Thompson prepares to wield the axe at the BBC

With £100m of annual cost savings to be found, the next few years could be grim at the BBC...

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

The much-trailed BBC strategy review is here, and the bloodbath will just as bloody as everyone expected: director-general Mark Thompson today unveiled plans to slash £100m of costs from its annual budget by (inter alia) closing 6Music and the Asian Network and cutting online budgets by a whopping 25%. This could result in no fewer than 600 job cuts, according to the unions. Private sector competitors might be happy that the licence-fee-funded Beeb is stepping back in certain areas. But as often seems to be the case with the BBC these days, there seems to be a degree of panic about all this...

Thompson is trying to position these cuts as part of drive to ‘do fewer things better’ and ‘put quality first’ – which means diverting an additional £600m to higher-quality programme-making. Since this is the BBC’s raison d’etre, it’s hard to argue with that. But what has aroused general wrath is how this money is being found. Much to the disgust of the Twitterati, 6Music is indeed to get the chop, with its best bits parcelled off to the BBC’s other music channels. Asian Network will be closed, while teen channels Switch and Blast are apparently not reaching their target audiences and will also be shut down. According to the report, appealing to the ‘yoof’ should be Channel 4’s job rather than the Beeb’s.

Perhaps more surprising is its retrenchment online: it’s planning to halve the amount of stuff it puts on its site, with budgets being cut by 25%, and is promising to make sure online content is ‘not extraneous or encyclopaedic’, but has a ‘distinct editorial purpose’. While we can well believe that the Beeb is currently putting a whole load of stuff up on its site that hardly anyone reads – notably for tie-ins with TV shows, pretty much all of which have to have some kind of digital 'presence' – that surely just suggests that it’s spending its web budget badly, not that it shouldn’t be spending the money online at all?

Either way, finding these £100m savings isn’t going to make Thompson any more popular. Even predecessor Greg Dyke has been putting the boot into him this morning, suggesting he’s overpaid and isn’t taking his staff with him. The unions are also up in arms, suggesting that the cuts would lead to massive job losses and are totally unnecessary. And given how cowed the BBC seems to be these days, it wouldn’t be a surprise if it was making a sop to the prevailing political climate of austerity...

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