The second edition of the Steve Hewlett Memorial Lecture took place last week over at the University of Westminster. Charlotte Moore, Director of Content at the BBC, hosted the lecture – looking at the BBC’s approach to storytelling and how it is becoming under threat from US media and tech companies.
She started things off discussing the power of British storytelling in 2017’s most popular programme, Blue Planet II. All the stories, from the mother whale cradling its dead calf, to the walrus protecting its pup on an iceberg from the freezing seas and predators, these are just a few pivotal moments that global audiences will remember. The success of the BBC’s Natural History Unit is rightfully deserved, years of effort and filming go into those few hours that end up in living rooms, but the power of the stories can inspire a huge movement. The follow-up to the David Attenborough series was Drowning in Plastic. The story continued, looking the harmful impact human plastic consumption is having on our oceans and its wildlife – plus the impact Blue Planet II had in engaging viewers in environmental-saving schemes. These programmes and scheduling show the best that a Public Service Broadcaster can be.
However, Moore was adamant that the BBC’s task to inform, educate and entertain has become evermore difficult in recent years. While “appointment to view” television remains strong, general spending on UK productions by PSBs has fallen to its lowest point as budgets are squeezed. Squeezed by declining licence fee revenues and increased competition for productions. Leading the FAANGs, Netflix is reportedly spending $8 billion on content, but just £150 million of that is destined for UK productions – little over 2% of their overall spending. Yet, their catalogue is already made up of 10% of productions originating in the UK – of course this will have to rise to 30% with the new EU content quotas imposed on digital services. On a side note, the Netflix CEO Reed Hasting, expressed the company’s position on these quotas in its recent Q3 Earnings Report, stating the company would prefer to make “our service great for our members…rather than on satisfying quotas.” Add in the trend of the year – industry consolidation – and British viewers are becoming more concerned with more US content taking over the UK screen space. The takeover at Sky by Comcast is high on the list of concerns for avid TV viewers, Moore announced.
Moore concluded the lecture that she’s confident that the BBC can remain as one of the UK’s most trusted institutions with several promises to secure the future. For new talent – the BBC will find and nurture new and emerging talent, developing them into great talents, giving them the support and freedom to produce the best programmes. Just some of those promises have come to fruition already, with the commissioning of Blue Planet Live and Two Degrees, a film focusing on climate change and the consequences of a two degree rise in mercury.
Once again, the Steve Hewlett Memorial Lecture was as thought provoking as ever, led by Charlotte Moore, while celebrating an major industry figure no longer with us. Our thanks go out to the RTS and the Mediatrust for putting on this event – we look forward to next year already.