Issue 242,  published January 21, 2020

Big Changes at the BBC

The BBC Director General Lord Hall has announced that he will be stepping down from his post in the summer. He will then take up the position as chair of the National Gallery. The reason given for his departure from the BBC at this point was the desire to have a new leader in place ahead of the BBC’s mid-charter review in 2022 who could then also see the renewal process in 2027 (Hall is 68). This follows hints from Boris Johnson’s government that changes could be made to the BBC’s funding system, such as decriminalising non payment of the licence fee or changing the amount people pay.

In an email to staff, Hall emphasised the BBC’s mission. “In an era of fake news, we remain the gold standard of impartiality and truth. What the BBC is, and what it stands for, is precious for this country. We ignore that at our peril.”

Headhunters will now be appointed to begin the search for Hall’s successor as Director General, with the final decision lying with the BBC board. Favourites to follow him include director of radio and education, James Purnell; director of content, Charlotte Moore; director of news and current affairs, Fran Unsworth; and, for an external option, Gail Rebuck, the chair of the British arm of book publishers Penguin Random House.

Speaking at an event in Cardiff last week, Hall announced a raft of changes to the BBC’s strategy, especially concerning where staff are located. The aim, he said, is to move to a situation by 2027 where two-thirds of BBC staff in the UK work at sites outside London (at the moment about half of the BBC’s approximately 19,000 staff work in the capital). A new technology hub employing developers and engineers will be opened in Newcastle-upon-Tyne and other regional offices will get more staff.

This seems to chime with a similar push from the new UK government towards regional devolution, and as I suggested in Friday’s Insider, this could also be a point of negotiation when it comes to securing the BBC’s future funding.

The big story from an audio perspective, though, is that the BBC’s audio platform BBC Sounds will be moving from London to Salford, near Manchester. Readers might remember that last summer the first Controller for BBC Sounds was appointed in Jonathan Wall, who joined from BBC Radio 5 Live — a station that has long been based in Salford.

The Sounds curation team will join Wall in Salford “within weeks”, with other roles to follow, Hall said. He also emphasised elsewhere in the speech that the plan to add non BBC podcasts to the BBC Sounds app is still going ahead.