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Content cuts to help save BBC £1bn amid fears over declining audience numbers

The BBC’s HQ in Manchester

The BBC has been warned not to “further erode its position with audiences” after content cuts look on course to save the pubcaster £1bn (US$1.3bn) this year, according to a report published by the government’s National Audit Office (NAO).

Figures reveal that the Line of Duty broadcaster is set to exceed its original savings target of £800m a year by 2021/22 due to cuts in content and the scope of its services.

This includes an increase in the number of repeats, with a 22% rise in the proportion of repeating programming shown on its flagship linear channel BBC One over the past year.

Furthermore, the BBC has tried to boost spending on programming by seeking third-party funding for productions. In September 2021, the pubcaster forecast that £116m (accounting for 12%) of its £971m annual savings would come from income generation, a significant increase on the £14m (2%) delivered under the previous savings programme initiated in response to the 2010 licence fee settlement.

The NAO said this increase has mainly been driven by a rise of 84% since 2016/17 in the amount of third-party funding of BBC-commissioned productions to £385m in 2019/20.

Overall, the BBC has estimated that 41% of its annual savings will come from cuts to content and the scope of services, and 11% from changes to the scheduling mix.

But Gareth Davies, head of the NAO, said that while the BBC needs to continue to make “significant further savings,” it also needs to address other challenges, such as its “declining audience share.”

“The BBC must ensure its savings plans do not further erode its position with audiences,” he added.

The report comes at a time when broadcasters are struggling to compete with deep-pocketed global streamers. Amazon, for example, has commissioned a series adaptation of fantasy novel The Lord of the Rings, which is costing US$465m to produce for a single season.


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