Written by Radio

BBC Closing Radio Services?

Friday’s Times is reporting that BBC 6Music and the Asian Network are to be closed under the BBC’s major strategic review.
As well as this, there’s likely to be cuts to other expenditure particularly on the web as well as cuts to imported programming, BBC Blast, BBC Switch, and sports expenditure.
If this proves to be the case, then I believe it’s a sad day for several reasons. First of all, it’s a sad day for people who will inevitably lose their jobs, if this report from Patrick Foster turns out to be accurate.
It’s also a sad day for digital radio. While there will be (and indeed – to an extent – are) commercial replacements for some of what the Asian Network offers, that’s not necessarily the case for 6Music which, while serving a niche, provides a much needed reason for people to buy digital radios.
Shouldn’t I be happy working for a service that crosses over to some extent with 6Music? Not at all. The very existence of that service lead people to to discover digital radio and thus the ability to discover other services. One less major brand is never a good thing. Perhaps there’ll be opportunities for services like Xfm or NME, but I’m really not sure.
Without new additional services, getting to a digital radio future is harder to accomplish. What’s odd here is that arguably Asian Network failed to work with disappointing audiences. But 6Music is much loved by its loyal listeners. It’s in an odd position of not having enough listeners, and having low awareness. Yet if it was more popular, commercial services might be much more concerned about it. Is 6Music expensive to run? Yes – almost certainly too expensive. Programming cuts were almost certainly called for. And they’re never easy to achieve while maintaining quality.
The Times piece suggests that following service reviews of Radio 1 and Radio 2, this leaves 30-50s free to commercial radio. I’m not entirely sure it’s as simple as that. Demographics is only part of it. Will the average 6Music listener immediately depart to a commercial station? Some will. Others will head off to Spotify and their iPod playlists.
Yet all in all, when the pros and cons are weighed up, I still think that this is bad piece of news for the whole radio industry.
Still it’s not exactly joined up thinking, with the news coming just days after the BBC Trust’s service review reported what 6Music needed to do in the future.
The next question is what actually fills that space? Will the BBC sub-let that capacity to two (or more) commercial services, will other music service expand their bit-rates to fill the capacity? Or will it lie fallow. It’s probably too early to say. But what if they undercut D1’s pricing!
As for other areas of cuts suggested in the piece? Well there are a few oddities. Does the BBC often outbid commercial operators for imported programming? I know it’s often said to be the case, but aside from Heroes, Mad Men and Damages, I struggle to think of much else the BBC shows that originates in the US. And don’t get me started on claims about The Wire – a series first shown on a commercial channel years ago.
The US networks and sports rights holders will also hate BBC cost cutting as costs will fall.
I did laugh at the idea that ITV will serve the “teenage” market. Aside from teenagers enjoying X-Factor as much as anyone else, I’m not sure what else they’re watching on the channel.
I’m very concerned about the BBC shutting “half its website.” Which half is that? The good stuff? The stuff we’ve paid for from our licence fees? Certainly not the news.
One thing that’s clear is that, if true (and we do need to wait for the BBC’s confirmation of this), it is poor news management from the BBC. Twitter is already alive with people who work for 6Music wondering how long they have jobs. That’s never the way you want to hear about important news.
[UPDATE] I’ve only just seen The Times’ nasty and spiteful editorial. Entitled “Big, bloated and cunning” it seems to love all the usual things like Planet Earth and Life on Mars. Yet these plans “constitute an evasive and artful strategy designed to keep the next government from intervening, while in reality changing very little.”
Wow. We shouldn’t forget that’s coming from a direct competitor of the BBC’s in Rupert Murdoch. Seemingly the BBC would just be closing “a few radio stations that no one has ever listened to and websites that few have ever visited.”
The Times thinks the BBC should be giving cash back to licence payers. I’ll remember that next time my Sky bill goes up.
Amongst other things it once again brings up the selling off of Radio 1: “If the BBC were serious about reform it would consider selling Radio 1 and getting out of the pop music business, which is hardly ill served by others.”
Can I just re-iterate to anyone from The Times who might be remotely interested. The sale of Radio 1 would devastate commercial radio closing down dozens of stations. The commercial radio industry does not want to see Radio 1 privatised. Nobody would be able to compete, and vast quantities of commercial revenue would flow to that service leaving others uneconomical.
The BBC is seemingly “the most powerful lobbying and effective organisation in Britain”.
And there was me thinking that might be Rupert Murdoch…
[Note: That these are my personal views, and don’t necessarily reflect those of my employer]