BBC and Welsh channel S4C could pool resources, says Sir Michael Lyons.

Tuesday 24 February 2009

The BBC Trust chairman, Sir Michael Lyons, has suggested the BBC could extend its collaboration with Welsh-language public service broadcaster S4C by pooling resources including IT.

In a speech in Cardiff last night, Lyons also raised the prospect of the BBC collaborating with newspaper publisher Trinity Mirror to provide local content.

He also suggested developing the BBC's existing deal with S4C, under which the corporation provides more than 10 hours a week of S4C's output.

However, he warned that any BBC collaborations must not turn the corporation into a "piggy bank" used for bailing out other public service broadcasters, as this could turn it into the "Lloyds Bank of the media world".

"Here in Wales, for example, the BBC, ITV and S4C each operate separate IT systems for playing out their channels to the transmitters. Is that really the most productive use of that investment?" said Lyons.

"And could sharing a common IT resource and other infrastructure do any damage to editorial independence? It's hard to see how it would."

The current deal between the BBC and S4C sees the corporation supplying more than 20m a year of Welsh language news, children's programmes, current affairs, sport and drama, which accounts for about 40% of the Welsh language channel's viewing.

Lyons also suggested other "opportunities" in Wales, including sharing the facilities of the BBC's Welsh HQ, currently based in Cardiff. "As many of you here will know, BBC Wales is currently reviewing its property strategy. Broadcasting House in Llandaff is showing its age, and additional facilities will be needed to cope with the expansion of network production," he said.

"There could well be the potential here to share technology and infrastructure for the mutual benefit of the BBC and its partners and, of course, for the benefit of their audiences too."

Addressing a proposal by S4C to provide English language news on its network, Lyons suggested in his speech that this provision could involve newspaper publisher Trinity Mirror, "given their journalistic presence in Wales and their significant online operation".

Among Trinity Mirror's 200 websites and more than 150 print titles are the Cardiff-based Western Mail, South Wales Echo and Wales on Sunday.

"If ITV were to decide it no longer wanted to commit to regional provision in Wales, then there is no reason, in principle, why the benefits could not flow to other providers," he added.

However, Lyons also sounded what he called "a note of caution", insisting that any "proposals that simply transfer value from the BBC to other players in the market... would weaken the BBC's ability to continue to deliver the public purposes it is mandated to deliver by its Charter. It would damage licence fee payers' interests".

"Let's remember the Law of Unintended Consequences. Let's remember what can happen when a strong and successful organisation is used as a convenient piggy bank to bail out a failing one. Let's make sure that we don't inadvertently turn the BBC into the Lloyds Bank of the media world," he said.