Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Let the Executive decide

In case you think BBC Director of News James Harding has been burning the midnight oil costing six options for the future of his two 24 hour tv channels, BBC World News and the BBC News Channel, I should point out that option one is "do nothing" and option six is to close them both and create a single news channel offering "a global agenda from London". 2,3,4 and 5 are in-between variants.

The truth is that they are effectively half-merged much of the night-time, with UK viewers relying on BBC World News output from 8.30pm most nights until 6.30am the next morning, interrupted only by a newspaper review, News From Huw, and a cut down of Newsnight. Weekday content specifically constructed for the UK audience adds up to just over 11 hours. The other stuff is added in from BBC1 - two and half hours of Breakfast, the 1,6 and 10pm bulletins - and, from BBC2, an hour and half of the Victoria Derbyshire show.

The schedules of each channel have grown in a lumpy fashion over the years, with BBC World News adding programmes in a hunt for ads, and the News Channel adding features so that it can cut costs on live output. Thus we have HardTALK, Click, The Travel Show, Newswatch, Dateline London, Talking Movies, Reporters, Our World, The Film Review, Asia Business Report, Focus On Africa and Horizons peppering the output of both. Add to that vanity programmes like World News America (correcting the democratic deficit in the US) and it all lacks strategy.  James Harding seems to like the muddle of cross-subsidies, so, on top of the Victoria Derbyshire show, we now have Meet The Author on both the News Channel and Radio 4 Today, and the all-new Emily Maitlis-vehicle, This Week's World, running on World News and BBC2.

Staff have clearly got the view from Mr Harding's presentations that Option 6 is his favourite. He's as wrong about this as he was about recipes, yet still seems quite pleased with himself about it all. I suspect this pleasure is in delivering cuts without hitting his intellectual favourites - Newsnight, The Ten and Today. The News Channel cost £46.2m last year in "content"; add distribution and support, it rises to £63m. BBC World News, alongside, generated £93m last year, making a loss of £5m.

Put the two together, and Harding's maths probably says you can have one super-duper channel for £100m - and he "saves" £60m.  Even better, having set himself a relaxed target of reducing presenter spend by 10%, he's home free on that one, without hitting the pay packets of Fiona, Eddie and Evan.

A back to basics review of both channels is all that's needed. If you can't deliver brilliant UK and World News Channels with 40 international bureaux and seven more across the UK and Ireland, if you can't leverage the work of 7,500 staff across the division into something with impact and meaning here and globally, and you don't get that the UK wants more (meaningful) coverage of events here, not less, then perhaps you should hang back on that DG application.

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