John Myers' review of the BBC's popular music stations

Tuesday 14 June 2011, 10:42

Tim Davie Tim Davie Director of Audio & Music

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Today we are making public a report which looks at potential synergies and savings within Radio 1, Radio 2, 6 Music and 1Xtra.

Last year, I asked John Myers - CEO of the Radio Academy and one of the most respected figures in the radio industry - to review how our popular music stations are run and how they work together. The key challenge was to identify possible ways of sensibly reducing costs while protecting the quality of our programmes.

The findings of the report will help us with our current planning as we look to save costs. John's extensive experience in commercial radio meant he could take an informed and objective view of our operations.

He spent six weeks in the networks: interviewing, observing and generally digging around. He was given unrestricted access and met people at all levels of the organisation.

We welcome John's broadly positive report and its acknowledgement of the distinctive, high quality services we offer. It is very good to read John's praise of the outstanding people who work at the radio stations.

Importantly, the report recognises that BBC stations have to deliver against detailed service licences which require significant resources and lead to distinct challenges to those producing commercial radio. In John's words, attempting to simply compare the demands on BBC and Commercial Radio is meaningless: "akin to comparing apples and oranges".

However, this doesn't mean that we can't and shouldn't learn from external best practice - this is the very reason that I commissioned the review. The report has some valuable insights and recommendations which have been fed into our discussions around Delivering Quality First (DQF) - the BBC name for the work that is underway to develop a plan for the period of the next Licence Fee settlement.

While it is too early to speculate on specific outcomes (which would all require BBC Trust approval), our commitment to principles such as simplifying the organisation, reducing unnecessary compliance processes and finding new ways of working has already been stated in public.

Helpfully, John has identified some clear areas where we can look to do things more efficiently, such as improving co-ordination and reducing unnecessary duplication where appropriate.

Just like any big organisation, there are always ways of doing things better and BBC radio should continue to demonstrate that it is brilliant value for money. I want to achieve this while ensuring that we do not see a dilution in quality or a reduction in clear station leadership which is at the heart of our editorial success. This will mean better value for Licence Fee payers while not threatening the programmes that listeners love.

Tim Davie is Director of Audio & Music

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    Comment number 1.

    Although not within the scope of John Myers' review, I was alarmed to read there is a team of people whose job it is to listen to R4X programmes before they are broadcast. With the vast majority of R4X programming being repeats, these programmes will have already gone through their compliance checks on original R4 transmission, and the risk of any of R4X programmes falling foul of new 'topical sensitivities' or inappropriate time-scheduling is surely very small indeed. I don't doubt there are other useful functions such producers carry out (gleaning and collating old programme information), but the 'having to listen to everything' part of the process seems an entirely pointless waste of time and money to me.

    Russ

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    Comment number 2.

    #1 Hi Russ

    I don't know if you saw the comment on the R4 blog on this very matter. I'll publish it here as it's relevant to the point you make:

    "Actually, our primary reasons for listening to programmes prior to broadcast are pretty prosaic.

    Firstly most of our archive has to be digitised from the original tapes. So whilst checking the final sound quality before broadcast – we also need to capture information about the programmes.

    Some shows haven't been heard for decades – so information is needed for DAB radio, digital TV and the iPlayer – as well as the press, Radio Times billings, previews etc. Paperwork from the distant past is often spectacularly unhelpful or simply missing.

    We also document real life references (e.g. people, events, etc) Just because a programme was made 10 or 30 years ago doesn’t mean it can no longer cause offence today if inappropriately scheduled. From Robin Cook to Michael Jackson - many famous folk have been lampooned over the years – but in the event of their deaths, we have to be sensitive about broadcasting shows poking fun at them in the immediate months after their passing.

    The same goes for terrorist attacks, natural calamities, plane crashes, rail disasters, maritime accidents, elections, poignant anniversaries – you'd be amazed how old programmes can jar with topical events. Yes, occasionally the older entries in the archive yield up moments reflecting different attitudes of a different time - sexism / racism / homophobia - but in that instance we advise our presenters to include an original transmission date to provide context in the programme's introduction."

    Thanks, Paul

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    Comment number 3.

    Yes, Paul, I had read that R4 blog comment. That was what I was responding to. My point is that the culture of the compliance process for the likes of R4 and R4X is way over the top (and many would argue it is also over the top for R1 and R2), and if the BBC wants to make sensible savings, then that is one of the main areas to start. Also, Martin Dempsey's response is full of holes - whilst it is true that old material has to be digitised, isn't the QA on that process carried out at that stage? Why does the 'quality' have to be checked a second time? Furthermore, the majority of R4X output is already digitised, so the degree of digitilisation for R4X is currently small. (I wish it were more, but that is another subject.) I take Martin's point about the paucity of information about old programmes, but R4X then negates its whole argument by intentionally wasting time rewriting and reinventing R4 programme information already held in the iPlayer database. The whole approach is absurd and inefficient.

    Insofar as we are talking about R4X, we are both somewhat offtopic here. If Tim Davie wants to generalise the scope of his enquiry on 'saving money', maybe a useful debate could be had, but it would need to encompass iPlayer radio processes, parts of which seem to me to be in a dreadfully inefficient state.

    Russ

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    Comment number 4.

    Whilst 'potential synergies and savings' sounds like something from Private Eye's Birtspeak or Corporate Pseuds Corner, there is no doubt that the BBC's multi-platform presence at events such as Glastonbury provides fuel for the 'haters' and the different production processes is symptomatic of a culture that views each entity as a seperate 'brand.' Quite why the BBC needed an outside 'expert' to identify these obvious duplications and inconsistencies is perhaps indicative of yet more timidity in the face of Daily Mail/Sun onslaughts. I have no expertise in radio production but surely there are senior BBC managers who can address these issues without the need to hire in private sector consultants to state the bleeding obvious.

    The most outstanding part of John Myers' report was the budget table. A combined cost of £101.2 million to provide four radio stations, two of which are entirely digital. The fact that 1xtra receives £8.5 for a niche market that barely registers in any notable cultural or even musical manner is absurd. 6music meanwhile (my favourite station) still recieves £7.4 even though it reaches just a fraction of radio 1/2 audience.

    Ofcourse quality should never be measured merely by audience numbers and some of the best radio programmes (eg Late Junction) have very small audiences yet the ghettoisation of BBC radio especially digitally, has been a failure. The Asian network fiasco only highlighted how tokenistic 'ethnic' or 'niche' programming in the end alienates everybody. There is no need to switch presenters from Radio to 2, and 2 to 6music based on 'demographic' research. Good presenters are good presenters, bad ones are bad ones, whether or not they can cue up their own records or newsfeeds or not. Unfortunately the BBC has painted itself into a corner, maintaining its public broadcasting brief whilst kow towing to the commercial demands of anti-licence fee brigade. BBC radio is one entity and across the spectrum offers perhaps the best range of programming anywhere in the world yet it is far too reliant on existing presenters/producers from mainstream tv and radio and needs to look far more to nurturing new talent in the regions in order to keep an element of competion and to reflect the diversity of modern Britain.

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    Comment number 5.

    I still don't see why the BBC is obliged to provide popular music at all. It can all be found at various points along the dial and serves no purpose but to support the commercial iterests of the music industry as a whole.

 

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