The BBC has slashed its budget for foreign TV imports such as AMC’s Mad Men and Danish thriller The Killing, which was a hit for the broadcaster. Budget cuts announced this morning mean that talent may also quit for rival channels because the BBC cannot afford them. Mark Thompson, BBC director general, said in London that the BBC will cut its budget by a further $1 billion a year by 2016/17. This comes on top of savings already announced. Around 2,000 of the broadcaster’s 17,000-strong workforce will lose their jobs – 12% of employees. It is thought half of the redundancies will come from BBC News. The Beeb also plans to move out of its west London headquarters, possibly knocking down its huge offices and maybe sell the land to Chelsea soccer club, which has been looking for a new home. The Corporation, which, in economic terms matches the size of the British film industry, is cutting its budget by 20% to $5.4 billion a year for six years. Last October the Beeb rushed into what many saw as a hastily-agreed deal with the UK government, agreeing to have its state grant cut by 16%. Plus the BBC is looking to divert 4% of the money it currently spends into programming and technology rather than on back-office operations. In 2010’s UK government spending review, the BBC licence fee – the compulsory tax which everybody must pay — was frozen at $225 per head until 2016-17.
Much of what Thompson announced this morning seems like good sense. Rival TV broadcasters complain that the BBC has far too much freedom to map what they do already. Anything the private sector does, the BBC can ape using billions of public money, they complain. Thompson has stopped short of scrapping any individual channels or services. Rather, he has trimmed round the edges: BBC2, the BBC’s second channel for more offbeat shows, will scrap most of its afternoon programming; there will be more TV drama repeats; and some local radio stations will share shows outside breakfast and drive-time hours. Big outside broadcast events from pop festivals such as Glastonbury will be scaled back. The BBC has been criticised for the amount of money it squanders staging these outside broadcasts for its pop radio channels.