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Last Updated: Wednesday, 17 October 2007, 07:21 GMT 08:21 UK
BBC prepares for giant shake-up
By Torin Douglas
Media correspondent, BBC News

BBC director general Mark Thompson
Mark Thompson is presenting his new strategy to the BBC Trust
Plans for sweeping changes at the BBC over the next six years are being discussed on Wednesday by the BBC Trust, which represents licence-payers.

Substantial job cuts are expected, particularly in the news and factual television departments.

When BBC director general Mark Thompson presents his new six-year strategy to the BBC Trust members today, it should not come as any great surprise to them.

His proposals have been discussed with them and their advisers over several months. Indeed, some of the details have been widely leaked - though just how accurately remains to be seen.

That doesn't reduce the meeting's significance. While Thompson runs the BBC day-to-day, with an executive board, the trust's job is to approve the strategy and ensure the BBC is run in the public interest, on behalf of licence-payers.

This is one of its few big opportunities to influence that process.

Difficult choices

The BBC's future is assured for at least 10 years under its new Royal Charter and Agreement.

The licence fee is secure for the next six years - but the settlement with the government was significantly lower than the BBC asked for.

Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight
Newsnight's Jeremy Paxman is among those to express disquiet
That means difficult choices must be made, not least because the digital revolution is gathering pace.

Investment must be made in a range of new media, on top of the existing output for TV, radio and the BBC website.

Rapid changes in technology and audience demands - notably the emergence of Google, YouTube, Facebook and broadband-enabled catch-up services for radio and TV - mean questions of what the BBC is for, and how it should be run, are having to be asked again.

The trust is expected to approve Mark Thompson's plans for a significant shift in the corporation's strategy.

'Fewer, bigger, better'

Some of this is already clear. He wants the BBC to concentrate its creative energy and resources on what he says it does best - high quality, distinctive content.

He wants a smaller BBC, producing less for TV, radio and online, but to a higher standard - "fewer, bigger, better."

The cast of Torchwood
BBC Three, home of Torchwood, is believed to be safe
He has also ruled out closing channels such as BBC Three or BBC Four, which means material is likely to be repeated more often. That's not seen as a particular problem, provided it is done cleverly and creatively.

With so many more channels, fewer people see a programme when it's first transmitted - and as former BBC director general Greg Dyke once said, it's only a repeat if you've seen it before.

The BBC will also be investing more in new technology to ensure that licence-payers can find the BBC's content when and where they choose - online and on mobiles, as well as on radio and TV.

Criticism and opposition

Mr Thompson sees these as "amazing new opportunities". But with a licence fee lower than the BBC asked for and demands for greater efficiency, there will also be substantial cuts in some departments' budgets.

It is known that more than 2,000 job cuts are proposed and that the newsrooms for television, radio and the website are due to be merged.

BBC employees strike in May 2005
A repeat of 2005's industrial action could be on the cards
Fewer hours of TV programmes will be commissioned, and the factual television department is expected to face substantial cuts.

That has already prompted criticism from well-known presenters such as John Humphrys and Jeremy Paxman, and petitions to the trust on behalf of the existing newsrooms and documentary strands such as Storyville and Timewatch.

The National Union of Journalists has said it will lobby trust members as they go into the meeting - and the opposition will not end there.

If the plans - due to be published at lunchtime on Thursday - turn out as expected, they could lead to industrial action.

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