Written by Media

Dumbing Down the Beeb?

I’m a bit late with this one, but it’s still worth commenting on. Last weekend, The Observer had a story entitled Official: BBC Is Too Upmarket. The report details how Director General, Mark Thompson, has ordered a large review entitled Household Value to determine who uses what BBC services.
Although in its early stages, it has already discovered that lower-income families are less well served than their wealthier counterparts. ‘There is a feeling we may be serving the professional classes well, but not reaching the C2s and D1s,’ said one BBC insider.
Lower-income families, particularly those in the north of England and Scotland, are less likely to watch digital channels such as BBC3, which is aimed at a sophisticated twentysomething audience, or tune in to BBC4’s high-brow output. By contrast, many higher-income groups make good use of a wide range of services, including Radio 4 and News24, and are better placed to take advantage of new ones – listening to podcasts or downloading programmes over the internet.
Well knock me down with a feather. I think I could have come to those findings without doing any research at all.
The report is followed up regurgitated in the Telegraph too.
The same quote is repeated. But there’s something a little wrong with the quote. It talks of “C2s and D1s.” Now unless the BBC has its own socio-demographic system that’s similar but not quite the same, then the “BBC insider” really doesn’t know what they’re talking about (or were misreported). The recognised socio-economic groupings are A, B, C1, C2, D and E. There isn’t a D1 group. It must be said that using these kinds of definitions is a terrible way to split the population into groups because which band you’re in, really depends on your income. Hence a very intelligent but unemployed person might be E, while a very stupid rich person might be A.
It’s also dangerous making direct comparisons between BBC Three and BBC Four. Although they might seem “complementary” to some extent, they’re not.
From the BBC Annual Report:
BBC Three aims to offer innovative British content and talent, providing a broad mix of programmes aimed primarily at younger audiences.
BBC Four aims to be British television’s most intellectually and culturally enriching channel, offering a distinctive mix of documentaries, performance, music, film and topical features.
So if you’re a middle-aged or older viewer not interested in being intellectually or culturally enriched, neither channel is actually going to appeal to you. Whereas an intellectual younger person might find programming relevant on both channels (well probably not BBC Three, but you understand the point I’m trying to make).
And BBC Three costs twice the amount of BBC Four – £92.1m v £46.9m in 2006.
From The Observer article:
‘We may discover Radio 1 or BBC3 is more important than we thought, and double investment in that service – but reduce spending on others,’ said one senior BBC executive.
Leaving aside the dispiriting prospect of even more money being spent on Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps, let’s consider radio.
Radio 1 spent £17.7m in 2006 compared with £24.1m on Radio 2, £31.1m on Radio 3, £71.4m on Radio 4 and £48.9m on Five Live. How exactly could Radio 1 even contemplate doubling its spend? Radio 2 has more documentaries hence the greater cost, as well as contributing to regular weekly concerts with such groups as the BBC Concert Orchestra. It also has to shoulder its share of Jonathan Ross’ salary! Radio Three’s costs are likely to largely be the upkeep of several orchestras as well as much more need for outside broadcast recordings and some drama. While Radio 4 is always going to be expensive with its news, comedy and drama being about the most expensive forms of radio available. And Five Live has significant news and sports costs.
But what would Radio 1 actually do with more money? Pay Chris Moyles even more cash? They already do many outside events, and holding more live concert relays is actually likely to be less popular among listeners than just playing more CDs.
It’s at an utter misconception that we should just spend more cash on what the viewers or listeners already want. That kind of thinking won’t be getting us another series of Planet Earth (massively popular across all demographics), but just see an extra episode of Eastenders (sadly already being considered if press reports are true).
So truths and half-truths then? Kevin Marsh, editor of the BBC College of Journalism, addresses the stories on the BBC Editors’ blog.
To me, it boils down to not insulting your audiences. Make programmes that appeal to them, but don’t pander downwards. So, BBC Three, that means NOT making programmes called F**k Off I’m Fat or whatever. For all I know, it was quite an honest and worthy documentary. I don’t know – I’m never going to watch a programme so-named. Honestly, BBC Two ran one of those “Here’s what’s starting now on other channels” captions this week, and the continuity announcer couldn’t even bring herself to name the programme on Three. Thank goodness the channel’s controller has just gone.
Coming soon, my take on the series of Horizon. Oh dear.