The BBC has a new Director General, a rather grand and pompous title for Tim Davie, the new man in charge. I met Davie briefly when I was at the BBC and it was evident even back then that he wouldn’t hang around for long as Head of Marketing to promote programmes .He had much bigger ambitious fish to catch.
And so here he is, after being Head of BBC Radio and BBC Worldwide, its commercial arm. He was briefly in situ as a temporary DG after the debacle of George Entwistle and clearly he liked being in the hot seat, but a bit like the story of the boiling frog I wonder if he’s noticed what he’s got himself into…
I think Davie is savvy enough to be aware of the growing threat and influence of big players like Netflix, Sky, Amazon, Disney and lately Apple TV. It now seems like an ancient ritual to have to watch any drama or comedy series over six weeks instead of box set bingeing.
The BBC refuses to accept that its core market hasn’t changed, ie the people who pay the licence fee. When I was at the BBC this was always an older loyal audience, so inevitably there was a massive push to get younger people attracted to the then four channels. Instead of paying more attention to who was watching and listening, and incidentally paying the bill of a now £5billion TV tax, the dear old BBC wants to be seen as cool and relevant to a younger audience.
But it isn’t. Young people don’t watch the BBC unless maybe once in a year, if they are lucky, with a drama like Normal People (which I thoroughly enjoyed) or a comedy sensation like Fleabag, which I saw way back in 2017 when it was hidden away online on BBC Three. Instead, for a BBC One primetime audience during the height of lockdown the schedulers sandwiched a sewing competition between a cookery programme and a reality show.
There is now talk of abandoning BBC Four which offers intelligent quality viewing and the revered BBC Radio Four is bringing in younger inexperienced presenters and facile programming I caught a Horrible Histories account of Florence Nightingale and it was perfect – for children and not intelligent adults. For them, it was patronising rubbish.
There is still the big fuss over the BBC’s agreement – and now backtracking- on paying the licence fee for over 75s. These are the people who have been paying their licence fees for 50 years, they are faithful and respectful to the corporation I think they’ve earnt a break instead of paying for programmes aimed at younger viewers who don’t watch them. What the BBC needs to do is cut a swathe through the multi layered management structure of overpaid people with spurious right- on job titles and put the money back on the screen for the people who pay for it.
I’m not sure if the BBC can survive. It has always been a great cultural institution and a fantastic training ground for all the best actors, comedians, producers, directors and writers., but it’s recent impartiality scandal may be another nail in its coffin. It’s been a fantastic UK global brand but does Tim Davie have the vision and courage to save it? We’ll see if he’s right man (why not a woman?) for the job.