The BBC’s director-general Tony Hall has launched an impassioned attack on critics who claim the Corporation harms the commercial sector, arguing instead that the Beeb is “a catalyst for creativity”.
Lord Hall, speaking to an audience of tech entrepreneurs and media bosses in London, said “the critics are missing the point when they say the BBC is crowding out the market”. Rather, he maintained, the BBC’s £5bn in annual revenue provides “risk capital” for independent media companies to make programmes and films that the commercial sector would not be able to fund alone.
“The BBC has not stifled talent and innovation, it has not stifled the entrepreneur. In practice, it’s done the opposite,” he told the Technology Innovation Forum, a conference backed by UK Trade & Industry and the Founders’ Forum, which is championing Britain’s digital and creative industries.
Lord Hall did not name any critics but Rupert Murdoch, head of 21st Century Fox and News Corporation, complained last week on Twitter: “Huge lack of balance in UK media with 8,000 BBC left wing journalists far outnumbering all national print journalists.” Mr Murdoch also accused the BBC of being a “massive taxpayer-funded mouthpiece for tiny circulation leftist Guardian”.
Some other critics have complained about the BBC’s dominance of radio, with a near-55 per cent market share, and its commercial arm Worldwide, which bought travel firm Lonely Planet despite it appearing to be outside the BBC’s public service remit.
Lord Hall said the BBC invested £1bn a year in the commercial TV and radio sector, by commissioning from around 700 firms, and it was able to innovate with the BBC News website and iPlayer video site when commercial operators might have been unwilling to take a risk. He added there was evidence from across Europe that a public service broadcaster boosts the wider creative sector: “It adds competition, it lifts all boats.”
He stressed the BBC also has an ambassadorial role for Britain’s creative industries outside the UK because the Corporation’s name was an international byword for quality. He cited a survey of 900 business leaders across America, India and Australia, half of whom said they were more likely to do business with Britain because of the BBC.
The Culture Secretary Maria Miller, a critic of the BBC in the past, voiced her support at the conference. “For me, the BBC is one of those amazing brands that makes Britain what it is,” she said, noting creative industries are growing at twice the rate of the rest of the UK economy. Lord Hall echoed that, noting that hits like the BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing and ITV’s Downton Abbey were huge exports.
Lucian Grainge, the Los Angeles-based British boss of the world’s biggest music company, Universal Music, said: “The power of British content has a completely disproportionate effect on the digital economy and therefore the entire global economy.”
Around two dozen British start-ups and tech firms have been presenting to investors at the Technology Innovation Forum.
Lord Marland, head of the Prime Minister’s Business Ambassadors, said £60m of deals were agreed at a previous conference in Los Angeles in February, organised by UKTI and the Founders Forum group of entrepreneurs led by Brent Hoberman and Jonnie Goodwin.