BBC lays out 'open' vision to combat licence fee critics

The BBC is a renowned broadcaster and a part of Britain's cultural fabric, but its future capabilities are currently under threat. The UK government is preparing to amend its Royal Charter -- a document that shapes the BBC's funding and remit -- and early consultations have hinted at drastic clawbacks. In retaliation, the BBC has announced a volley of counter-proposals today that would, it claims, make its services more "open" and distinctive.

A lifeline for local news

These include ring-fencing a portion of the licence fee for a new "Local Accountability Reporting Service." Specifically, this money would pay for 100 external journalists to cover councils, courts, and public services in towns and cities. The coverage would be shared by both the BBC and "reputable" local news organisations -- and, more importantly, any paper or news agency could bid for the contract. It's no secret that local news is struggling at the moment -- such a move would give the industry a lifeline and also make the BBC an integral part of its future. In essence, justifying BBC cutbacks would then become more difficult, as it could directly affect jobs at local papers, not just those at the BBC.

In addition, the broadcaster is proposing a "News Bank" that would allow local news organisations to publish its own video and audio-based reports -- it's not clear if this would be a free service or chargeable, however. On mobile, the BBC is considering a revamped service similar to its BBC News channel. It would shift the news organisation "from rolling news to streaming news," with a better mix of video, audio, text and graphics.

iPlayer and iPlay

iPlayer has been a huge success for the BBC, but it's wary of the competition posed by Netflix and YouTube. To better serve its audience, the BBC wants to open iPlayer up to programming produced by other people and broadcasters. "This would be more convenient for audiences, who could find more British programming in one place," the BBC says. The new, "open" approach would also allow an "Ideas Service" to blossom; a new platform that combines its science, arts and history-based programming with the work produced by renowned British museums and institutions. These include the Tate, the Royal Shakespeare Company, the Edinburgh Festivals and the British Museum. Combined with the work the BBC does with Radio 3 and 4, BBC Four, iWonder and BBC Learning, the hope is that it would create a central hub for the arts, culture, science and history.

For children, the BBC is planning an educational platform called iPlay. Instead of cutting the BBC's content in two -- CBBC and CBeebies -- the service would combine all of the BBC's work, "from long-form video to interactive formats," and allow children to explore it at their own pace. The focus would be on learning and creativity, with tools to help youngsters create their own animations, music, podcasts, code, apps and 3D printed objects.

A new music service

Through its radio stations, the BBC has long been an important music tastemaker for new music. But it's fighting an uphill battle as the likes of Spotify and Apple Music come to the fore. The broadcaster has tried to adapt with Music Playlister, a service that lets anyone bookmark and export tracks aired on its radio stations, but now it wants to go one step further. It's proposing a platform that would "make the 50,000 tracks the BBC broadcasts every month available to listen online, for a limited period." It would expand Playlister so that listeners could create custom playlists and discover new ones curated by the BBC. The company says it would champion unsigned talent, increase support for niche genres and labels, and feature exclusive performances from Live Lounge and Radio 1's Big Weekend. The platform wouldn't be a direct competitor to music streaming services, however. The BBC says it would be "the only one" that's open and integrated with other services, allowing users to transfer their playlists after they've expired on its own music platform.

An uncertain future

None of these plans are set in stone. For now they're merely proposals, and emphasize the BBC's position regarding the Royal Charter -- the broadcaster wants its role to evolve, not shrink. In particular, the BBC's Director General Tony Hall has stressed these ideas are "a million miles away from an expansionist BBC." The broadcaster understands that it needs to make cuts and scale back some of its services -- BBC Three is a prime example -- but unsurprisingly, it doesn't want them to be so deep that it loses all relevancy.

[Images: Carl Court/Getty Images (top image); BBC/Jeff Overs (BBC News studio); BBC/Jamie (Annie Mac for BBC Radio 1)]