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Last Updated: Thursday, 18 October 2007, 15:43 GMT 16:43 UK
Q&A: BBC cutback plans
By Torin Douglas
BBC media correspondent

The BBC is axing up to 1,800 jobs, prompted by a smaller than expected licence fee settlement from the government. But what are the implications for the viewing public?

WHY HAS THE BBC ANNOUNCED THESE CUTS?

This isn't just about the licence fee being less than the BBC asked for. This is about a total restructuring for the digital age, where audiences want to receive their media on-demand, or watch programmes on the web.

So that is the strategy. The fact that the BBC has got less than it asked for has made it worse in terms of job cuts.

But there would have been efficiency savings even if the BBC had got all that it asked for.

WHAT DOES IT MEAN FOR AUDIENCES?

There will be 10% fewer new programmes. But it is important to remember how much the BBC has grown in the past decade. Much more output is made already because of the new channels on radio, on television and the size of the BBC's websites.

Elephant
Factual programmes like Planet Earth have been a big hit

There will be more repeats inevitably. But repeats are seen to be less of an issue now than they were in the old days when people only had four or five channels.

Many fewer people now watch any programme - even the most popular ones - than they did in the old days.

So giving people more chances to see or hear a programme isn't just a euphemism for repeats. It is actually about people having the opportunity to see programmes that they might have missed. Not just on BBC Three or BBC Four but online, or on the iPlayer.

WILL PEOPLE'S FAVOURITE PROGRAMMES BE CUT?

If they are favourite programmes, popular programmes and thriving programmes, then probably not. The theory is that when the BBC started to make extra programmes not all of them were the highest quality.

The idea is to try to improve the quality of the output and protect money for big dramas, factual programmes like Planet Earth and things like that.

The BBC talked about cutting middling programmes, but of course sometimes those sorts of programmes are the ones that become big hits after a couple of series.

For example, Question Time and Antiques Roadshow both started off as fairly modest programmes and eventually became very popular. So the BBC has to be very careful.

WILL BBC THREE OR BBC FOUR BE CLOSED?

It was certainly considered - and people like Jeremy Paxman and John Humphrys suggested that would be a better way to trim the BBC's cloth.

What the BBC says is that in the new multi-channel age, the BBC has to got to have more channels. ITV and Channel 4 are doing exactly the same - putting more channels out there so that people have different ways of accessing programmes.

Remember that it is not the channels themselves that cost money, it is the programmes that are made specifically for them.

What will happen is that there will be budget cuts, so BBC Three will have 10m a year less. And there will be less originated for these channels.

WILL STAR SALARIES BE CUT AS WELL?

We don't think there will be specific cuts, but I think the BBC is very aware that those are very unpopular.

We have just seen Natasha Kaplinsky go to Five for a big salary, and I think within this climate the BBC will be reluctant to make big payments for stars.

Having said that, everyone looks at the case of Morecambe and Wise who were paid a lot of money and who the public wanted on the BBC. The public expects big stars on the BBC, and sometimes the management says "you've got to pay those salaries".

WHY ARE SO MANY PEOPLE LOSING THEIR JOBS IN NEWS?

The cuts there are heavy - around 400 jobs are going. It Is partly because they are merging the TV, radio and online newsrooms into one big operation.

This has pros and cons - it will be more efficient, but there is a danger that you will have too few people looking after the news in the early hours of the morning.

The management will be kept up to the mark by the BBC Trust on issues such as this.

HOW SOON CAN WE EXPECT TO SEE THESE CHANGES HAPPEN?

That is not entirely clear. It will partly depend on the unions and the negotiation process. But it has been suggested that, unlike previous structural changes at the BBC where the pain was spread over three or four years, things will happen quicker this time.

The unions oppose that policy.

WILL THERE BE A STRIKE?

The unions are saying they expect to strike, and there is certainly a great deal of unhappiness at the BBC at the minute.



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