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BBC annual report 2023: World Service global reach declines 12% amid cuts

BBC global reach down 9% year-on-year to 447 million.

By Bron Maher

The global reach of the BBC has declined across numerous metrics in the last year, its annual report for 2022/23 shows.

The total global reach of the corporation, including both BBC News and commercial arm BBC Studios, dropped 9% year-on-year to 447 million in the year to 31 March.

BBC News’ international weekly audience, the annual report said, declined 10% year-on-year to 411 million.

How many people is the BBC World Service reaching?

The World Service‘s audience dropped 12% in the period to 318 million.

The reach of its television service fell 19% to 105 million while in radio it dropped nearly a quarter, falling 24% to 121 million.

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The BBC World Service’s weekly digital audience also shrank, albeit by a smaller 5%, dropping to 131 million.

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Over the same period BBC Studios’ “incremental global weekly reach” rose 3% to 36 million.

The BBC announced in September that it would cut nearly 400 jobs from the World Service as part of a bid to save £28.5m and shift from linear broadcast to digital-first content delivery.

The BBC proposed to end ten World Service radio services, move seven language services online-only, and relocate production for some of those services out of London. The latter was particularly controversial, raising concerns that reporters for BBC Vietnamese moved from London to Bangkok could be put at risk of abduction.

The annual report has now revealed a decline in audience of more than 25% at 16 of 43 World Service language operations. Three language services - Yoruba, Indonesian and Pidgin - saw declines greater than 70%.

The report said: “​​This year we have started to implement our plan to prioritise bringing audiences to the BBC’s international services, and our digital services in particular, rather than pursuing reach via platforms which have lower trust and lower brand attribution back to the BBC, and are therefore less effective in countering disinformation.

“At the same time, the World Service has not been immune from challenging international news market pressures and the need to deliver savings as a result of the licence fee settlement, with further difficult decisions likely to be needed in the future.”

However, both the Russian and Ukrainian language services saw their reach grow. The Russian service’s weekly reach grew 19% year-on-year, to 5.6 million, and the Ukrainian service’s rose 11% to 4.7 million. Shortly after Russia began its invasion of Ukraine the World Service revived its Second World War-era shortwave broadcasts into Russia and Ukraine in order to reach audiences where BBC services might otherwise be blocked.

Other audiences that grew included BBC Chinese (up 26% to 2.7 million people) and BBC Hindi (up 27% to 41 million). The BBC has recently faced the ire of India's government after airing a documentary examining allegations that Prime Minister Narendra Modi was complicit in the deaths of 1,000 people in sectarian riots while he was chief minister of Gujarat.

[Read more: BBC News and BBC World News channels merger to see 70 job cuts in London and 20 created in Washington DC]

What else is in the BBC's 2022/23 annual report?

Elsewhere in the report the BBC recorded its best-ever commercial performance, but a 1.6% decline in licence fee income to £3.74bn.

That decline was compounded by high inflation, which has squeezed the frozen licence fee and run especially high in the creative industries particularly. Operating costs rose 13% year-on-year - or more than £700m - to £5.96bn, producing an operating deficit for the year of £220m and an overall deficit after tax and other gains and losses of £120m.

In contrast, last year the corporation returned an operating surplus of £124m and an overall surplus of £206m.

In early 2022 then-Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries announced the licence fee would be frozen against inflation for two years, which the BBC has since claimed has caused a £400m annual income shortfall.

Likely because of inflation, the annual report shows a rise in expenditure on the BBC's public service broadcasting - up 9% to £4.44bn. Expenditure on news grew at the same pace, rising 8.9% to £342m. Headcount fell however, with the number of staff dropping from 17,890 in 2022 to 17,688 this year.

BBC Studios, which the broadcaster hopes to double in size by 2027/28, pulled in a record £240m in earnings before interest, taxation, debt and amortisation (EBITDA), up from £226m last year. Cash returned to the BBC from BBC Studios' operations also rose, growing from £353m last year to £362m this year.

BBC Studios' activities include licensing out BBC content abroad, where the corporation is not barred from making commercial profit.

BBC chief operating officer Leigh Tavaziva announced in a press briefing on Tuesday that the BBC had, for the first time, achieved 50% representation of women in its workforce. Some 53% of staff, she added, are based outside the M25.

The reach of BBC News Online among UK adults was 33%, just ahead of the 32% minimum target. Among those aged 16 to 34 reach was 32%, on par with the minimum target.

The corporation added that live page views doubled over the year, rising to an average of 5.7 million per day in 2022. The report said: “We’re building on this success by boosting the live and breaking news team to introduce more single-story live streams both for the site and the BBC News channel.”

However, the BBC’s television news output remains the most linear at the corporation: according to BARB figures cited in the report, some 4% of BBC TV news and current affairs output is consumed via iPlayer, versus 11% for factual programming, 6% for sport, 46% for drama and 57% for comedy.

[Read more from the 2022/23 BBC annual report: Huw Edwards overtakes Stephen Nolan as BBC news top earners get 6% rise]

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