Monday, January 19, 2009

Sell off Radio 1 and 2, say people who would like to buy Radio 1 and 2

Every so often, there's a small grumbling and mumbling from people who don't understand public service broadcasting which finds itself forming into the dunder-headed idea "why don't we privatise Radio 1 and 2?"

Here we go again, then: Marrakesh Records has apparently so much time on its hands that it's produced a report looking into the future of the music industry.

They assembled a panel of experts and fired some questions at them - surprisingly, perhaps, everyone was bullish about the chances of people still reading the pop papers this time next year - but it was the leading "should radio one and two be privatised" that has caught the eye. Even although, clearly, most of their respondents haven't thought through their ideas at all:

Dominic Hardisty [of Marrakesh Records says] It is only a matter of time
before politicians realise that R1 and R2 don’t offer any public service benefits that couldn’t just as easily be provided by commercial franchisees.

"Just as easily", huh? Like two fifteen-minute news programmes in the middle of daytime programming every day? The Organist Entertains? Rob Da Bank's show? Curiously, most commercial franchises seem to want to drop all the public service elements as quickly and as swiftly as they can; even something with a supposed blue-chip audience like Jazz proved to be impossible to sustain as a commercial service, and was thrown off by Jazz FM from its mainstream radio incarnation. How would Hardisty expect Newsbeat to be made by any organisation commercially? Or something like Radio One's Punk show?
Further, BBC Radio - with a 55% share of listenership - significantly distorts an already troubled commercial market that now faces life-threatening competition from myspace, youtube and last.fm.

So, hang on: commercial radio is already struggling in the face of new media (although, somewhat surprisingly, it's not a threat to the BBC Radio audiences for some reason) - so it makes sense to set two large, national networks into the fight for audiences and advertisers. Because Capital really needs to be fighting Chris Moyles and Terry Wogan to find a sponsor for the weather forecast, doesn't it?
Privatising R1 and R2 would yield a windfall that could provide years of financial and editorial independence for other BBC services such as R3 and R4 which
could not survive in the commercial sector.

Assuming, of course, the money was handed to the BBC and not merely retained by the Government. And, assuming, of course, that there was someone willing to buy - not an obvious proposition in the current climate; and if Hardisty really believes that these new commercial entities will be doing exactly the same sort of expensive programming as the public service versions, isn't that going to drive the price downwards?

Darmash Mistry used to be with EMAP until they got sold on to Bauer, and now he's with a venture capital company. Not that the idea of buying a solid gold national asset at the bottom of the market would cloud his judgement, of course:
The BBC’s public sector objectives can be met in other ways.

He doesn't actually explain how the BBC would reach out to younger audiences in these mysterious "other ways" are, of course.
There is sufficient supply of music radio via traditional channels, digital radio, internet jukeboxes and access to global stations on the net.

That's all, of course, that BBC Radio 1 and 2 are - just great chunks of music. There's no news, or health campaigns, or anything. And if you like the live music of Friday Night Is Music Night, why, surely you can find a "global station" somewhere that does something like that?
With consumer choice being so abundantly available, the BBC no longer needs to meet this need, hence R1 and R2 should not be tax-payer funded.

If you believe that Radio 1 and 2 are funded by the tax payer and don't understand the subtle but important difference between central taxation and a licence fee, you probably should do some research before you share your opinions.

But, seriously: You don't see the value in BBC sessions, and believe that five or six new bands would be recording four or five tunes for a commercial Radio 1, for example? You really don't believe that that sort of thing is a cultural good which is worth funding in some way other than hoping Shockwaves will support it with a sponsorship deal?
Privatisation seems a credible next step.

If you accept your arguments, yes. In much the same way that if I believe that snow is made from custard, it would be credible to serve snow as a hot dessert.
NME Radio's Paul Stokes is more balanced:
We need a public service broadcaster that is prepared to shine light on new or minority talent and we have to accept that in order to gain that audience in the first place they have to compete with commercial channels part of the time.

It's interesting that a man who is trying to establish a new radio brand - and one which covers much of the ground of early evening Radio 1 - who is happy to explain the mechanics of public service radio. He does have a 'but', though:
I just wish they would stop staging concerts and events that would exist in the private sector. The Killers at Royal Albert Hall would take place anyway. It would be good to see these resources used on artists who couldn’t do that themselves.

It's a good point - although, arguably, The Killers might be happier having a straight fee agreed in advance rather than having to rely on ticket sales and hope to make a profit, and there are some interesting questions to be asked about what, exactly, Radio 1 and 2 would be doing.

This, though, isn't the place to do it, and producing a report which calls for the stations to be privatised without even bothering to ask anyone from the BBC for an opinion seems a little one-sided to say the least. And why didn't the question include 6 and 1Xtra? Shouldn't a solution include them as well?

With Channel 4 struggling to match public-service remits with commercial funding, it would be curious indeed to suggest that a public-service skewed Radio 1 and 2 would be a certain success. Especially in light of Channel 4's attempts to launch radio stations in sort-of competition - stations which couldn't be made to work in the current climate. Privatisation would mean, at worst, closure; at best, a watering-down of the things that make Radio 1 and 2 distinctive. You'd have more Moyles, and more Wogan; less Vine and less Zane. And that would be bad for commercial networks already struggling to find an identity in the networked-from-London world.

But, oh, imagine the short term piles of cash for the bankers and advisors and consultants! Oh, imagine having a stake in the kill.


1 comment:

Robin Carmody said...

The reason why privatisation of Radios 1 and 2 is so frequently suggested is that it unites the two main factions of the Right - the hardline free-market wing (which doesn't really want any public service broadcasting, or any public services) and the hardline moralist, back-to-1955 wing ("why should my money go towards that filth?"). It is one of the comparatively few things that unites Littlejohn and Hitchens (who have much less in common than is widely believed).

Were it ever to happen, both wings would be ecstatic. But the nation's culture would be far, far poorer. Should Radios 1 and 2 go private and Radios 3 and 4 become a subscription service, even the latter would slowly die: as they would no longer have any claims to universality, and would superserve the Telegraph fringe who would be the main subscribers, they would become what they would be now had it not been for those like James Boyle and Nicholas Kenyon who saw that the old high-cultural certainties were gone forever.

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