The BBC’s Audience Councils advise the Trust on how well the BBC fulfils its Public Purposes and serves those who pay the licence fee across the UK. In order to be better informed, Audience Council Wales holds meetings with audiences across Wales to hear about the things of importance to them and to advise the Trust on matters of concern. Audience Council Wales carried out its dual function vigorously during the year.
As well as establishing partnerships with external organisations, to enable it to host events, the Council was also able to benefit from the personal networks of individual members, which resulted in access to very useful insights. The Council also hosted a seminar with opinion formers in November to investigate and discuss the changing nature of the audiences of English language media in Wales and consider the challenge for public service broadcasters in serving them. It was delighted to welcome the BBC’s Director of Strategy James Purnell, Director BBC Cymru Wales Rhodri Talfan Davies and Government of Wales Chief Statistician, Glyn Jones, to speak at the event.
The Council particularly welcomed two positive developments in relation to the BBC’s Welsh language provision during the past year – the launch of the Cymru Fyw app and service in May 2014 and the provision from autumn 2014 onwards of all S4C’s output on the BBC iPlayer, initially on a trial basis, – both of which have paid dividends in terms of serving Welsh audiences, with the latter also demonstrating the positive partnership between S4C and the BBC.
I wish to thank my fellow members and the Trust’s officers in Wales for their commitment to the BBC’s audiences, and Director Wales and his senior team for their regular comprehensive reports to the Council. My aim is to continue to increase the transparency and visibility of the Council so as to strengthen its advice to the Trust – particularly so during the crucial period around the renegotiation of the BBC Royal Charter – ensuring that the interests of audiences in Wales are at the forefront of those negotiations.
BBC Audience Council Wales event with students at Coleg Menai-Llandrillo, Glynllifon
Audience Council Activity through the year
The BBC’s Royal Charter gives the Audience Council the remit of submitting a report each year to the BBC Trust on the BBC’s performance in promoting its Public Purposes in Wales and advising the Trust on issues drawn to its attention by the audience.
In a new departure, the Council conducted outreach activity at three public events during the summer of 2014, asking people at the Royal Welsh Agricultural Show, the National Eisteddfod in Llanelli, and at the Rhyl Air Show, for their views on BBC services, and Council members heard from almost four hundred members of the public during these events.
Another new venture was a seminar hosted by the Council at BBC Hoddinott Hall at the Wales Millennium Centre, the purpose of which was to investigate and discuss the changing nature of the audiences of English language media in Wales and consider the challenge for public service broadcasting in serving them. To this end, the Council was delighted to welcome the BBC’s Director of Strategy James Purnell, Director BBC Cymru Wales Rhodri Talfan Davies and Government of Wales Chief Statistician, Glyn Jones, to speak at the event. It provided valuable insights into the nature of the BBC’s audiences in Wales to the Council and to the guests present.
Audience Council Wales Report on BBC Performance in Wales 2014-15
During the year under review (April 2014-March 2015) the Council received presentations from BBC Trust staff, Director BBC Cymru Wales and senior BBC managers from Wales and beyond, on how the BBC as a whole was performing in Wales and fulfilling the BBC’s Public Purposes. The Council’s seminar on the BBC’s audiences was also very helpful in this regard, combining as it did information on the population of Wales from the Government of Wales’ Chief Statistician, and insights from two BBC Directors.
In its annual report to the Trust it considered the performance of the BBC in Wales between April 2014 and March 2015. The Council outlines its views on the BBC’s performance in Wales during 2014-15 in three sections – in relation to the BBC’s Network, pan-UK, services; the BBC’s output produced for radio, TV and on-line in Wales and for Wales; and finally, its success or otherwise in fulfilling the BBC’s Public Purposes in Wales. The Council will be undertaking extensive audience engagement on the latter during the year ahead, as the Trust undertakes its Service Review of Nations’ Radio and News.
The Council considers that development work, currently underway, on the shape of a new draft BBC Royal Charter for the period from 2017, should focus on developing a stronger TV offering for audiences in Wales – both at a UK-wide Network and a Wales level – and ensuring that BBC News services offer the most relevant service possible for audiences across Wales.
BBC Network Services
In considering the BBC’s UK-wide Network services in Wales, the Council has used the Trust’s performance framework, and has considered the services in relation to their Reach, Quality, Approval, and their value for money.
The Council observed that during the period under review, the weekly reach of all BBC television in Wales despite having dropped from 87% to 85%, was still 3 points above the level for the whole UK. Average time spent per viewer watching BBC TV at 11:59 hours is also highest in Wales of the UK’s nations, as is the BBC’s audience share with BBC One very popular in Wales.
It is a similar picture for all BBC Radio with weekly reach at 76%, average time spent per listener at 16:26 hours and audience share at 60% in Wales, higher than the other UK nations. The Council has become very aware through its audience outreach activity during 2014-15 relating to both the Trust’s Network Music Services Review BBC and Speech Radio Services Review, of the importance afforded by a high proportion of BBC audiences to its UK-wide Network radio stations. The Council heard frequently that Radio 1, Radio 2, Radio 3 and Radio 4, as well as the associated ‘Extra’ stations, were a source of entertainment, education and information, as well as companionship, to many listeners. Further details on the comments received by the Council can be found both by reading the reports of individual outreach events and the Council’s submission to the Trust’s Speech Radio Services Review and Music Radio Services Review.
The Council was encouraged that the BBC scored strongly on quality, with general impression of the BBC in Wales at 7.08 (out of 10). However, the Trust’s Purpose Remit Survey showed that the likelihood to miss the BBC had increased from 82% in autumn 2013 to 85% in autumn 2014.
The perceived value for money of the BBC in Wales at 5.75 was virtually identical to the UK average of 5.76. The Trust’s Purpose Remit Survey shows that 56% of those questioned in Wales considered the BBC good value for money.
BBC Cymru Wales services
Television opts: The Council remains encouraged by the performance of BBC Wales’ TV opt-out programmes in English with a 15 minute weekly reach of 32% and the non-news opt outs having a reach of 22%. Programming made in Wales for Welsh audiences also consistently outperforms UK-wide Network (UK) programming on appreciation and share, with share difference close to its highest level for a decade.
At each and every audience outreach event hosted by the Council it is told of the high regard in which the public holds BBC Wales’ TV programmes made for audiences in Wales. The Council shares the public’s deep concern that the volume of non-news opts programming is becoming ever thinner. As Ofcom’s latest Communication Market Report for Wales observes - “Wales was the only nation that saw a reduction in first-run originated output year on year, down 3% on 2012. Over the five-year period since 2008 the number of hours of first-run originated programming (from all broadcasters) for Wales fell by almost a quarter (23%) to 923 hours in 2013”.
Council recognises that serving the nation in a meaningful way through on-screen portrayal, and reflecting it to itself by exploring contemporary issues in news, factual, comedy and drama programmes, remains one of the biggest challenges facing BBC Wales. The Council agrees that BBC Wales’ decision to prioritise news and sport in its English language TV output for Wales was the correct decision.
It believes that the lack of providers of other news of Wales means that this was the correct decision and is reassured that BBC Wales TV News reaches just over half of all adults in Wales each week. However, it remains a matter of deep concern that this decision is having such a significant impact on other genres, and in particular on drama and comedy.
BBC Radio Wales and BBC Radio Cymru: Radio Wales and Radio Cymru have both experienced mixed fortunes during the period under review and the Council recognises the fiercely competitive landscape within which both stations operate. One likely factor relating to the situation is the increasing popularity of Radio 2 in Wales, which now reaches 45% of over 35-year-olds in Wales. It is encouraged that both stations have experienced an increase in the time audiences spend listening to them (Radio Wales – up from 08:28 to 09:05, and Radio Cymru – up from 10:12 to 10:27) and that average hours of listening, per listener, for both stations were at their highest for over three years. The Council considers that both have extended the breadth of voices on the stations through extending the range of presenters on both stations.
BBC Wales News and Current Affairs: The Council is content that BBC Wales’ evening news programmes in both Welsh and English have retained their reach with a 3 minute weekly reach of 53% among adults for all BBC Wales Today’s bulletins and Newyddion broadcast on S4C retaining its audience levels despite the continued decline in S4C’s average peak-time audiences.
BBC Online Wales: The Council welcomes the continued success of BBC Wales’ online services with the number of web devices accessing them staying broadly stable at 3.5m and news and sport still being the key drivers. The Council also heard at outreach events that audiences have strongly welcomed the introduction of the Welsh language BBC Cymru Fyw on-line service and app during the past year
Pam Hunt talking to an audience member at the RWAS Agricultural Show, Llanelwedd
Report on BBC Performance in Wales against the BBC Public Purposes between April 2014 and March 2015
Promoting citizenship and sustaining civil society: There are two major issues that have arisen for the ACW regarding this Purpose during the past year’s audience outreach work, which are reinforced by the data from the Trust’s Purpose Remit survey. Firstly, while the Council recognises some significant improvements in some Network News output in comparing policy positions and legislation across the UK’s nations, with Radio 4’s World at One being a good example, audiences remain concerned that this is not reflected in the UK’s flagship TV news programmes. To give one example, the Council is particularly concerned at the possibility that audiences in Wales could be better informed about the NHS in England than the NHS in Wales as a result of BBC Network News’ lack of attention to the latter. The performance gap (an analytic tool for understanding the relationship between the BBC’s performance relating to an element of its core purpose and the perceived importance of that purpose) relating to the question the BBC “represents my nation in the main UK news programmes” was at -19, with 45% of the respondents of the view that the BBC failed to do so. Secondly, and this is a related point, the Council remains concerned at the implications of the paucity of Radio 2’s coverage of Wales in its news output in light of its popularity in Wales. It considers that it compounds the overall lack of news from Wales on the UK-wide Networks.
Stimulating creativity and cultural excellence: Almost all the BBC’s activity contributes in some way to this Purpose.
The Council recognises this and particularly welcomes the success of BBC Wales in supplying BBC Television with UK-wide programming with a further increase in its provision yet again during the year under review, and the programmes produced being amongst the most successful on the BBC. The Council remains concerned however at the lack of the portrayal of Wales on UK-wide BBC TV with 7 years having now passed since the last major portrayal of Wales in UK drama through Gavin and Stacey and Torchwood. It also welcomed the consistently high appreciation scores of BBC Wales TV programmes produced in Wales for Wales. It feels serious concern however that the volume of output, beyond the core news services, is becoming ever thinner in all genres and that quality is being maintained only as a result of creative partnerships, such as the one with S4C to produce Y Gwyll-Hinterland. As noted above, the Council remains concerned at the continued impact of the BBC’s DQF savings on the quality and breadth of content and output. It will continue to pay close attention during the year ahead to what audience members tell it about their perception of the impact of savings on the realisation of this Purpose and on the BBC’s output across all platforms. In particular, the Council will consider the breadth and volume of English language TV programmes produced in Wales for audiences in Wales, since the Council is regularly told by audience members about the importance they place on seeing themselves reflected in the BBC’s programming and content.
The BBC National Orchestra of Wales was considered by the Council to be a cornerstone of artistic life in Wales and contributed to fulfilling this Purpose with its contributions to a number of TV programmes and its live and broadcast concerts on Radio 3, Radio Cymru and Radio Wales. Also, through its innovative and ground-breaking outreach activity and its specialist concerts such as its concert of compositions by women composers, conducted by Jessica Cottis, which took place on International Women’s Day in March. The Council particularly welcomed the Orchestra’s involvement with the BBC’s Ten Pieces project (an exciting initiative for schools, led by BBC Learning and the BBC Performing Groups, focusing on classical music and creativity) and the launch of the BBC Music strategy.
From the audience outreach work undertaken by the Council during the period under review, it is evident that the BBC continues to fulfil a crucial role in terms of educating the public. Time and again, the Council heard of the value placed by audiences on Factual programming and also on the more formal learning resources provided on-line by the BBC – with Bitesize mentioned frequently during the Council’s outreach work amongst young people. It has heard in particular during recent months about the value afforded by audiences to the coverage of the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War and the associated cross-platform resources.
Representing the UK, its nations, regions and communities: The Council is strongly supportive of the excellent programmes produced at the BBC drama production facility in Roath Lock, Cardiff Bay, and is encouraged by the increasing number of commissions produced there which contribute to this Purpose. However, there remains the clear challenge of increasing the number of drama productions which reflect particular places and communities across the UK and properly reflecting the variety and diversity evident in society across Wales and indeed the whole UK. In this context it is a matter of concern to the Council that the greatest Purpose Gap in the Trust’s Purpose Remit Survey in Wales related to this purpose score at -12.
The Council was encouraged that 61% of the Welsh speakers questioned as part of the Purpose Remit Survey felt “the BBC supports my minority language” and considers that a contributor to this perception could have been both the launch of the BBC Cymru Fyw Welsh language app, and the availability of all S4C’s programming on the BBC iPlayer from November 2014 – both of which have been warmly welcomed by the public at ACW audience outreach events.
Bringing the UK to the world and the world to the UK: The most significant insight afforded by the Council’s audience outreach activity in relation to this Purpose, has been the welcome given to the closer cooperation between the domestic BBC and World Service news teams, which the public tell Council has significantly improved the breadth and depth of the news coverage from outside the UK.
Delivering to the public the benefit of emerging communications technologies and services: This remains a pivotal purpose for the Council as for audiences and it has been encouraged that during the period between April 2014 and March 2015 there has been an improvement in the DAB coverage via local multiplexes of the BBC Radio Cymru and BBC Radio Wales from 65% of households to 71%. It has also been encouraged that following the agreement of major stakeholders (BBC/Radio Industry/UK Government) there is now a hope of further major expansion of local DAB by the end of 2016. By the end of this period, the goal is that 86% of households in Wales will have DAB coverage of the BBC’s national radio services for Wales – a significant improvement on the current situation, but still short of the 96% FM coverage of Radio Cymru and the 98% FM coverage of the BBC’s Network Radio Stations.
The Council remains concerned at the lack of resolution of the matter of BBC Two Wales HD and has expressed its concerns on a number of occasions to BBC management regarding the need for a roadmap and time-scale for realising this essential service, with Ofcom reporting in its latest Communication Market Report that three-quarters of households in Wales now have HD-ready TV sets. It has welcomed recent announcements that this matter may be resolved early in the next Charter period, subject to Charter negotiations and the Licence Fee settlement.
The Council considers that recent research by BBC Wales highlighting on-line’s increasing importance as the key platform for the people of Wales in terms of accessing news and up-to-date information particularly interesting and considers it could lead in due course to the possible reprioritisation of effort and finance by the BBC to address this change.
Based on engagement with audiences, and BBC management and Trust data, ACW concluded that the BBC’s output during 2014-15 had in the main – but with the caveats referred to above - fulfilled its public service broadcasting responsibilities in both Welsh and English on all platforms and had contributed to a large degree to fulfil the BBC’s Purposes.
Marjorie Williams discussed the BBC's services with audience members at the BBC WW1 exhibition, Rhyl Air Show
Audience Council Wales review of performance against 2014-15 audience priorities
In its previous Wales Annual Review document, published in July 2014, the Council highlighted the audience priorities that appear below. The Council’s assessment of progress made by the BBC during the past year in addressing its audience priorities for 2014-15 appears below.
Priority 1: The Importance of English language TV from Wales for Wales
The Council expressed concern at the diminishing budget being allocated to this area of BBC Wales’ activity and the corresponding shrinkage in the range of genres offered (in particular drama and comedy) and the consequential possible impact on the distinctiveness, quality of the output and the portrayal of places and diverse communities across Wales.
Priority 2: Access to Services
Making reference to one of the Strategic Priorities identified by the BBC Trust for the BBC, the Council affirmed the importance of ensuring that the BBC does more to serve all audiences. In this regard, it identified provision and transmission of services as a key issue in Wales:
- While welcoming the launch of BBC One Wales HD during the past year and the Trust’s intervention to ensure the continuation of the nations and regions variants of BBC Two’s standard definition service, whose cut was initially proposed as part of the BBC’s DQF savings, the Council identified the imminent launch of BBC Two Wales HD as a priority.
- The Council also welcomed recent improvements in the DAB coverage of BBC Radio Wales and BBC Radio Cymru but that at 65% of the population of Wales, there was urgent need for further improvement. Improvements had also been seen in the FM coverage of Radio Wales but, at 81% of the population this too was an area where further improvement is required.
- The Council considers it crucial that nations apps and nations content within other technological developments are introduced at launch, rather than at some point post-launch.
The Council’s end of year assessment made in March 2015, of the success or otherwise of the BBC in addressing the audience priorities above, set last year, is as follows:
- The Council considers there has been no improvement in relation to the audience priority on the importance of English language TV from Wales for Wales, and that the DQF cuts have brought BBC Wales’ non-news TV provision closer to the cliff-edge. Further information is included in the Council’s 2015-16 audience priorities below.
- The Council considers that while there has been some progress in relation to the second priority, (access to services) there have been no significant moves forward in relation to HD. The news is better in the context of DAB with work underway to expand the DAB provision of the BBC’s national radio services to reach 86% of the population of Wales during 2016 and the current provision being 71% of the population.
Other issues considered important to audiences in Wales, arising from the 17 audience outreach events undertaken by Council between March 2014 and the end of February 2015, include: a) concerns at the drop in S4C’s average peak-time week-night audiences but the key role of BBC programming such as Pobol y Cwm and Clwb Rygbi in maintaining that level – one of the challenges facing all Welsh language services at present b) the lack of portrayal of Wales on the wider BBC UK-wide Network, and c) the success of BBC Wales’ productions for the BBC Network.
ACW members had a lively discussion with the members of the Penywaun Youth Club
The Council’s Audience Priorities for 2015-16
After considering the BBC’s performance in Wales during the period April 2014-March 2015, and drawing upon its outreach activity with audiences during the same period, the Council decided that its audience priorities for 2015-16 should be:
- English language television programmes for Wales produced in Wales: congratulating the BBC Wales Executive on maximising the impact of the budget available and preserving the quality of the programmes produced, and expressing concern at the significant impact of funding cuts on both the genre range and the volume of content produced.
- the lack of exposure of contemporary Wales on Network TV: addressing this effectively through a more intelligent and creative approach to Nations/Network co-productions.
- better portrayal of diverse ethnic communities in the BBC’s output and while welcoming the progress made on gender balance in terms of presenters, the Council considers it important to keep a close eye on this to ensure continued improvement.
- welcoming technological innovations introduced by the BBC, and in particular that some new apps now include Welsh language and Nations’ content from launch (such as the BBC News app), the Council believes further steps are required, such as greater prominence for Welsh language content on the CBeebies website. The Council remains concerned about the shortage of CBeebies Welsh language games that work on mobile devices, and wishes to reiterate the importance of making Welsh content easy to find and navigate to within the CBeebies website. Young children are the most likely members of the Welsh population to be monolingual Welsh speakers and having Welsh language games available via the CBeebies website would also support parents of young children who were trying to help them learn Welsh.
- while welcoming the steps already undertaken, and underway shortly, to improve the provision of Radio Cymru and Radio Wales on DAB, the Council is mindful that FM and AM provision remains important and will remain so for some time. The Council has also been reminded during the period under review of the wide disparities in broadband speed and provision in different parts of Wales and considers that the BBC needs to be mindful of this in planning future technological innovations.
- the Council warmly welcomes the improvements in the comparison of policy and legal positions across the different nations of the UK, with Radio 4’s World at One being notable in this respect, but it remains concerned that there is still considerable room for improvement in the flagship TV Network news programmes.
Joni Alexander at the Council's event with members of the NUS Cymru Executive Committee