BBC: British Culture At Risk From Netflix, Amazon And Disney

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The new annual plan report published by the BBC today, has some harsh words to say about the streaming services from the global media giants – and their influence on British culture.

In light of that, the BBC is presenting ambitious plans for 2021/2022, with changes meant to “significantly reshape” their TV offer as well as other areas of the BBC.

From a more robust BBC iPlayer service, to more sports coverage, protecting democracy and civil debate through news and factual content, and even expanding the content available for kids and teenagers – the BBC is planning “a bold future”.

Photo: Deposit Photos – claudiodivizia

BBC Sees Record Year

Today, the BBC published its annual plan for 2021/22, where they detail plans for the future, as well as some figures from the past year.

According to the data, more than 90% of UK adults used BBC services each week during the last 12 months. Furthermore, there has been a significant increase in the adoption and use of online media services across all age groups.

While in previous years growth in the use of online video services has been driven by the under-35s, since the pandemic started the rate of growth has been fastest among 55+ audiences.

In particular, according to the BBC’s report, the pandemic has led to a sharp increase in households subscribing to streaming and subscription on demand (SVOD) services: the number of UK households with SVOD subscriptions jumped from 13.7 million to 17.5 million in just one year. 

In total, there has been an increase of 38% in the number of SVOD subscriptions in the UK in 2020 – the highest increase in a single year, ever.

That, however, is not necessarily good news.

British Culture At Risk

According to the BBC’s report, while “US-based video services are bringing audiences brilliant programmes”, the content is rarely about the UK or made for UK audiences.

streaming services on phone netflix apple disney prime

Therefore, “The rise of online media giants like Netflix, Amazon and Disney is putting British story-telling at risk.”

“The US SVODs are primarily creating content for a global market – audiences in India, Brazil and the US matter as much, if not more than the UK.

Their focus is to use the UK’s brilliant creative sector to produce globally appealing content, not to add to the cultural story of the UK.”

Exceptions like The Crown do exist, and the BBC says that the American giants did increase their investment in the UK’s production sector in recent years – however, “it remains relatively small.”

The Crown - Netflix series
The Crown (Photo: Netflix / Liam Daniel)

According to Ofcom figures, while the global streaming services only had 210 UK-produced hours, the UK’s Public Service Broadcasters had 32,000. Of those, The BBC itself produces around 22,000 hours of British content in a year.

“Television, more than any other cultural medium, is critical to our understanding of ourselves and each other. We spend, on average, 32 hours per week using a TV set – more than any other cultural pursuit by far.

“It shapes who we are, how we think, and how we relate to each other. It is vital that we see ourselves and each other on-screen; that we hear our own voices, accents, languages and dialects; that we see our experiences and communities authentically portrayed.”

Major Changes Coming To The BBC

In light of all that, the BBC plans to reshape much of its offering in an ambitious six-year plan, with 2021/2022 being the year where these changes will begin.

Some of the principles behind these planned changes include getting closer to audiences across the country, protecting democracy and civil debate, stimulating the UK’s creative sector, providing learning and skills to all and delivering impact across the world.

BBC iPlayer, the BBC’s streaming service, will be further improved, “making it the best place to watch BBC programmes and the most culturally relevant streaming service in the UK.”

BBC iPlayer full screenshot

The service will be getting even more content than before (both catch-up and boxsets), including content that will be exclusive to iPlayer.

In addition, the user interface will be improved, making iPlayer feel more relevant to each individual via technological means and human curation (though the BBC director-general, Tim Davie, recently said that sometimes TOO MUCH personalisation can be a bad thing – since it’s also the BBC’s place to choose things that they think are important for the viewers).

It’s worth noting that these future plans all rely on the BBC’s funding continuing to come from the TV Licence Fee – which is currently guaranteed until 2027.

Though as we published last week, the cross-party Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee recently said that the TV Licence is likely to remain the “preferred” method of funding until at least 2038.

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