Friday, June 11, 2010

Commercial radio supports making BBC worse

It's perhaps no surprise that commercial radio has an opinion about the future of the BBC, and that its vision involves effectively getting rid of the bits that people like.

The Radio Centre - the trades group for ad-supported radio - even have ideas about 6Music, which it wants closed just for the hell of it. They don't even bother to put it in the press release, but it does turn up in the Guardian report:

Radio Centre supports the closure of 6 Music and generally welcomes the BBC's aim of refocusing its radio services, but said the station's distinctive "John Peel legacy" programmes should be broadcast on Radio 1 and Radio 2.

So, there's nothing wrong with the programme, it admits that it offers something distinctive, but thinks it should be closed anyway.

It's not clear why the Radio Centre thinks this would help commercial radio. Perhaps a few of the 6Music audience will drift off to NME Radio or XFM, but they're really unsatisfying alternatives - dodgems instead of a rollercoaster. Closing 6Music won't shift audiences back to radio with adverts; it'd be excellent news for Spotify and Last FM instead.

They do have a second plan:
Value Partners [who carried out a report of helpful ideas] suggests that, as an alternative, 6 Music could be privatised.

There's always a consultant lurking with rubbish ideas, isn't there? One of the reasons that the BBC is using to justify closing 6Music is that it's relatively expensive for a pop station. So how would that work in the commercial sector?

Another part of the network's proposition is the access to the BBC archive - if 6Music went private, it either wouldn't be able to pull that content in, or it would have to do it on an equal footing with other commercial organisations. That might be a good idea, but would cost 6 some of its USP at a time when it would badly need it.

Still, closing 6Music would be on the Radio Centre's wish list, with programming shunted to Radios 1 and 2. This must be at the heart of a thought-through series of suggestions, right?
[T]he Radio Centre, said Radio 1 should focus on teenagers and the under-25s, who are less desirable to advertisers, while Radio 2 should shift its lower age limit up from 40-plus to 45-plus over three years.

Bless their little hearts, the Radio Centre really believe that it's possible to make a couple of tweaks to a playlist here, a late-night line-up there, and you can make the average audience age shift by a year and eight months over the course of fifty-two weeks.

No wonder commercial radio is so dire in the UK if it believes that sort of thing is possible. It simply doesn't understand that people's musical tastes stopped having any direct correlation to the music they listen to sometime around the end of the 1980s. "Two extra Vampire Weekend tracks in drive time a week, and everybody over 60 will switch off."

Let's pretend you could be that precise about twiddling, though, and accept that Radio 1 has a younger audience than 6Music, which in turn has a younger audience than Radio 2.

The Radio Centre want to take out 6, and pass some of its programming to Radio 1 and some to Radio 2.

So Radio 1 will pick up programming currently being listened to by an audience a bit older than its current median, and Radio 2 will add programming that attracts a slightly younger crowd. And that will make the Radio Centre happy.

Except, of course, the Radio Centre want Radio 1's audience to get younger, and Radio 2's to get older. So it will also make the Radio Centre unhappy.

But, hey, the fact that the organisation is just farting out contradictory suggestions doesn't mean that none of its thinking has been worked through, right?
Radio Centre also said that the BBC, as the wealthiest partner, should shoulder all the costs of completing the building digital radio transmission network – the national DAB multiplex and local and regional DAB services – to bring coverage to 98% of the country. If agreed this could be completed by 2013, at a cost of around £100m-£150m, said Andrew Harrison, Radio Centre chief executive.

Now, you can see the attraction - BBC pumps more and more cash into the dying DAB format to ensure that by 2013 everyone can access six slightly-different variants of Heart FM no matter where they live, BBC has less to spend on making programmes.

It must sound great to the Radio Centre, who realised their orignal proposal, that the BBC just throw cash off the roof the Broadcasting House, might even look odd to people who don't pay much attention.

Let's believe this is genuine, though, and the Radio Centre really want a strong DAB network in the UK by 2013 (or six or seven years too late). Why? Commercial Radio has shown bugger-all interest in creating new services for DAB, pleading poverty.

And, at the same time, it's applauding the closure of 6Music, which is one of the few reasons anyone has right now for buying a DAB radio. If the Radio Centre really want music fans to shift to digital radio, can't it see there's a case for having a radio station you can't get on FM already up and broadcasting, to drive take-up while the commercial sector waits to come up with an idea for what it might do on DAB and how it might fund it?

If this was a GCSE project, the Radio Centre would be looking at retakes. If this sort of sloppy thinking is what goes on when they're deciding what to put on air, that - rather than the BBC's licence-funding - might explain why people choose not to listen.


4 comments:

Matt Forman said...

Good piece.

Support for closure of 6 Music only seems to be implicit in their submission, with talk about shifting content around. The Guardian have then stated it explicitly. As you point out, 6 isn't even mentioned in the press release!

There is something else in the summary of the report prepared by Value Partners (attached to their submission): "Value Partners is neutral on the BBC’s proposals to close 6 Music."

RadioCentre don't then actually seem to state a position on the issue directly at all. Attaching the research summary then just looks silly. What a shower. It almost looks as though it could have been written by those BBC Strategy people..

Matt Forman said...

Good piece.

Support for closure of 6 Music only seems to be implicit in their submission, with talk about shifting content around. It's the Guardian who have then stated it explicitly. As you point out, 6 isn't even mentioned in the press release!

There is something else in the summary of the report prepared by Value Partners (actually attached to their submission): "Value Partners is neutral on the BBC’s proposals to close 6 Music."

RadioCentre don't then actually seem to state a position on the issue directly at all. Attaching the research summary then just looks silly. What a shower. It almost looks as though it could have been written by those BBC Strategy people..

Matt Forman said...

Oops - sorry about that. Said it had failed the first time!

Anonymous said...

"If this was a GCSE project, the Radio Centre would be looking at retakes"

To be fair, standards have slipped quite a bit in recent years.

And you can't fault their spelling, punctation and grammar. They give marks for these as well these days.

Post a Comment

As a general rule, posts will only be deleted if they reek of spam.

Post a Comment