Audience Councils

Annual Review 2014-15

Introduction by Trust member for England and Chair of Audience Council England

Having just taken up the role as the Trust member for England it is a great honour to work for the Trust and to represent the licence-fee payers of England in particular. The BBC contributes enormously to the life of people across the UK as well as to many millions across the world, and I hope will continue to inspire as a catalyst to creativity, the arts and enterprise across all of the UK. Its contribution to the UK’s national life and as a source of balanced and fair information for its citizens has never been more important.  The public’s trust in it remains high and its reach is still almost universal – a great achievement.  

I would like to thank my predecessors Alison Hastings and Diane Coyle, who chaired the Council during 2014-15, for their expertise and commitment to the work of Audience Council England. My thanks also go to the volunteer members of the Audience Council and the twelve regional panels for their interest and clear understanding of what matters to licence fee payers.

As we meet through the coming year it will be their views which will help to bring vital local and regional perspectives to our discussions and activities; ensuring that the interests and expectations of audiences across England continue to inform the Trust’s work in both holding the BBC to account and on the future strategy of the organisation during the BBC’s Charter review process.

Mark Florman, Trust member for England

Audience Council activity during the year

Our role is to advise the BBC Trust with insights on the performance of the BBC from the perspective of audiences across England, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man. To do this we are supported by a network of audience panels, one in each of the BBC’s 12 broadcasting regions in England.

Between April 2014 and March 2015 we met six times as Audience Council England, and led 36 panel meetings which were usually held in BBC regional centres across England. 

During the year we held Audience Council England meetings in Birmingham, Salford and London.  We have received briefings covering national, regional and local programming, strategy, diversity performance and policy which ensured we were well informed in our discussions on behalf of audiences in England.

Providing advice to the BBC Trust

During the year we report regularly to the Trust. We provide advice from an audience perspective on various aspects of the Trust’s work, such as the consultations and reviews of BBC services.  In addition, each year some of our members join colleagues from the other three Audience Councils and meet with the BBC Trust. It enables us to talk about the performance of the BBC in each of the four nations and discuss the viewpoints and priorities for audiences and licence-fee payers around the UK.

Through regular meetings with our panel members in each English region we have discussed the importance and value of the BBC’s local, regional and network services. They tell us that they appreciate the BBC’s traditional role as a public service broadcaster and welcome the investment and innovation in BBC online and digital services, enabling local and regional journalism to reach and serve all audiences including new, often younger audiences.

As a Council we believe that the Trust should continue to encourage innovation and creative enterprise in all BBC services to sustain both the provision of high-quality programmes - from drama and comedy, news and current affairs to entertainment, music, sport and factual programmes – and to reflect the lives, experiences and interests of the diverse audience and population in England.

In our meetings we have discussed how all audiences are served within the range of BBC output and services, in particular for reaching and representing the younger 16-34 audience, the Black and Asian minority ethnic (BAME) audience, the rural audience and older audiences in England. We consider that it is essential for the BBC, as a leading public service broadcaster, to represent and portray authentically the many aspects of contemporary life in England; to ensure that across the range of its services there is something for everyone.

Much of our work this year has focussed on providing insight into the Trust’s reviews of the BBC’s Music Radio services and Speech Radio services; and, with members of our regional panels, we have discussed how well and how effectively the BBC’s network radio stations are serving audiences in England.

We contributed to the Trust’s review of the BBC’s music radio services – Radio 1, Radio 1 Xtra, Radio 2, Radio 3, Radio 6 Music and Asian Network – which found that the BBC’s music radio stations are distinctive and perform a vital role in the development and promotion of UK music. You can read our submission to the review.

We found that there was an impressive breadth of entertaining and informative programming providing some outstanding new, UK and live music appealing to a variety of different audience interests. We considered that the radio stations are performing well against many aspects of their service licences and together offer a diverse range of high-quality, creative, varied and distinctive content that is widely appreciated and valued by audiences.  In contributing to our review of BBC music radio our panel members told us that their appreciation and enjoyment of the music radio portfolio of stations came from hearing both the familiar and well-known on their radio stations of choice while also discovering fresh and innovative music and cultural content.

 

During the year we also discussed and contributed to the Trust’s review of the BBC’s Speech Radio services – Radio 4, Radio 4 Extra, Radio 5live and 5 live Sports Extra - which looked at how well the speech radio stations performed.  In our advice to the Trust we recognised that BBC speech radio is appreciated by audiences for the calibre and range of programmes, for the varied content, both original, archive and long established; and for the essential service the individual stations deliver in the broader cultural life of the UK. Our panel members valued the absence of adverts and praised the standard of programming across the four speech radio stations. Clearly the way many of us listen to radio is evolving – with smartphones, tablets and laptops joining the more traditional radio set at home, at work or in the car. In that context we asked what more might the BBC do to connect with the next generation of radio listeners given the value of speech radio to audiences.   Our full submission to the review will be published later in 2015 alongside the Trust’s publication of its findings.

 

We considered and contributed to the Trust’s initial consultation as part of the public value test (PVT) of the BBC Executive’s proposals for the closure of BBC Three as a broadcast channel and its re-invention as an online offer; the evolution of BBC iPlayer; the launch of a +1 channel for BBC One and extended hours for CBBC.  The Council recognised that the ways in which the audience accesses broadcast programmes on television is developing and this brings new possibilities for the BBC to innovate and to keep pace with changing technology and audience preferences, such as those explored in the range of proposals. While we welcomed the concept to adapt and transform BBC Three for 16-34 year olds, we felt that a phased transition would be preferable to an immediate closure of the BBC Three channel and a simultaneous launch as an online only service.  You can read our submission to the first consultation.

Our assessment of the performance of the BBC in England

Each year our members provide an assessment to the BBC Trust of the BBC’s performance in England. We do this from the perspective of the audience, to identify the strengths and highlights as well as areas for development.  

Approval of the BBC in England remains high, with around 96 per cent of people in England using some of the BBC’s services each week; and with 79 per cent of audiences in England saying that they would miss the BBC; and 60 per cent considering that the BBC offers value for money, which is the highest among the four nations of the UK. 

Strengths and highlights in 2014

  • Overall high-level performance of the BBC in England

    We have no concern with the overall performance of the BBC in England. Through our work and discussions as part of the Trust’s reviews of BBC Music Radio and BBC Speech Radio we found that BBC network radio performs steadily across England, reaching 66 per cent of the population each week and with an audience share of 54 per cent. We are pleased that the BBC continues to provide real breadth and range of content across its services.

    Last year we found that BBC network television performed well across England with around 84 per cent of the population watching some BBC Television each week. This year we found that each of the main BBC television services are performing effectively with  their service licences, offering distinctive drama and comedy, entertainment and factual across the range of channels ensuring there is choice and variety for all tastes and interests.

    While live TV viewing still dominates for all audiences, children and young adults are spending more of their time online. We understand there is a slight decline in TV viewing among younger audiences given the expanding range of choice for online entertainment and information.
    We understand too that there are some decreases in reach and time spent listening to radio, and with listening habits evolving the BBC must continue to innovate and develop strategies to meet changing audience needs in an increasingly fragmented market, particularly bearing in mind younger adults and audiences from different demographic groups.

  • Performance of local and regional services in England

    We consider that there is a great deal of distinctive, engaging journalism in regional news and current affairs programmes, much of which is significantly different from that available on the national news.  We are aware that the growth in the usage of online, including social media, for news, weather and travel is having an impact on audience reach of TV and radio, particularly for younger adults; and we value the BBC’s development of its own online offer, including the roll-out of the Local Live social media feed on the local websites.

    The 6.30pm BBC regional news programmes on BBC One continue to be watched by around 48 per cent of adults in England each week, compared with the ITV regional news, at 6.00pm, which reaches around 24 per cent.
  • We welcome the announcement from James Harding, the BBC’s Director, News in his speech on the Future of News project that “We have renewed the case for the BBC’s contribution to the revival of local journalism”. We also appreciate the importance he places on the BBC’s role redressing the balance in national versus local news and we are pleased to see the pilot of extended regional news in England after the national news at Ten, during the early part of 2015. We look forward to learning more about the progress and impact of the Future of News project and the evolving strategy for BBC local and regional journalism during 2015.

    We consider that Inside Out, BBC One’s regional current affairs television magazine programme is an essential component of regional journalism in England, and we believe that it remains editorially strong.  Our panel members have told us that they value the relevance of the programme in each region and consider it offers content unavailable elsewhere.  That said, this year we found that the editions focussing on a single topic such as pensions or dementia did not attract any more viewers than the usual format covering several topics. We feel that the scheduling and trailing of these programmes remain important to ensure they have the best chance of reaching interested viewers. We are also keen to understand whether the BBC’s ongoing efficiency and budget cuts may be having an impact on the performance of the series.  We hope that the Trust’s service review of local radio and local news provision in the English Regions will provide an opportunity to investigate whether the resources available to Inside Out are sufficient to allow it to deliver high quality and relevant journalism.

    BBC Local Radio remains a key part of the BBC’soffer to its heartland audience in each region of England.

    This year the BBC has developed a number of initiatives within Local Radio including the ambition to have women presenting or co-presenting the breakfast programme on at least half of local radio stations; and there has continued to be successful collaboration between BBC Local Radio and BBC Network Radio for BBC Introducing. We are pleased that each local radio station now has its own political reporter and we value the role of the service in local democracy in holding decision makers and political representatives to account.

    However during the last year we noted that local radio listening has continued to decline with wide variances at an individual station level. And, since 2013, we believe that the stations have become less local due to budget cuts which have necessitated the introduction of a single “All England” programme on weekdays from 7-10pm, as well as programmes in the later weekday evenings and weekends covering larger areas than previously and fewer programmes now aimed at minority audiences.

    We have discussed the performance of BBC Local Radio with our panel members as we begin work in preparation for the Trust’s service review in 2015.   While we understand that BBC Local Radio is being squeezed by other radio and newer online offers, it is a key service for the English heartland audience, playing a significant role in providing local news, information and entertainment to each English Region, urban and rural, particularly in those areas which are less well-served by other media. Our panel members do not underestimate the value of BBC Local Radio in providing local insights and companionship to its core, heartland audience.  We want to understand the factors which underlie and inform the decline in listening as we consider that BBC Local Radio remains fundamental for the BBC to deliver its public purpose to serve nations, regions and communities.

    BBC Online has continued to roll out an offer called Local Live, which provides brief updates of local news, sport, travel, weather, user comments and links to external sites. One of our priorities last year was to encourage the BBC to innovate and take risks both on-air and in the use of new technology and we welcome the development of the websites which have resulted in increased audiences and appreciation. We consider that Local Live has had a positive impact on perceptions of quality of the BBC’s local news online and we will continue to monitor the progress and the audience benefits in England over the coming year.

Priorities for 2015/16

Last year we said that the 2011 census had shown how much more diverse the population of England has become since the start of the millennium.  In our discussions through the year we have noted the challenges and opportunities for the BBC in serving all audiences and demographic groups, particularly for the 16-34s and the Black and Asian minority ethnic audience in England who are watching and listening to less BBC programming. This clearly remains an issue for the BBC which must provide programmes which appeal to our more diverse society;  that reflect contemporary trends and interests across its services;  and mirror the changing populations of all regions of England on radio, TV and online.

We have suggested the following issues to the Trust as priorities for audiences in England during the coming year.

  • Consider how best to serve local audiences to address the year-on-year decline in reach and share for BBC Local Radio.
  • Ensure continued investment and innovation in BBC local and regional journalism and content on television, radio and online.
  • Provide programmes and services which routinely represent the interests and lives of the diverse population and audience in England.
  • Encourage innovation to transform the BBC’s offer and range of services for younger audiences, while continuing to provide something for all licence fee payers.

Audience Council England members (April 2014 - March 2015)

 

Alison Hastings (Chair) Trust member for England (to October 2014)
Diane Coyle (Chair) Vice-Chairman, BBC Trust (from November 2014 to March 2015)
Wendy Andrews East (to February 2015)
Nadine Boreland East Midlands representative (from April- December 2014)
Jo Curry North East and Cumbria
Sanjay Dighe London
Felicity Harvest South East
Robin Jones West Midlands
Shabana Kausar West
Alvin Kofi North West
Adrian Morgan East Midlands (attended March and September 2014, otherwise on sabbatical until January 2015)
Ian Palmer Yorkshire
Toni Shaw South
David Sleight Yorkshire and Lincolnshire
Liz Waugh South West

 

Current members of Audience Council England.