The BBC Trust today (28 January 2010) published an independent report commissioned from the National Audit Office on the BBC’s management of its coverage of major sporting and music events.

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The NAO review looked at the effectiveness of the BBC’s management of its coverage of major sporting and music events, once the decision to cover an event had been taken. It considered how the BBC initiates, plans, delivers and reviews this coverage.

The report found that five out of the six events examined finished under budget or no more than one per cent over budget (with the sixth five per cent over budget). However, the NAO recommends that the BBC improve the way it commissions coverage of events and evaluates them post-broadcast. The Trust accepts the NAO’s recommendations, many of which have already been acted upon and the remainder of which the Executive is responding to.

Viewers and listeners generally valued the coverage with, for example, 70 per cent of people giving the BBC eight out of ten for its coverage of Euro 2008, while approximately 80 per cent of the UK population watched at least three minutes of Olympic coverage in 2008.

Key points from the report and the Trust’s response to them include:

  1. When the BBC commissions coverage of events, and approves budgets, it does not identify intended benefits or carry out a formal cost-benefit consideration of a range of coverage options. This limits its ability to make informed judgements about its use of funds. By not setting out what the intended benefits are, and not carrying out systematic reviews, it is difficult for the BBC to assess the success of its coverage and the value for money it has secured.The BBC Trust’s view is that it is appropriate to carry out full pre-event options analysis and post-event reviews for periodic events, but considers that the detail required may vary for recurring annual events where they represent “business as usual”. In all cases the extent of analysis and review must be proportionate in terms of the benefits delivered, relative to the time and resources involved. The Trust will require the Executive to put forward further proposals to improve current systems.
  2. The BBC does not have a clear view of the total budget for coverage of individual major music and sporting events. Separate budgets are drawn up for each media platform and some talent costs are approved separately as part of long-term contracts.The Trust’s view is that the BBC Executive has already taken action in this respect, including setting up Popular and Classical Music Boards, which now ensure costs are collated and reviewed by a single body. In sport, the 2012 Olympics are being organised and managed through a dedicated programme overseen by the BBC Director of London 2012. The Trust will require the Executive to consider ways in which such arrangements could be applied more widely to sporting events.
  3. The BBC has used only limited and informal internal benchmarking to compare the costs and production processes of recurring and similar major sporting and music events it covers. The BBC should identify events it covers that would allow for cost comparisons and hold reviews periodically.The BBC Trust’s view is that benchmarking is important but it notes that the BBC has encountered a reluctance from other broadcasters to share information, making internal benchmarking particularly important. To this end several pan-BBC groups have been set up to allow sharing of best practice and costs. The Trust will keep these arrangements under review.

Overall the Trust found that many of the NAO’s recommendations have already been implemented by the Executive following the 2008 events studied. For the remaining recommendations, the Trust is satisfied that the Executive’s proposed actions are an appropriate initial response to the NAO’s findings. The Trust will require the Executive to produce an action plan, including a clear timetable, for implementation of the recommendations. It will share this with the NAO and progress against the plan will be reported back to the Trust.

"Millions of people enjoy the coverage of major sporting and music events provided by the BBC. But, particularly given the current economic conditions, the BBC has not done enough to demonstrate that its coverage provides the best possible value for money. When the BBC decides that it wants to cover a major sporting or music event, it should carefully explore a range of options, and set down clear objectives against which it can measure its achievements after the event. Without that, the BBC will not convince licence fee payers that their money has been well spent."

Amyas Morse, Head of the National Audit OfficeJeremy Peat, BBC Trustee


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