The BBC has revealed new figures that it says show that as many as 94% of the UK adult population – and 86% of younger people – have turned to the BBC during the Covid-19 crisis.
Launching its Annual Plan, Fran Unsworth, director of the BBC News and Current Affairs said the BBC was helping to support the country as it emerges from the coronavirus crisis.
But she added that the virus has had a negative impact on the BBC’s finances amounting to some £125m.
“While we don’t yet know our full financial picture, we also hope to double the amount we spend on BBC Three commissions over the next two years. This money would have to be found from elsewhere in BBC content budgets,” she added.
Unsworth said the annual plan demonstrates three key things:
- That the BBC has successfully adapted its services during the pandemic and delivered record audience levels across its services
- The BBC have recaptured young people – turning round a slide
- The broadcaster is now fully prepared for a digital future with iPlayer now offering a year-long window – recording more than 1billion programme requests during lockdown – and BBC Sounds is growing fast.
“The BBC is the most used media organisation in the UK. As a result of our strong performance, – and even at the height of lockdown when we have seen sharp growth in video-on-demand – the BBC is roughly 24% of all UK video, audio and online time spent by the average adult in a week, including YouTube, social media, general browsing, shopping and search. By contrast, Netflix is c.3% of that time.
“We are particularly pleased with our performance among young adults who have been using our news output and watching hit shows such as ‘Normal People’ with more than 38m requests to view it on BBC iPlayer.
“But the pandemic has also had a negative impact on the BBC’s finances. We estimate that this could total around £125m, but we won’t have the full picture until the autumn. At that point the BBC will need to set out further plans for how it will balance its books.
“But within that context, there are areas where the BBC wants to deliver more for audiences.
“We will step up our commitment to better serve young audiences. BBC Three has been a hit machine. Such is its performance, we will consider the merit of restoring it as a linear channel. While young people would continue to predominantly watch BBC Three content online, we believe that with the depth of content we now have available, there are still more people we could reach through a linear channel.
“BBC Four will increase focus on bringing together collections of the most distinctive content from the BBC’s rich archive. Arts will continue to be a centrepiece of Four as we carry on showcasing Culture in Quarantine through this period. Outside the UK, we are exploring potential commercial opportunities for BBC Four to become a new global subscription service that takes our strengths in specialist factual to the world stage.
“It is clear the BBC can help support the country as it emerges from this crisis. Today, we are supporting more parts of the media industry than any other provider. We have joined forces with other broadcasters and the independent production sector to help restart production safely. We will be using our commissioning budgets to invest in creativity across the whole UK and to increase the diversity of our output, led by our plans for BBC Three. We will focus our local and regional portfolio to do more in the Midlands and the North of England.
“We will offer a platform to new talent, to diverse voices and to artists who cannot reach audiences live. We will be redoubling our efforts to reach the hard-to-reach, the less secure, and the young.”
Tony Hall, BBC Director-General, said: “The pandemic has had far reaching consequences for most organisations. The BBC is no different. In our response, we have always tried to put the public first and deliver our public service remit in its truest sense. The response from audiences has been remarkable.
“We have seen a huge leap in the usage of our services, particularly among young people. The digital improvements we’ve made over the past year mean the BBC is well placed to embrace the future. We can now give audiences the BBC they want – a better iPlayer with more quality programmes available for longer, and a BBC Sounds that is innovating and performing.
“No organisation from the smallest shop to the largest multinational will be unchanged by this pandemic, but I believe this is a moment where the BBC can do more than ever for the UK and help us out of this crisis.
“None of us have all the answers today. But I honestly believe that the BBC has demonstrated its unique value to the country, and future change – in whatever form – should always be guided by the values and principles that founded the BBC. They have more than stood the test of time.