AudioUK, the trade body for independent audio production companies, is calling for all of BBC Radio and Audio’s non-news programme speech commissions to be open to competition for external producers, in the event of BBC speech audio production moving to BBC Studios.

The BBC is now carrying out an internal review of its radio and audio speech production operation, which could result in its being moved out of the BBC’s public service operation and into its commercial arm, BBC Studios.

When the BBC previously moved its TV production to BBC Studios, enabling it to compete against independent creative TV producers to make programmes for other broadcasters, the Government in return required that the BBC open up all of its TV commissioning to external competition, by the end of the current Charter period.

Currently, in radio commissioning, the BBC must open up 60% of ‘relevant hours’ in its network radio commissions to external competition by the end of this year. This lower target is based on the fact that currently much of the BBC’s radio and audio production remains in-house and they cannot make programmes for other commissioners such as Amazon, Audible or Spotify.

AudioUK is therefore making the case that if the BBC is allowed to compete against its members in the open audio production market, then independent audio producers should correspondingly be able to compete for all non–news BBC speech productions. It is discussing this with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport in the context of its Mid-Term Charter Review, as well as discussing with Ofcom the due regulatory processes to which the BBC speech production move would be subject, prior to being made.

Chloe Straw, Managing Director of AudioUK, said:

“For the BBC to reach its audience in new creative ways, it’s really important that both live and on-demand audio content is being made by a widespread and diverse a range of producers. When former Director General Tony Hall introduced the plan for BBC television production’s move to BBC Studios, enabling them to compete against independents to make shows for other broadcasters, he said the quid pro quo would be that external producers would be able to compete to make more of the BBC’s output. The Government subsequently required in the BBC Charter that the BBC reach 100% competition in non-news TV programming by 2027.”

 “The same approach needs to be taken if BBC speech radio/audio production moves to BBC Studios, introducing full competition to make the BBC’s own content. It would represent huge market bias for the BBC to be in a position where they were able to compete against the independent production sector in other markets, while a big proportion of its own shows remained excluded from the chance to be made by creative companies offering new ideas, stories, talent and perspectives.”


Speech Production Review

BBC Director General Tim Davie announced the speech-based radio and audio review in his speech May this year. AudioUK understands the review will be completed soon.

 “Based on the rapid growth of the global podcast and audio market, we will now review our speech production areas to consider a commercial model that can tap into the global market for podcasts, strengthen our output, and ensure we keep the best people at the BBC.”

Tim Davie: A digital-first BBC. Speech to BBC staff, May 2022)

Competition in BBC Television commissioning

Former Director General Tony Hall set out the details of the introduction of more competition in television and BBC Studios in his ‘Compete or Compare’ speech in 2014:

 “If independent [television] producers can take their ideas to any broadcaster around the world, I would want the same for BBC Production. We’re up for a discussion as to whether they should offer ideas to other UK broadcasters. But the world should definitely be their market.”

 “And in return for removing those protections we would remove our own – in other words, the overall in-house guarantee for the whole of BBC Production.”

Tony Hall: ‘Compete or compare’ – a new direction for the BBC. Speech at City University London, 10 July 2014

 Subsequently, the 2016 Government White Paper on the BBC Charter said that 100% of the BBC’s non-news programing would be opened to competition to allow full creative competition, in order to: “empower commissioners to select the very best content for licence fee payers, from the BBC’s own producers and creative talent as well as from independent producers.”