BBC Boss Sets Three Goals: “Pursue Truth, Back British Storytelling, Bring People Together”

The BBC needs more partnerships with media, entertainment and technology giants, such as one with the Walt Disney Co. for sci-fi hit show Doctor Who, and change how it does business further in a polarized world. That was the message of Tim Davie, the director general of the U.K. public broadcaster, in a major Tuesday speech outlining his team’s future focus amid technological and other changes as pursuing truth, backing British storytelling and uniting people.

Ahead of the BBC’s annual report detailing spending plans for the next year, Davie addressed the “future direction of the BBC and its role for the U.K.” during a Royal Television Society event, outlining how to use “limited resources” to best serve audiences, “rapidly modernize” and “transform the value we provide for everyone,” while “growing the creative industries.”

Saying that “jeopardy is high,” Davie argued that there are dangers for the U.K. “democratically, socially and culturally” and beyond, citing the likes of “noisy culture wars, disinformation, the persecution of the free press.” Helping here can “strong institutions, shared stories and social capital,” he said.

Pointing out “almost universal admiration” of the BBC around the world, Davie spoke out against “complacency, defensiveness and arrogance.” And he noted financial challenges, the need to rethink traditional business models and change amid changing audience behavior. But he said that the British public spends more time with the BBC and its streaming service iPlayer than all streamers combined.

Davie said the BBC has three essential roles for democracy, society and the creative industries.
They are: “pursue truth with no agenda, back British storytelling, and bring people together.”

On the first, he said that one key goal must be “holding our center of gravity, staying true to our values.” The BBC will launch two new digital services as part of that. One will be a destination for “deeper analysis, longer reads, and thought-provoking journalism.” The second is the launch of a BBC Investigations brand.

Davie also said the BBC will use AI “on our terms,” supporting rightsholders, while not “compromising human creative control,” and sustaining editorial standards. He also promised the use of “unique ethical algorithms” that include personalization, serendipity, and curiosity.

Relaunching BBC.com worldwide with appropriate commercialization to “build up as the number 1 British news brand online” is another goal that the director general outlined.

On backing British storytelling, Davie promised “authentic British stories, beautifully produced,” rather than a focus on an “abstract” notion of global appeal. He also said that the broadcaster will continue to push more creative work beyond London, targeting that more than 60 percent of the BBC’s TV production will be outside London by 2026.

On priority three, bringing people together, the BBC wants to ensure shared moments and common cultural experiences and position itself against narrow algorithms sowing division. That includes the goal to “not rely solely on U.S. and Chinese tech companies,” he said. In that, the BBC boss doubled down on his warnings about social media giants, such as TikTok and Facebook, and called “U.S. and Chinese algorithms the potential tastemakers of the future,” as had emerged on Monday ahead of his speech.

Despite “budget pressures,” the BBC will therefore “prioritize big national occasions,” Davie said. “Dramatic changes” in how the BBC operates will be needed for all this, he emphasized. A more audience-controlled broadcaster will be the result. If interested in a topic, audiences will get to mine BBC content across text, audio, photos video, and more.

“Noone is left behind in the digital transition,” Davie highlighted a final goal. “A free broadband-based TV service will be part of that, he said.

“These steps will help secure the future of the BBC, but more importantly, the vital role that a BBC can play for the U.K. at home and abroad in the years ahead,” Davie concluded.

What about funding this? Accelerating content spending “towards streaming value and away from broadcast-only output” is among the strategies, the BBC boss said. Working more closely with entertainment and tech giants will also be key, he said, highlighting the “deep pockets” of tech titans.

And he said the BBC and government will have to rethink the BBC World Service and investments in it given how much Russia, China and others put into funding of their respective services. “One area that we will discuss with government is the World Service,” Davie said in his speech. “It is uniquely valuable and globally important. … However, we cannot keep asking U.K. license fee payers to invest in it when we
face cuts to U.K. services. We will need to discuss a long-term funding solution for the World Service that comes from central government budgets. Even in the short-term we will need more help. Russia and China are investing hard, and not properly funding one of the U.K.’s most valuable soft power assets makes no sense economically or culturally.”

Also, a reform of the BBC license fee, through which U.K. taxpayers help fund the public broadcaster, including a close look at its scope and making it more progressive and fair, is needed, the BBC boss argued.

Late in his appearance, Davie also said that the BBC was small and had growth potential in the “shark-infested waters” of the global media market.

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