Minimalist movement on the BBC as it halves original artistic programming

The BBC has cut its original artistic programming in half over the past decade, as the company fills its rehearsal schedule and focuses on ‘high impact’ entertainment.

In 2010, the BBC broadcast 305 hours of original arts programming. By 2020, that figure had fallen to 154 hours, according to new figures released by Ofcom.

History programming has dropped by more than a quarter, from 814 hours to 595 hours. Comedy has seen an even bigger drop, from 225 hours in 2010 to 102 hours last year. Music programs fell the most sharply, from 239 hours to 93 hours. And in 2020, there were only 437 hours of original children’s programming, up from 705 hours in 2010.

In these genres – all classified by Ofcom as “at risk” – 89% of the programs broadcast on BBC television were repeats.

Ofcom has warned that percentage could rise further following the company’s decision to turn BBC Four into a rebroadcasting channel.

Focus on ‘high impact content’

The figures appeared in Ofcom’s annual BBC review. The regulator noted that the strategy of Tim Davie, the chief executive, is to focus on “high impact content” – that is, shows that can bring the nation together in large numbers. This is unlikely to include documentaries on the arts and history.

The BBC said “at-risk” genres accounted for 54% of the BBC’s television hours, more than its competitors.

The report’s release comes a week after the editor of the BBC’s arts committee said the company needed to create “the television people want to watch”, rather than “a chat about the esoteric arts”.

Mark Bell said his job is to “find things that will play at 8pm and appeal to all kinds of larger audiences.”

Ten years ago the BBC broadcast arts programs such as The Culture Show. BBC Four was also the home of original documentaries.

About Mariel Baker

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