The heads of the U.K. public service broadcasters (PSBs) are in agreement that the market is undergoing seismic changes and evolution is the way forward.
“There’ll be huge changes going on in this market and we underestimate it at our peril,” said Tim Davie, director general of the BBC. “We’ve got to innovate, innovate, keep innovating. And I think any complacency is always going to end in serious consequences.”
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Davie was speaking at a high-powered panel on PSBs at the the Deloitte and Enders Media and Telecoms conference in London on Thursday, alongside Channel 4 CEO Alex Mahon, STV CEO Simon Pitts, ITV chief executive Carolyn McCall and Maria Kyriacou, U.K., Canada, Israel and Australia president of Paramount, which owns broadcaster Channel 5.
Davie said that the U.K. market is undergoing a transition with a large segment of the audience, not just the youth, increasingly moving towards consuming content on their mobile phones. “We are going to have to work out how public service broadcasting delivers in all environments,” Davie said.
The BBC is facing a real terms budget cut as the U.K. government has frozen the license fee, the corporation’s main source of income, for two years. Fellow broadcaster Channel 4, meanwhile, is being sold off by the government. Channel 4 CEO Mahon pointed to the broadcaster’s robust financial health and said that while they cannot match the budget of Amazon Prime Video’s “The Lord of the Rings” series, they are investing in quality British programming. “That’s where the demand is, it’s about how we evolve our businesses to capture that,” Mahon said.
About the looming changes in the U.K. broadcasting landscape, Mahon said: “I would beware of what we wish for in the U.K. landscape.”
“We should be very proud of what we’ve got here,” Mahon added. “And we should be very careful of doing things that may create things that are unintended, but they’re definitely not unforeseeable.”
Channel 5 chief Kyriacou also talked up the importance of British programming and said that Channel 5 has “leant heavily” towards it and was reaping commercial benefits as a result. “I think that is a reflection of the audience appetite that we’ve got and built up over decades in the U.K., and the quality of the creative industry that we have here,” Kyriacou.
ITV boss McCall pointed to the cost of living crisis that the U.K. is currently undergoing and said that while advertising, which the broadcaster is reliant on, is currently booming, as evidenced by the company’s quarterly results posted on Wednesday, it is very much subject to market forces.
“If you look forward, it’s very tied to GDP, very tied to the economy,” McCall said. “Because of cost of living, people are predicting recession, advertising will be affected by that. But the rebound is very, very soon.”
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