BBC Unveils Major Push to Expand Operations Outside London

The BBC has unveiled a six-year plan that will see the corporation expand key services outside of London and further afield in the U.K. with a pot of $978 million set aside for the undertaking.

Going forward, a majority of the Beeb’s TV programs will be made across the country rather than primarily from London, which is a major production hub. These programs will receive at least 60% of network TV commission spend of £1.6 billion ($2.2 billion) — up from the existing 50%.

One recent success story of a program from the Nations hitting the mainstream was BBC-backed Welsh broadcaster S4C’s “Keeping Faith” (pictured), which became a huge hit for the BBC and also sold well globally. The move means more distinctive programs like this from outside London will form part of the BBC’s content pipeline.

The blueprint for the plan, which is called “The BBC Across the U.K.,” commits at least an extra £700 million ($978 million), cumulatively, across the country by 2027/2028. It’s in line with more regional expansions from other broadcasters, like Channel 4, in recent years.

The expansion also includes the relocation of 400 positions, with half from BBC News and the other half from radio. Around 200-300 new roles in local content journalism will also be created, along with a doubling of apprenticeships..

BBC director general Tim Davie did not appear on a Thursday briefing call to discuss the plan, but made a wide-ranging speech to staff via virtual address that clocked everything from kudos for recent BBC hits like “The Serpent” and “Small Axe” to a tribute to staff in China facing “daily challenges in delivering fair, balanced reporting.”

“Our ‘Across the U.K.’ plan will make a decisive shift in our footprint. Over the next six years we will recreate the BBC as a genuinely U.K.-wide organization with a stronger creative presence across the whole country,” said Davie. “This shift will create a much more distributed model that moves not just people, but power and decision-making to the U.K.’s Nations and regions. It is the right and fair thing to do.”

Notably, Davie pointed out that the BBC produced around 22,000 hours of new British content every year — not including Nations and regions output — compared to around 200 hours made
by U.S. streaming giants. “But we need to do more if we are to stay relevant and represent a U.K. that is changing fast, and where too many big editorial and creative choices are still rooted in just one part of the U.K.,” said Davie.

On the programming side, the regional expansion means that funds will be invested in two new long-running network drama series over the next three years — one from Northern England and another from the Nations.

More than 100 new and returning dramas and comedies will also “reflect the lives and communities of audiences outside London,” says the BBC. At least 20 will portray Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland.

Meanwhile, the commissioning model will also be “rebalanced” to situate more decision-making outside London, including expanding the Writers Room in Salford and creating new commissioning roles in each Nation. Details of the model are still sparse.

In addition, news and current affairs programmes like BBC Two’s popular “Newsnight” program — the show that featured the now infamous Prince Andrew interview with journalist Emily Maitlis — will be presented from different U.K. bases through the year. Meanwhile, Radio 4’s daily news program Today will be co-presented from outside London for at least 100 episodes a year. The hit BBC One daytime show “Morning Live” will be broadcast year-round from Salford.

Other key points of the plan are as follows:

• 50% of network radio and music spend will be outside London by 2027/28.

• Significant parts of BBC News will move to centres across the U.K. Half of the U.K.-focused story teams will be based around the country.

• Salford will become the main base for digital and technology teams. It will be supported by digital teams in Glasgow, Cardiff and London.

• BBC Studios bases will expand in Bristol, Cardiff and Glasgow; Belfast HQ will be upgraded; in radio, Newsbeat and Asian Network will be based in Birmingham. Radio 3 and 6 Music will be rooted in Salford.

• Major investment in BBC local reporting: a network of digital community journalists will enhance regional news provision. A tailored BBC One will be introduced across Yorkshire, North West and North East England; Six new peak-time BBC local radio services will be set up, including in Bradford, Sunderland and Wolverhampton; and new BBC local on-demand bulletins for over 50 areas on BBC Sounds will be introduced.

• Creative partnerships are being renewed with Northern Ireland Screen and Creative Scotland; a new relationship is being created with Creative Wales; and more focus will be place on partnerships in the North and Midlands in England.

• Support for 1,000 apprentices in any year across the U.K. An Apprentice Training Agency pilot program being set up in the West Midlands.

More to come. 

(Pictured: BBC Wales/S4C program “Keeping Faith”)

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