Sunday, March 07, 2010

6Music: Davie regrets line of action, continues to follow it

In a bid to try and persuade a dubious public that killing off a radio station makes perfect sense, Tim Davie did a blog post. He came to bury 6Music, not praise it:

"Clearly we didn't arrive lightly at the decision to recommend the closure of 6 Music: it is distinctive, much-loved and I too am passionate about its output."

In fact, it's hard to imagine that it's done anything wrong. You know, people say to me, Tim, you'd have to be insane to kill off such a brilliantly-conceived network. But... uh, I got reasons. Sure, I got reasons.
I believe the best way for us to provide that kind of programming is by looking at other ways to find it a bigger audience.

You know, Tim, you're right. If there's a coherent body of programming, what better way to grow the audience for it by smashing it into pieces, and scattering it around rather than having it all in one place.
Currently, only one in five adults have heard of it and less than one in 50 listens each week.

Tim: it's a specialist station. This is a pathetic justification for taking the station away, isn't it?

Davie, you'll recall, has a background in marketing and Pepsi; not a disqualification for being in charge of the BBC radio portfolio, but clearly something of a handicap when it comes to assessing the cultural value of a network. A man whose sole recourse is to polling data and sales figures will always see this as being about brand, and not about art.
Yes, we could invest heavily in marketing to try to address this, but my preference is to ensure that money is focussed on unique, high quality radio, not supporting a large number of services.

So, effectively, you're admitting that 6Music has been underpromoted, and yet still gets 2% of the nation listening to it. For a specialist service.

And for that, it must be punished.
While we are re-focussing on fewer networks, we will consider how the range of music played on Radio 1, Radio 2 and Radio 3 should adjust to ensure we continue to offer a diverse spectrum of new and UK music as part of our stronger focus on originality and distinctiveness.

But are 1,2 or 3 currently broken and need this sort of fixing? If Radio 2 really did need an injection of perfection from 6Music, wouldn't it make more sense to kill off Radio 2 instead? And why should Radio 1's audience suddenly lose some of their programming to make space for scraps from the axed network?
I also believe it is essential that, as we re-invest the money currently spent on 6 Music, we protect some of its precious programming by redeploying it elsewhere in BBC Radio and consider how we can also do justice to its legacy in areas like new music development.

So... let's get this straight: you're claiming that the money being taken by saving 6Music is going to be spent on making 6Music programmes elsewhere?

You know, I might believe you more if you actually gave some indication what programming you consider to be "precious" on 6Music. A name, a presenter, a musical style? If you want support for your plans, why can't you tell us what these plans are?

At the moment, you have the air of a man about to knock down a building saying "of course, we'll drag the survivors out."

Nobody can see any room on Radio 1 or Radio 2 for 6Music programmes to be placed in any great numbers; lobbing, say, The FreakZone onto Radio 2 at 3am on Thursdays isn't really going to build its audience any. Nobody can imagine what your brilliant plan for these unnamed "precious" programmes is.

While Davie's 6Music plot is murky, his idea for the future of the Asian Network is insulting:
The Asian Network has offered a distinctive national service to British Asian audiences since it moved onto a digital platform in 2002. But the increasing plurality and diversity of British Asian audiences are stretching the coherence and relevance of this service, its audience reach is in decline and its cost per listener is high. While the quality of much of its programming is very high, changes in its strategy have led to an inconsistent listening experience and the national station has been less successful at replicating the sense of community which was fundamental to the growth of the original local Asian service. So we have proposed closing the Asian Network as a national service and will be exploring a number of options for redeploying its investment, including replacing it with a network of part-time local services. We believe this would offer listeners a better service - Asian Networks where they're most relevant - closer to audiences and with a mixture of locally tailored and syndicated programmes.

One of the great things about radio is the power to make people feel connected. And given that there are British Asian families in every town and county of Britain, having a national service makes sense. Davie seems to be suggesting that the only British Asians he wants to serve are those who live in places with high proportions of British Asians in the population. But isn't the value of the Asian Network in offering connection and virtual community to those who live in areas where they don't have a large physical community to connect with? Shouldn't the Asian Network have more value for a town with, say, no Bangladeshi community centre than one that does?

Either there's a need for radio output reflecting the British Asian experience, or there isn't. Davie's plans suggest even he believes there is such a need. So why design it in a way that cuts off the very people who need it the most?


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