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The BBC Steps Into A Brave New World With The Appointment of Tim Davie

Photo of Tim Mulligan
by Tim Mulligan

The appointment of Tim Davie, the current chief executive of BBC Studios – the commercial licensing and production arm of the BBC – as the next director general of the BBC is a signal that fundamental change is coming to the UK national broadcaster. 

Two years shy of its centenary year the BBC is facing an existential renewal challenge. Protected from the vagaries of the market by $4.5 billion of compulsory subscription fees in in the form of the UK TV license, which make up 74% of its annual revenues, the BBC’s national TV and radio monopoly is under greater threat than at any previous time in its history. 

Its delicate state-mandated balancing act of being both a popular entertainment service and a provider of non-partisan news and educational services is in keeping with the founding principles of its first general manager John Reith. Reith gave the corporation its guiding mission which it retains to the current day; “to inform, educate and entertain".

Fast forward 98 years and the monocultural, on-demand media world is no more, with the majority of UK consumers now binge-watching TV shows (51% in Q1 2020). Watching scheduled broadcasts has been relegated to older consumers; only 7% of UK 16-24 year olds regularly watch live TV, according to MIDiA Research Q1 2020 UK consumer data.

BBC needs to fight for its future or be consigned to history 

The BBC’s de facto ‘subscription fee’ enforced with the threat of imprisonment is both ethically and competitively wrong and also holds the corporation back from embracing its digital future. 

With a media major-rich inventory of a century’s worth of intellectual property and its ongoing expertise at leveraging brand capital internationally, the BBC is well placed to thrive as a commercial proposition on the global stage. 

A subscription-based model enhanced by global licensing and brand-activation campaigns on games platforms such as Fortnite and social media innovators like TikTok will give the BBC the ability to leverage a global  direct-to-consumer (D2C) footprint dwarfing anything possible in a mid-sized domestic market accounting for only 0.9% of the world’s consumers. 

Fully embracing a commercial future will free the BBC from its domestic moorings and create a global ad-free home of premium video and audio content, which already resonates across the emerging markets where the next billion online digital consumers reside. 

The BBC’s dominant position as a respected independent news coverage in an increasingly polarised and politicised world should be its gateway call-card across Africa, Asia and increasingly Latin America, allowing it to entice users into video entertainment and education subscriptions.

Tim Davie has a reputation for bringing hard-headed commercial pragmaticism through his excellent record at BBC studios. He also crucially understands the value of driving tough global brand reinvigoration through his time at Pepsi when he refreshed  a complacent consumer brand with transformative impacts on the global business of the soft drinks producer.

When he takes the helm of the BBC in September, he will need to draw upon all his expertise to date to take a world-class media brand away from the domestic politics and into an exciting new global D2C future.

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