BBC’s James Stirling: ‘I’m not really interested in nostalgia – we want to use contemporary talent to frame history’

The BBC turns 100 years old in October, and while the company has been out in force, executive editor James Stirling told a Mumbrella360 audience this morning the public service broadcaster is firmly focused on looking forward, rather than in the rear view mirror.

“We’re very respectful of where we’ve come from, but actually in our 100th year, we’re kind of eyes on the prize for the present and the future, and we really want think about where we’re going.”

The presentation from Stirling, which was delivered alongside emcee Darren Woolley, focused on the future-facing innovation approach the BBC is taking as it marks its centenary, pushing on in its firmly established digitally focused era, rather than looking backwards.

Woolley [left] with Stirling [right] on stage at Mumbrella360

Stirling said branding has been crucial for the BBC during its transition from linear to digital, ensuring that it carries its heritage in the three blocks, while continuing to encapsulate its services.

“So what we really want to do is to make sure that everyone can find our content as easily as they can, and that it looks uniform actually. So that [a video that was played] just shows how our branding has changed, and it’s all based around the three blocks, the iconic blocks of the BBC.”

Stirling added that during his time working with the BBC, and interacting with it as a consumer over the course of his lifetime, the single biggest change he has experienced is how it has adapted to that transition of linear to digital, pushing the envelope as a PSB.

“There’s much more choice than when I was a child. There were three channels on our television and now the BBC has got ten TV channels and you can access it in any way that you want really, on your iPad or on your phone or over digital, radio or your TV wherever.”

BBC icon, David Attenborough, with Greta Thunberg, the picture referenced by Stirling.

“So the access has become brilliant over the years, and I know that’s changed for all of us, but that feels like something that’s continued to push forward. And that transition between linear to digital will be really important as well.”

Stirling said the BBC is “very lucky that we know what our budget is in the next few years”.

“There’s always a discussion that goes on around the license fee and of course, over a hundred years things change, but we’re always locked in good conversation with government around that.”

Like in Australia however, the topic of funding continues to be a lightening point in culture and politics, with reports earlier this year that the funding would be frozen for the BBC over the next few years, and the historical Licence Fee to be abolished in 2027.

As part of its funding structure, the BBC’s firm shift to a “digital-first approach” now, Stirling said, has allowed the broadcaster to “free up a bit more budget”.

“We’re adding another 300 million pounds ($522m) into content specifically for the BBC iPlayer, which is our visual platform.

“Linear is still incredibly important to us. It’s worth saying that, particularly for those moments that bring us all together. So the Jubilee, Glastonbury, and Commonwealth games, they’re the moments where we still deliver huge audiences in the here and now. But also something like Glastonbury where you can just catch up afterward and at your leisure [on the iPlayer].”

Stirling spoke at depth about how the BBC continues to shape culture in the UK, through these key moments in British life, with the Jubilee celebrations this year, Wimbledon, Glastonbury, and the Commonwealth Games all occurring in 2022, a year of content he said he can’t remember another quite like.

“This is where the BBC comes into its own. We are trusted to deliver these big moments.”


Get the latest media and marketing industry news (and views) direct to your inbox.

Sign up to the free Mumbrella newsletter now.



Sign up to our free daily update to get the latest in media and marketing.