Something has to give at the BBC and it won't be 'Strictly Come Dancing'

As the corporation tightens its belt and slashes jobs, expect fewer original programmes and a raid of the archives but not the end of its digital channels. Andrew Murray-Watson reports

It has been a lousy year for the BBC. First it lost Michael Grade, its director-general, to ITV. Then it discovered that the Government wasn't going to sign off on its extravagant budget plans for the next six years. And earlier this summer it became embroiled in a whole host of viewer-related scandals including fixing phone-ins and competitions. Blue Peter, the most saintly of all TV programmes, was caught up in the furore.

Then just two weeks ago Peter Fincham, controller of BBC1, resigned after the station broadcast a misleading trailer for its documentary The Queen.

Apparently, the great British public no longer has so much trust in the broadcaster and on Wednesday, the BBC Trust, the governing body of the corporation, will sign off on plans to slash the BBC's budget – a move that could see up to 3,000 staffers receive their P45 in the post.

The mood at Corporation House is grim. There is talk of strike action, amid growing noises that editorial controls have slipped significantly from acceptable levels. Deputy heads are set to roll.

On Thursday, Mark Thompson, the beleaguered director-general, will announce to the world the details of his restructuring programme. Of the 2,600 anticipated job cuts, it has been rumoured that 600 could go from BBC News. The BBC Trust has also insisted that the corporation makes 3 per cent efficiency gains every year in the face of the smaller-than-expected rise in the licence fee that has left the broadcaster with a £2bn black hole in its finances over the next five years.

So what will be the results of Thursday's announcement?

First, and perhaps most important, the BBC is taking great pains to persuade the licence fee payer that it is going to focus on its strengths.

Sir Michael Lyons, the chairman of the BBC Trust, says: "We have to be able to deliver perceived value for all licence fee payers... emphasising areas where the BBC can demonstrate its distinctiveness – news, current affairs, drama and comedy.

But, as Sir Michael readily admits, the BBC will be making and commissioning less original programming. It will be scaling back to its core competences. "Output will be focused on what the BBC does best and be distinctive in quality in the things we choose to do."

He adds that every pound from the licence fee payer must be "squeezed" to give maximum value for the BBC's audience. "You have to be able to deliver perceived value for all licence fee payers," he says.

This focus on the BBC's strong points could be interpreted as a message of comfort to the likes of Jeremy Paxman and John Humphrys that flagship programmes on the BBC's core TV and radio channels will be shielded to some extent from the cuts. What is less certain, however, is the fate of the corporation's newer channels, which don't have many viewers and are only available to those with digital television.

"We have explored this issue carefully," says Sir Michael. "I made clear just after I took this job that nothing would be regarded as beyond question.

"We have had a debate and we have looked at whether we should close one or more [digital] channels.

"BBC3 and 4 were explicitly introduced as part of the migration to digital broadcasting. We don't think that job is finished. They were both intended to be distinctive in terms of the audience they were addressing.

"One of the things we will be saying is that we have to get sharper at making the channels more effectively focused on audiences for which they were intended."

So what does that mean? Well, the bottom line is that the BBC will still be broadcasting the same number of hours of content, but making less original programming. This would seem to indicate that the corporation will be forced to delve into its archive drawer and show more repeats.

"Obviously with less programmes, we will put a stronger premium on quality of scheduling and what is chosen for which channel. That is the job the director-general is very handsomely paid for. What some of us term a repeat is an opportunity for another audience to see something for the first time."

That could mean less original programming being made for BBC3 and 4 and more programmes being shown on multiple BBC channels at different times and on different days of the week – a move known as "narrative repeats".

However, it still looks a compromise action that smacks of "salami slicing" – a phrase used by Mr Thompson earlier this year to describe what he did not want to happen to the BBC's output.

Mr Humphrys has said that he wants BBC3 and 4 shut down entirely, saving an estimated £160m per year, with the savings ploughed into BBC1 and 2 and the corporation's five main radio stations. But such bold action now looks to have been ruled out.

One BBC insider says: "Thompson had originally wanted to make dramatic cuts to unpopular or niche services in order to preserve the BBC's core programming. However, he now looks persuaded of the view that the BBC has to be all things to all people in order to justify its licence fee.

"This view is popular among the upper echelons of BBC management, which is mainly made up of BBC lifers."

Mr Thompson will say on Thursday that the proportion of the BBC's total budget that is spent on news and current affairs will not be reduced. However, reporters will increasingly be asked to work for multiple mediums – such as the BBC's website, radio stations and TV channels.

Mr Thompson does not want to see an online reporter, a radio reporter and a TV reporter all turning up to cover, for example, a high-profile court case.

BBC programme makers will undoubtedly be hit hard, as the corporation increasingly relies on buying in programmes from independent producers.

One BBC source says: "There is definitely an argument that there are now too many people making too few programmes within the BBC's production arm." However, populist programmes such as Strictly Come Dancing will be preserved.

Television Centre, the corporation's iconic London home, will be sold to developers, along with Woodlands, another of its London offices.

But as the BBC closes some old doors, it remains to be seen whether it can open sufficient new ones to regain the trust of its own staff, let alone that of a cynical nation.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
Barn owls are among species that could be affected
charity appeal
Sport
After another poor series in Sri Lanka, Alastair Cook claimed all players go through a lean period
cricketEoin Morgan reportedly to take over ODI captaincy as ECB finally wield the axe
Arts and Entertainment
a clockwork orange, stanley kubrick
film
News
news... you won't believe how bad their skills were
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

Ashdown Group: Analyst Programmer (Filemaker Pro/ SQL) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days, pension, private medical : Ashdown Group: A highly...

Ashdown Group: IT Support Analyst - Chessington

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Service Desk Analyst - Chessington, Surrey...

Charter Selection: Graphic Designer, Guildford

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Charter Selection: This renowned and well establish...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas