Today the BBC’s Director-General, Tony Hall revealed plans for the future of arts programming on the BBC. In his speech at New Broadcasting House, Hall outlined five promises that aim to place arts back at the heart of the BBC, re-establishing the corporations commitment to British art and culture.
From reading Hall’s speech, two main themes stood out as being central to his arts programming manifesto: identity and accessibility.
In his speech, Hall outlined his vision for BBC Arts, a new cross-platform strand that will connect arts programming across television, radio, iPlayer and other online BBC content. The BBC Arts brand sets out to create a clearer identity for arts programming on the BBC, making it as recognisable as categories such as sport or the news. The overall aim of this is to make arts programming substantially more visible, reflecting a cultural environment in which the arts are part of the viewer’s everyday experience.
It would seem that BBC Arts sets out not only to form its own identity within the BBC as a brand, but also to reshape the identity of the BBC itself as a broadcaster. Increasing the visibility of the arts on the BBC carries with it echoes of a Reithian approach to public service broadcasting, aiming to provide an educational and enriching viewing experience in line with a set of predetermined cultural values. Of course, this then raises concerns around elitism in regards to ‘highbrow culture’. This leads me on to the second theme in Hall’s vision for arts programming on the BBC: accessibility.
Hall is also striving to make the arts more accessible to a wider audience, stating that the arts are ‘not for an elite, or for the minority. They’re for everybody.’ The strategies in making the arts on the BBC more accessible are twofold:
Firstly, the BBC aims to put arts into the mainstream through programmes like The One Show and the return of BBC Two’s landmark series, Civilisation. Hall states that the motive behind this greater degree of exposure is to reflect that the arts are ‘part of the discourse of modern life’ and our everyday experience. This move also strongly suggests that the BBC are invested in nurturing new audiences for the arts on television, as opposed to ‘preaching to the converted’ on niche channels such as BBC Four.
Secondly, the arts will also be made more accessible through an increase in the coverage of various festivals and exhibitions across the country. Hall states that the viewer will be given ‘front row seats at the very best cultural events, up and down the country, right across the year.’ It will be interesting to see which cultural events are prioritised in terms of their exposure across television, radio and online. With the increased visibility of the arts on BBC television we may see intriguing shifts in the way people understand and relate to arts and culture beyond their living rooms.
It will be fascinating to examine how Hall’s vision for BBC Arts unfolds throughout the course of my PhD research. With the charter review in 2016, over the next few years the BBC will be endeavouring to firmly establish itself as an essential part of British cultural life. It seems apparent from the speech given by Hall today that BBC Arts will play a crucial role in this task.