'Ethical' BBC will defeat Netflix and Amazon, says Lord Hall

Anita Singh
BBC director-general Tony Hall  - PA

The BBC will win the battle for audiences because it is the "ethical" choice, its director-general has claimed, as he predicted that the corporation is heading into a resurgent period while Netflix and Amazon face decline.

Lord Hall of Birkenhead believes the US streaming giants, which have disrupted the media landscape, will lose ground now that Apple, Disney and Hulu are launching their own services.

The BBC “will ride the second wave of disruption” and emerge as winners, he will say this week in a speech to the television industry, because “in this market, services that are distinctive and different will stand out.”

It is the BBC’s “unique mission and purpose” that makes it different, Lord Hall will say. “All audiences - young and old - believe in it. Purpose and values matter today more than ever, as people pick and choose services for ethical reasons as much as economic ones.”

Some critics may question Lord Hall’s description of the BBC as an “ethical” company following controversies in recent years, including the row over equal pay. But the reference is to the corporation’s public service mission to ‘inform, education and entertain’.

Lord Hall will make his provocative remarks at a Royal Television Society convention in Cambridge on Thursday, where the Netflix CEO, Reed Hastings, is due to speak the following day.

He will say: “Our industry is about to enter a second wave of disruption. The first was about the rise of Netflix, Amazon and Spotify: market shapers that fundamentally changed audience behaviour, often at the cost of huge losses or massive cross-subsidy.

“The second wave will see a range of new entrants entering an already crowded market.  We saw it last week as Apple announced their new subscription service.  Disney, Hulu and others are to follow.”

As a result, Lord Hall will say, the libraries of Amazon and Netflix will shrink as programme-makers pull their content from the services and place them on their own platforms. “The established streamers will need to fight harder to offer the value they currently give today.”

For the BBC, the new entrants to the market will represent an opportunity rather than a threat, he will say.

According to Lord Hall, iPlayer is superior to rival because it offers services they do not: news, sport and live channels, in addition to drama and documentaries. Ofcom recently approved a request to allow programmes to remain on iPlayer for a year, bringing it more in line with other on-demand services.

“The new, enhanced iPlayer will set us up to be winners in the second wave of disruption,” he will say, along with BBC Sounds for radio and podcasts.

“No one offers the range of content, in so many genres, on so many platforms, as the BBC. We’re not Netflix, we’re not Spotify. We’re not Apple News. We’re so much more than all of them put together.”

Lord Hall will also counter the argument that the BBC is losing its appeal to the young, pointing out that “in the space of a year iPlayer’s reach to young audiences is up by a third”.

He will conclude: “The continued success of the BBC is important for Britain. It is the BBC that invests in British story telling - in the stories that are about us. We will ride the second wave of disruption to succeed for Britain.”