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Rescheduling Radio 4

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Tony Pilgrim 16:30, Friday, 4 November 2011

Francine and Bruce Robinson

The Film Programme moves to Thursdays starting next week when one of the guests is the writer and
director of film classic Withnail and I, Bruce Robinson, director of new release The Rum Diary.

As Paul Murphy posted earlier this week, next Monday sees the start of The World At One's extension to 45 minutes. Gwyn has set out the editorial rationale behind this 15 minute extension.

I will try to explain here some of the issues and opportunities we face when working through a reschedule of this kind.

The challenges set by this change include:

  • A total of one hour 15 minutes added across Monday-Friday, one hour 15 minutes needs to come out
  • The cost of the schedule needs to be balanced
  • The shape of the schedule changes - different sized holes in different places
  • New homes need to be found for displaced programmes
  • An opportunity to make the schedule work best for contemporary afternoon audiences

Adding 15 minutes Monday to Friday adds up to one hour 15 minutes that needs to come out of the schedule, so something had to give.

We explored various options, all of them difficult as there are no programmes in our schedule that are without merit, and every one has its fans among our loyal audience.

We wanted to keep the reduction in originations (as opposed to repeats) to a minimum, just to balance the schedule cost and no more.

Our decision, reluctantly, was to drop the repeat of the Archive on 4, to drop one short story per week from the Radio 4 schedule, and to displace one per week to Sunday at 7.45 pm.

The extension meant that a 15 minute space opened up from 1.45pm to 2.00 pm. We had been thinking for some time about how we could get the highly acclaimed Narrative History and 15 minute feature series available to a higher audience than its current 3.45 pm slot, and this was the natural move.

This changed the shape of the afternoons, as there would no longer be the 15 minute gaps Tuesday to Thursdays at 3.30 pm where the short stories currently sit.

Also, if we were to keep to a minimum the number of programmes dropped, we needed the space for displaced half hour programmes. It does mean that some other programmes are inevitably moving to lower audience slots, but in many cases the move results in a fairly neutral change in size.

Whilst grappling with this logistical jigsaw puzzle, we also wanted to keep trying to make an afternoon schedule that works for today's afternoon audiences. I say audiences plural, because we have a diverse audience with diverse lifestyles.

For example, we have listeners for whom 3-4 pm is a time to relax and be gently entertained or diverted. At the same time we have others who are racing around to finish one task and moving on to the next, but still wanting to dip into our programmes.

With Radio 4's broad mix of genres and variety of formats this is not a perfect science. But we hope that this next iteration of the schedule is coherent and attractive - a bit clearer in terms of what kind of thing to expect in different parts of the afternoon.

One of the questions raised so far concerns how some programmes have moved to different days as well as times.

Let's take the case of The Film Programme, which moves from 4.30 on Friday to 4.00 on Thursday. We had the half hour of Feedback / More Or Less (these series share the same slot across the year) being displaced from 1.30 pm on Friday. We wanted to keep the 45 minute Gardeners' Question Time in its current 3.00 pm Friday slot. So we had only two half-hour slots between 4.00 and 5.00 on Fridays to play with, currently occupied by Last Word and The Film Programme.

We decided that Last Word and Feedback / More Or Less should stay on Fridays, and that we would move The Film Programme to Thursday afternoons at 4.00-4.30. This has the added advantage of moving Radio 4's main film programme away from being scheduled on the same afternoon as 5 live's main film programme, Kermode and Mayo's Film Review. This was not a key driver of our decision, but is an improvement in terms of providing more choice for audiences who listen across BBC networks, where we try to avoid having the same genre of programmes at the same time in the schedule, apart from obvious peak news times.

We do not make these changes lightly.

We now have the great advantage that all of these programmes can be listened to on-demand, so that if people have access to a computer or enabled mobile device, they will still be able to listen to their favourite programmes at a time to suit them.

But we know that for the vast majority of listeners it is the live schedule that is their companion at different times of the day. We will continue to review and evolve the schedule, taking on board the various views we gain from audience research, Feedback, comments on the blogs and elsewhere, and try to please everyone at least some of the time!

Thanks for the feedback so far.

Tony Pilgrim is Head of Planning and Scheduling at BBC Radio 4

Other blog posts about the schedule change:

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