Mark Thompson: Comedy should be as important to the BBC as news

From a speech by the director general of the BBC at the Edinburgh International Television Festival yesterday

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Comedy has been a central audience expectation of the BBC for decades, but our investment in and promotion of comedy is probably more important today than it's ever been. Scripted comedy is relatively expensive and difficult to launch: even with brilliant commissioners and access to outstanding talent, the strike-rate is usually pretty low.

Comedy has been a central audience expectation of the BBC for decades, but our investment in and promotion of comedy is probably more important today than it's ever been. Scripted comedy is relatively expensive and difficult to launch: even with brilliant commissioners and access to outstanding talent, the strike-rate is usually pretty low.

It has becoming increasingly hard, therefore, for commercial broadcasters, even for commercially-funded public-sector broadcasters, to justify the opportunity-cost of the money and air-time involved. As a result, cheaper, more sure-fire genres - reality, format documentary - often occupy slots once given over to comedy.

Yet television and radio comedy remains one of the public's favourite genres, and is critical to the wider creative industries: to live comedy and to British film. With Radio 4 and BBC3 as well as BBC1 and BBC2, the resources, and the space to develop and grow new as well as established talent, the BBC's role in comedy is just as pivotal as its role in news.

Although comedy is a branch of entertainment, it plays a critical part in reflecting our national culture and the way we live now. My list of priorities is not a list of obscure or narrow market-failure genres - it can include some of the most popular programmes in the canon.

To me, public value doesn't mean filling in a few corners that the market has forgotten about. It means a series of high-profile cultural interventions which can enrich the lives of every household in the country.

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