BBC to ‘consolidate’ under single brand as Tim Davie signals ‘significant change’

Tim Davie (credit: RTS/Richard Kendal)

BBC chief Tim Davie has laid out plans to cut back on its channels and “consolidate” behind a single brand, adding that “serious investment” is required if it is to keep pace with streaming rivals.

The UK pubcaster, which earlier this year revealed plans to close BBC Four and kids-skewing Cbeebies networks and move them online only, will look to “have fewer brands overall, and consolidate more activity behind a simple, single brand in the UK: the BBC,” Davie told a Royal Television Society audience this morning.

Davie pointed to the recent move to “simplify” the BBC’s news output as an example of how the organisation would shift its operations, with the BBC News Channel and the BBC World News network set to become known simply as BBC News.

The former BBC Studios CEO said more details would be shared in the coming months but admitted that it would mean “significant change” for the broadcaster as it drove audiences to online destinations.

There was no detail over what would happen to key channel brands such as BBC One and BBC Two, nor the recently relaunched broadcast network BBC Three, which had previously been online.

However, Davie said: “Over time this will mean fewer linear broadcast services and a more tailored joined up online offer. As examples, we will double down on the latest work in News on disinformation, or accelerate the drive to ensure that Network drama is sourced from across the UK which differentiates us from others.

“We believe that if we drive this transition [to digital] successfully we can deliver universality despite a world of intense competition. We will achieve this not by creating derivative or niche content but ensuring maximum relevance of our core output.”

He added that the organisation was working on how the BBC could be “shaped around people’s interests and needs” and exploring ways to make it a “daily partner to your life, bringing the BBC together in a single offer with personalised combinations.”

He continued: “Digital offers a huge opportunity to unlock more audience value but it requires big organisational change: a radical overhaul of how we use data, a heavyweight world-class tech team, new operating models, new creative solutions and ideas. Imagine news re-imagined for the iPlayer or increased functionality when watching the game online.”

Investment amid cuts & BBC Studios freedom

Davie questioned whether viewers and the industry “wants a US-style media market or do we want to fight to grow something different based on our vision?”

He urged regulatory reforms had to come quicker, naming the Digital Markets Act, Online Safety Bill, the Data and Digital Identity Bill, and the Media Bill as “essential” to ensure the sector adapts to the streaming era.

“We need rules for the prominence, availability and inclusion of PSB (Public Service Broadcaster) content in new platforms, in video and audio. Organisations providing content need the detailed data that will be the lifeblood of success in the new world,” he argued, adding that it “cannot be right that we have to wait years for legislation to recognise change.”

Davie said that allowing commercial arm BBC Studios “to thrive” would be vital, admitting that recent changes allowing it to accrue more debt, and thus invest more in both programming and production interests, was a key step that now needed further action.

He pointed to a predicted “core funding” decline between 2010 and 2028 of 30% and said that competing with streamer inflation required more investment to fuel the BBC’s future, despite partnerships such as Disney’s for Doctor Who, which Davie highlighted.

“Any transition of a legacy, broadcast organisation to a digital future needs capital,” he continued. “As the owner of even the biggest companies are finding out, it is not for the faint hearted. Moving to digital is not the challenge in of itself, moving to digital while not losing most of your audience and burning millions of pounds unnecessarily is the challenge.

“Others have been driving up pricing and driving up media costs reducing the BBC’s ability to deliver great value. As we look to the 2030s, we are open minded about future funding mechanics. But we are clear that it is critical that we need a universal solution that fuels UK public service growth not stifles it while offering audiences outstanding value for money.

“Alongside commercial plans, we will keep cutting costs to invest and attract more partner investment as well such as the latest deal we announced with Disney on Doctor Who. But under the most ambitious scenarios, this will not change the need for serious public service investment.”

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