The BBC is about to reach a significant milestone – in five years' time it will be marking its 100th year – but it has a lot to contend with before it gets to celebrate this. It may be the world's best funded broadcaster and a pioneering force in terms of journalism, entertainment and technology, but it has also come out of a challenging Charter renewal process that is seeing the BBC Trust scrapped and the broadcaster moved under Ofcom.
Not only that, but the consumer landscape has changed significantly in the last five years, with the likes of Zane Lowe and Jeremy Clarkson jumping ship to Apple and Amazon's subscription streaming services to new audiences and, presumably, heftier pay cheques.
The BBC lost out to Netflix over the highly successful series The Crown because it couldn't fund the £100m show, a problem that was repeated in the battle for The Great British Bake Off. And while the licence fee is safe for now, the broadcaster has less money to play with in the face of hot competition and new rules about commissioning out more of its material.
But while we on the outside may see a diminished BBC battling old and new companies for its audience share on all fronts, from TV to radio and streaming services, the view from the inside is pretty different. Defiant, almost, as James Purnell, the BBC's director of radio and education showed the audience on our panel at Advertising Week panel yesterday.
Purnell worked with the BBC's director general Tony Hall to navigate its way through the charter renewal, and he believes we are in a “golden age” for the audience. He says there is a sense of relief and stability at the BBC that has come through charter renewal, and though they will need to make efficiency savings each year, doing this means the broadcaster will be able to keep innovating.
“We have always taken the view that technology is our friend,” he said, and the ways in which society, the internet and new platforms are changing in the UK and the world means there will be more need for the BBC in the future, not less. This is especially true in the new world of fake news, where the BBC has always been a trusted, impartial voice in the media.
And innovation also comes in the form of commercial partnerships, as has been seen with a few hit shows already – the highly successful production of The Night Manager was co-produced with US TV channel AMC and the Ink Factory, let's not forget. For businesses like mine these are hopefully exciting times with increased opportunity with the BBC and new platforms, while brands are looking to work with experienced content makers able to produce 'BBC quality' programmes for them.
That said, the likes of Netflix and Amazon are still a problem, as is making sure that younger audiences – who will be future licence fee payers, remember – are engaged with the broadcaster as a brand. Karmarama's Executive Chairman Jon Wilkins said that just last week the agency was carrying out research with a group of twenty-somethings who revealed their favourite show was BBC 3's People Just Do Nothing, however they had no idea it had been made by the BBC.
This appears to be a problem that has partly arisen from this age group being non-linear consumers of multi-platform content, who are all sharing content they've seen or found “but not many of them are paying for it,” Wilkins says, and partly from the fact that they associated the show with a different brand. So what brand did these consumers associate the show with? The mockumentary stars themselves, Kurupt FM, who held a night at Brixton Academy in December.
Clearly there are challenges with getting younger audiences to recognise the master-brand of the BBC, and Wilkins made a good point that this is something the broadcaster should be investing in 365 days a year like brand-driven companies such as Apple and Amazon, not just around Charter renewal. And there are plans underway for this: Purnell knows marketing is a key way of getting users to know where their content came from.
But there is one thing to be said for the BBC's ability to endure in the face of adversity however challenging the landscape. Purnell said that when they tested taking away the BBC's services from people who didn't want to pay the licence fee, people didn't like it. Over 80% decided they were more than willing to fork out the cash. That alone should give brands and advertisers a renewed confidence in the broadcaster as it trots towards its centenary.
Jez Nelson is the chief executive at Somethin' Else. He tweets at @jeznelson.