Written by Radio

DQF – Some Initial Thoughts

And so it came to pass. The BBC’s “Delivering Quality First” aka “What We’re Cutting To Save 20%” has been published.
It’s worth
Since I work in radio, I’ll start there, but I’ll offer my thoughts on other services too.
To a greater or lesser extent, radio escapes the brunt of the savings. Radio 4 in particular, is considered so core, that it’s not seeing any additional cuts. But there are no services being closed down, which in general I think is a good thing.
Radio 1 will share overnight programming with 1Xtra, which is probably sensible. Radio 1 will lose its Nations output, which John Myers recently reported as being expensive. Another Myers recommendation was that Radio 1 and Radio 2 should share backoffice staff, and that seems to be being adopted.
News bulletins will be shared, outside of breakfast, between Radio 1 and 1Xtra, as they also will be between Radio 2 and 6 Music. I’d imagine that this will require some slightly different news production, since Radio 2’s news currently, does sound very Radio 2. And it’s good to hear that 6 Music retains its music news, which doesn’t exist anywhere else as far as I’m aware.
Radio 2’s most expensive programme, Friday Night Is Music Night, will get more repeats. Radio 1 and Radio 2 will also see reduction in talent costs. Over on Feedback, you got the feeling that the cost of Alan Titchmarsh was one of the reasons that Melodies For You was scrapped (although I do think that Light Music is now very poorly catered for by the BBC, and this is exactly the sort of thing that Radio 2 ought to be doing).
Radio 2 will lose some comedy, which while much loved, feels right. Radio 4 and now Radio 4 Extra should probably be the BBC’s home of comedy in formatted half-hours.
The Proms will be safe on Radio 3, but other live music will be cut.
Perhaps more disappointingly, drama on the network is to be cut. Some reports are suggesting that it goes altogether, but from what I can see, they mean occasional dramas in The Wire strand are going, while much of the current Sunday night longer form drama is remaining on the network. That’s really important since the only other longer-form drama slot on BBC radio is The Saturday Play, which offers no opportunity to explore adult themes. Radio 3’s Sunday drama slot is also the only place you could regularly expect to hear the classics. Lenny Henry’s Othello is the only Shakespeare I can remember on Radio 4 in recent years for example.
Radio 3 is also seeing shared news with Radio 4, which is probably as sensible move.
Although not part of radio, the BBC’s orchestras are going to see a separate review. It gets more complicated since they do form part of UK culture.
Five Live will perhaps feel most of the cuts through the reduction in BBC sports rights which are being cut by 15%. Comedy will also get cut – whether this includes Fighting Talk, I’d hope not – but it does mean the end of the various Sunday morning comedy offerings (my employer would at this point perhaps like me to mention Dave Gorman on Sundays 1000-1200!).
In any case, Five Live looks like it will be more aligned to news and sport, and away from entertainment – not that I can see this explicitly mentioned. We’re still awaiting the results of a current BBC Trust consultation on the service, but this perhaps indicates the way that will go.
They’re going to try to work better with BBC Local Radio rather than maintaining lots of regional reporters which is smart.
The BBC Asian Network is getting some dramatic cuts. Like 6Music, it escaped closure by the skin of its teeth. But all the more expensive programming is going, and they’re going to focus clearly on 25-45 Asians (whether that’ll make the commercial Asian stations happy is another discussion). What’s clear is that they’re going to have to find some significant savings. Seemingly, the station will actually go off-air between midnight and 6am. Surely it’ll rebroadcast something during those hours? The BBC World Service perhaps?
BBC Local Radio is in for some really significant changes. Although the percentage cut is only 4.2%, the on-air sound will be quite different from what I can tell. There’ll be some significant programme sharing between neighbouring services in the afternoons, and between 7pm and 10pm all stations in England will come together except when broadcasting sports commentaries. In other words, we’ll get a weekday evening “BBC England” service. In reality, sport will use up quite a lot of that time with football and rugby league commentaries in particular meaning lots of opt-outs of the service.
In particular it seems that BBC London is going to bear the brunt of some cost reductions since its costs are out of kilter with the rest of the country according to the report. And in particular, that could mean the end of either Robert Elms or, God forbid, Danny Baker. If BBC local radio is to share programming in the afternoons locally, perhaps Baker could be shared across other south-eastern BBC services?
The BBC is supporting DAB rollout. However, at some point LW will close down – probably when the kit fails. The BBC Trust consultation says that BBC management is commiting to making those current LW-only programmes available on analogue radio at such a time. While that’s reasonably straightforward for the Daily Service, it’s unclear where Test Match Special might go. It certainly won’t end up on FM as Dan Sabbagh suggests, not unless Radio 3 wants to shut down during daytime for large chunks of the summer (and winter). Radio 3’s MW frequency was where TMS used to be broadcast of course. Perhaps daytime BBC local radio will be used? Or Radio 2 daytime?
But the BBC is also guaranteeing continued carriage on AM (or MW as they put it) for a variety of services inclulding 5 Live.
There are a variety of smaller changes to BBC nations services, although the Scottish services are getting significant cuts. BBC Scotland has the highest cost of any nations service.
I won’t go through this in detail, but BBC One cuts seem largely sensible. In particular the note that programmes made for regional services are shown nationally. The recent showing of The Field of Blood seems to be a case in point. It was shown in Scotland earlier this year in peaktime, whereas it only got shown in England around the August Bank Holiday, with the second episode going out at 10.35pm on a Monday night – not ideal for a new drama series.
BBC HD will become BBC Two HD which is probably sensible. Although in the nations, viewers won’t get opt-outs like “Newsnight Scotland”. Expect some complaints from the various Parliaments and Assemblies.
Aligning BBC Two and BBC Four seems sensible. While I dearly love BBC Four, I’m not sure that producing expensive dramas and then “only” showing them on BBC Four is smart use of cash. On the other hand, I don’t want to see BBC Four’s output diminished in any substantial way.
BBC Four acting as a home of foreign language films and television is maintained. I’d still like to see some foreign language programming – films especially – reaching BBC Two. And I’m pleased that BBC Four is not losing all its comedy. I think it acts as a good nursery slope for more intelligent television comedy, and that needs to be protected.
The move of all children’s programming from the main BBC channels – in particular BBC One – is worrying. While the entire country will be able to receive CBBC (and CBeebies), having some child-oriented programming on the main channel remains important. It gives those programmes additional credibility – particularly as children get older. “Ghettoising” programmes by leaving them on kids channels will undoubtedly mean a loss of audience, especially amongst kids who think they’ve outgrown the channel. It also diminishes the shared family viewing experience. I think this needs to be readdressed.
BBC Three is a channel that I’ve long been critical of. It gets a disproportionate budget compared to BBC Four – continuing to have a budget of £30m more than BBC Four – and it pulls its ratings from repeats of popular BBC One/Two programmes, not least Eastenders, Top Gear and Doctor Who. It looks as though it will share more programming with BBC One, while seeing some reductions in services. I think it needs to reappraise its entertainment offerings in particular which are mostly fatuous, and can exist in the commercial sector on the likes of ITV2.
I still find it hard to understand how its budget is so high, and I think it needs to be looked at again.
It’s disappointing that the red button service is shutting down. While I’m not sure that specific programming should be produced for it, and we’re not going to see cuts until post next year’s Olympics, this will hit those amazing Wimbledon or Glastonbury services. At least one channel will be available for “spill over” programming..
Overall – it could have been worse.
And for those 2,000 people losing their jobs, it is as bad as it might have been.
In the longer term, more questions than ever are likely to be asked surrounding the circumstances of the licence fee agreement being reached.
I know that more details will come out of the woodwork, and some individual tough choices are going to need to be made.
Elsewhere, Media Guardian, as you’d expect, has comprehensive coverage, and there’s a pretty comprehensive BBC site too. John Myers was on the Today programme this morning alongside a Guardian journalist discussing the cuts. While Chris Patton was the World at One. Victoria Derbyshire and Feedback will both be worth a listen. And there’s Radio Academy RadioTalk podcast too where I think Lisa Kerr of RadioCentre makes a very good point about how the savings that BBC Local Radio has to make seem to have a disproportionate impact on output. Really worth listening to.
And of course, this is actually the start of a BBC Trust consultation. So licence payers can have their say. This is a consultation, so it’s only right that licence payers do have a say.
Also worth reading are the thoughts of Orion Media’s David Lloyd. Although he’s very experienced in commercial radio, he did recently work for a while in BBC Local Radio, and what he saw… Well, I’ll let you read his thoughts.
Finally, these are my own views and do not necessarily reflect those of my employer. Sometimes it’s nice that we can agree to disagree.