBC Music Awards, and demanded that BBC News doubles its global audience to half a billion by 2022. The latter target is likely to alarm commercial British news organisations that are trying to grow international online traffic. Similarly the music awards will worry existing events in the busy entertainment awards calendar.
Funding all this, Lord Hall admitted would be hard. The 16 per cent cuts resulting from the existing Delivering Quality First savings programme are likely to be exceeded by a further 4 per cent. "But we'll have to find more again to do everything I've outlined today," he said. "Up to another £100 million a year." While BBC audiences might be encouraged by Lord Hall's vision, its price will give new concern to the organisation's staff.
WHY CHANGE iPLAYER?
The iPlayer was celebrated by Lord Hall yesterday as the finest service of its kind in the world - but he said the public was enjoying a "golden age of media" and was hungry for even more flexibility. The Director General said yesterday that 40 per cent of iPlayer requests now come from mobile.
HOW DO THE CHANGES WORK?
Just as viewers want shows where they want, so they want them when they want - the schedule is increasingly irrelevant. So the BBC is widening the viewing window from seven to 30 days and allowing early adopters to watch shows before their scheduled broadcast (knowing they are likely to provide some helpful publicity by discussing them on social media).
IS THIS JUST ABOUT TELEVISION?
iPlayer will also feature video content from Radio 1 - reflecting that network's increasingly visual identity - and the BBC is launching a service called Playlister allowing users to tag songs they hear on BBC Radio and listen to them later on their favourite music streaming platforms. For those seeking "intelligent content" from speech radio networks, the BBC is packaging them into a new service called Open Minds, to be available on app and iPlayer.
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