The BBC has published its 2023/24 annual plan that projects a financial deficit, the need to find increased savings and cuts of 1,000 hours annually in content commissions across its portfolio.
The corporation projects a total income of £5.53 billion ($6.8 billion) for the period, which includes its main source of income, the annual license fee, which accounts for £3.6 billion.
However, the license fee is frozen at £159 per year for two years. It will then rise in line with inflation for the following four years. Factoring in operating costs and restructuring costs, the BBC is projecting a deficit of £352 million ($433 million) for 2023.
The BBC’s annual savings requirement, previously projected to £285 million, has jumped to £400 million. The BBC intends to find these savings by an annual reduction of 1,000 hours in content commissions across its portfolio; shifting several of World Service TV and radio broadcast services to digital in response to audience behavior changes; creating a single, integrated BBC News channel operation with two feeds for U.K. and global audiences, supported by a live and breaking news team; increasing funding for digital news, investigative journalism and high-impact content across the U.K.; and increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of operations by changing workflows across the corporation.
“There will be more of these difficult choices to come this year, but we will make them with audience value at the forefront of our thinking, balancing the needs of those increasingly consuming content online with those who continue to consume primarily through broadcast services. However, we go into the year in a strong financial position and with savings and inflation mitigations in place to help us manage through this second year of the settlement,” the annual plan states.
The plan also looks ahead to the increased competition posed by global streamers and records that the U.K. public spends six hours and 15 minutes watching BBC TV/iPlayer on average per week per person – more than Netflix, Disney+ and Amazon Prime Video combined.
“Beyond next year we expect the pace and scale of change to increase as audiences around the world turn to online-only services and platforms for an ever-greater share of their media time. This will bring great challenges and opportunities for the U.K. media sector and society. We believe the U.K. must have control over its destiny in an online-only world. Our world-leading creative culture and digital economy, and the health of our democracy, depend on it,” the plan states. “The risk if we do not is severe: the erosion of a common British culture with its roots in shared experiences; the dilution of U.K.-owned innovation and intellectual property; a reduction in economic impact; and a weakening of this country’s global soft power. It is for that reason that next year we want to work with partners across the industry and government to develop a long-term plan to keep the U.K. a global leader in digital media and creativity.”
The BBC’s investment in its digital product capability is set to rise to an additional £50 million per year by 2025/26, the plan said. The plan reiterates the broadcaster’s promise to review its social media guidance after the Gary Lineker fracas.
The plan also proposes a number of “business-as-usual” changes, including in TV and radio scheduling and commissioning decisions; changing the budget of services; and changing online functionality, discovery or navigation. These require the approval of U.K. media regulator Ofcom, which recently set strict rules for BBC’s new operating license.
BBC chair Richard Sharp said: “The BBC’s performance in delivering against its strategic priorities has been outstanding, particularly in such a challenging financial setting and against a backdrop of increased competition. This plan sets out how we will best serve all audiences by making the most of our resources in the coming year.”
Sharp has been lying low since allegations of him arranging a loan for former U.K. Minister Boris Johnson surfaced last month.
Variety's Naman Ramachandran contributed to this post.