Friday, 19 October 2007

BBC job cuts - oh dear

On Wednesday, October 17th, the BBC Trust approved plans to make job cuts which supposedly help the corporation become more financially efficient. The follow points are from this article:
  • Closing 2,500 job posts over the next six years.
  • Creating about 1,000 new jobs, many of which will be filled internally.
  • Making 10% fewer original TV programmes by 2012/13, focusing on fewer, high quality shows.
  • Establishing an integrated newsroom - merging TV, radio, and online.
  • Reducing the size of the BBC's property portfolio by selling BBC Television Centre by 2012/13.
  • Scrapping proposals for new activities, including plans for four new local radio stations.
The second point is cleverly written because it mentions the creation of jobs, but it's only internal reorganisation - there's no net gain there. The point about focusing on fewer high quality shows is worrying. High quality programming is what the BBC is all about. That will mean more repeats. The same article also provides net redundancy stats for each department:
DepartmentResponsible forRedundancies
VisionFactual, childrens, entertainment640-660
Nations and RegionsRegional programmes510-550
NewsTV, radio & new media news355-370
Future Media & Tech Online, mobile, interactive, archives120-130
Audio and MusicAudio on all platforms65-75
Professional ServicesMarketing, legal, financeUp to 75
SportSport on all platformsUp to 20
BBC Northern Ireland will be losing 100 jobs across a range of departments. They only employ 675 people at the moment, so that's a considerable loss. BBC Scotland will have 210 jobs cut, but because of some jobs being created there will be a net loss of 80.
"Among the ideas approved by the trust were an undertaking to commission 10% fewer programmes as part of Mr Thompson's 'fewer, bigger, better' strategy. The move will mean budget cuts, more repeats on BBC2, BBC3 and BBC4 and also more 'repurposing' of content for the web."
The above quote is interesting because it highlights a flaw in Mark Thompson's thinking. In my blog post about the TV licence fee, I highlighted the fact that a number of digital channels have low ratings. If they were cut then there would be a huge finiancial saving and any original content could be moved on the other channels to reduce the number of repeats. Using Mark Thompson's strategy, those uncsuccessful channels will still exist, but they'll have more repeats and therefore fewer quality. There will also be fewer people to maintain what is already there.

The following is reported by Kate Holton (Reuters):
"News and factual departments will be hardest hit in the move, which follows almost 4,000 job cuts announced in 2005. The public service division employs about 18,000 people and most job cuts are likely to happen sooner than the plan's 2012-13 deadline."
It's worrying that news will be one of the biggest casualties. The BBC News is widely regarded as one of the best news services in the world and having fewer people maintaining that standard could potentially meant that there will be an impact on quality and the reputation of the service will be reduced. Fewer journalists means fewer original stories. If you watch the 24hr news service, this will mean that you could see even more of the same.

These job losses will mean a saving of £155m per year for five years according to this Telegraph article. The big figure will have made the BBC Trust members happy.

However, there is another point. Trustees are meant to be separated from the day-to-day management of the BBC. As this is the case, they are more likely to approve decisions of the management as it has already been through their processes once. This does not mean they automatically approve everything though. Major job cuts may be good financially, but as I said it could affect the general quality of programming and could cause viewing figures to go down. Strategically, this is very bad and is a reason for the trustees to reject anything on this scale.

The following quote is from the online version of The Scotsman:
"The BBC has come under fire for paying Jonathan Ross £6 million a year, comic Graham Norton £2.5 million and Jeremy Paxman a reported £1 million."
If those 'stars' were paid much less, surely that would make a significant finiancial saving and/or sustain the jobs of some journalists in the news department. I would have thought that that my suggestion of cutting the digital channels alongside this would be hugely beneficial.

The National Union of Journalists has said there may be a strike. The problem is that because there is so much choice on TV, people will just choose another channel if it affects any of the broadcasts. I can understand why people would want to protest though.

In conclusion, I would say that although financial savings may be needed, Mark Thompson's strategy is the wrong approach. I think the BBC Trust should have rejected the proposals.

So, what do you think?

Technorati tags: BBC, Employment, Finance