Evidence has been published by the BBC which reveals a record 84m unique browsers visited its news pages and app during the week prior to lockdown in the UK. The figure is significantly ahead of the broadcaster’s previous record of 52m in the week of the 2019 General Election.
The BBC’s report for a DCMS inquiry cites findings by Ofcom which revealed that BBC services are the most-used source, with four in five people using the BBC as a source of news and information in early April.
Despite this, the broadcaster says it will need to make an additional £125m of savings this financial year as a result of the crisis.
The inquiry by the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee is looking into the ‘Impact of Covid-19 on DCMS sectors’ to consider the immediate and long-term impact of the crisis on its industries.
Respondents to the inquiry also included the National Council for the Training of Journalists (NCTJ) which warned that disruption to journalism training – from the loss of practical training and financial squeezes – will have ‘significant consequences’ for the journalism sector.
The NCTJ cautioned that ‘the news sector already faces the challenges of combatting the fake news and conspiracy theories that run rife in public discourse, damage to the pipeline of trained talent will erode trust by impacting on the quality of output.’
The News Media Association also responded to the evidence call to outline at least 50 free and paid newspapers which have publicly announced the suspension of print issues, as a result of the pandemic. The group has been vocal, along with the SoE, in calling for immediate financial and operational support for news providers during the crisis.
Key findings from the report by the BBC include:
- The report shows record audience numbers with 84 million UK unique browsers visiting the BBC News website and app on w/c March 16. The broadcaster states 84m is a new record for the site coming significantly ahead of the then-record figure in the week of the 2019 General Election (52m UK browsers).
- Over 44 million people in the UK tuned into BBC TV Network News (w/c 23 March) – the highest figure since the 2003 Iraq War.
- The broadcaster cites that BBC Regional News at 6.30pm remains the biggest BBC News programme – reaching more than 20 million people across the week of 23 March, considerably up on the 2019 weekly average of 12.5m.
- From 16 March to 12 April, the daily government press conference on BBC One has reached on average just under 10million people a day.
- The BBC says as a result of coronavirus, it will need to make an additional £125 million of savings this financial year. It cites a delay in licence fee payments for people over 75, and it has been receiving less income from its commercial operations with a slump in advertising affecting the whole sector.
- The broadcaster also revealed it has not qualified for the government job retention scheme and is paying PAYE freelancers or those on fixed term contracts their full salary (up to £3,000 per month) for up to three months from March 1.
- However, the BBC cited it has taken steps including a pay freeze for senior leaders, postponing annual pay negotiations and implementing a recruitment freeze. It also is reviewing its expenditure and projects to provide the best programming and services to audiences.
- 15,000 BBC employees are working from home
- The BBC has invested in prioritising the Government’s daily Coronavirus briefing and news programming in BBC One schedules as well as enhancing its Reality Check service.
- The broadcaster says it has restructured its news teams and doubled the size and teams of its specialist health and medical unit, to cover Covid-19 related news mostly based outside of London.
- Education – the BBC says it has rapidly expanded to bring 14 weeks of learning to bring curriculum led activities to BBC platforms. The broadcaster states a record three million children took BBC Bitesize Daily lessons on the service’s first day on April 20.
- Changes to radio stations include longer daytime and evening shows (on BBC Radio 1 and 2) to minimise the number of people needed in the studio.
- BBC Local Radio partnered with manufacturers, retailers and a loneliness charity to offer free DAB radios to the most vulnerable people aged over 70.
The evidence from all respondents can be found on the DCMS Committee website.