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The Strategy Review - some questions answered

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John Tate John Tate | 18:04 UK time, Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Thank you for all your comments both on Mark Thompson's post, and elsewhere. I'm John Tate, the BBC's Director of Policy and Strategy, and I'd like to take this opportunity to answer the main questions and concerns that seem to be emerging, outlined below. We'll be commenting more over the coming days across the BBC's blog network, but here are some initial thoughts from me.

Why is the BBC doing this strategy review at all? What's the point?

Mark Thompson outlined the purpose behind the strategy review in his blog yesterday, where he said:

"The BBC has one mission: to inform, educate and entertain audiences with programmes and services of high quality, originality and value. That is not for debate. What today is about is how we are going to deliver that mission.

"My ambition is for us to become more confident and proud of the fact that we exist to be different. Our purpose is not to make money, it is to enrich people's lives by capturing the essence of Britain today and making sure everyone can access excellence in programmes and content, whoever they are."

The external environment has changed radically over the last two years, with explosive growth in digital, platforms converging, big changes in audience behaviour and a commercial sector facing real strain and new pressures.

We felt it was the right moment to take a hard look at what the BBC should be doing and where it delivers the most value.

The strategy we outlined yesterday focuses the BBC on putting quality programming first, with a smaller and more focused BBC that does fewer things better, leaving space for others with clearer limits. And we'll focus on areas that build overall public value, and that are most at risk of being ignored or under-invested in elsewhere.

We are proposing changes that will put the BBC in a stronger position to deliver the kind of high quality and distinctive programmes we exist to provide, free at the point of use.

The BBC stated yesterday that the strategy review was "Putting Quality First", and yet a great demonstration of quality, 6 Music is to be cut. How is this justified and not contradictory?

Many of you are passionate about radio, and proposed changes to 6 Music and the Asian Network have provoked strong reaction.

I spoke about this issue today on The Media Show and you can listen to my answers here.

In addition Tim Davie, the BBC's Director of Audio and Music, will be blogging on proposals for BBC Radio networks here tomorrow.

Discussion has also centred on the future of the BBC's web presence. If Digital is the BBC's 3rd platform alongside TV and radio for future, why are we cutting the site?

Online is very much part of the BBC's future - the bottom line is that we remain absolutely committed to the web as our third platform alongside TV and Radio. Whereas BBC TV and Radio have natural boundaries, currently these don't really exist on the web. After a period of rapid expansion online, now is the right moment for us to re-focus and re-prioritise.

Precisely because online is so important, it must meet the same thresholds of quality and effectiveness as our other services. It's about imposing a clear remit on BBC Online, and re-shaping the service with a stronger focus on the five editorial priorities (the best journalism; inspiring knowledge, music and culture; ambitious UK drama and comedy; outstanding children's content; and events that bring communities and the nation together): doing less but doing it better. This will re-balance BBC Online with an emphasis on high quality, distinctive content and services which provide greater, long-term value to the audience

It's also about ensuring that it can introduce to people the best of what's available inside the BBC AND across the web.

Keep an eye out on the Internet blog for more detail on this in the coming weeks.

Political implications have also come up - whether these proposals are to pre-empt the election and a possible Conservative government, and whether this is simply a political move. Are they?

The strategy we're announcing today is rooted in a really clear vision of what the BBC is here to do, and the value it delivers every day to audiences here and around the world.

As I said at the start of this post, we are proposing changes that will put the BBC in a stronger position to deliver the kind of high quality and distinctive programmes we exist to provide, free at the point of use, underlining our core mission: to inform, educate and entertain.

We began work on this review last June and it is the result of many months work.

As I mentioned earlier, the past 18 months has forced everyone to think very carefully about the balance of the media sector and where we can add the most value.

You announced yesterday that the BBC would be reallocating £600m - how and where will this money be spent?

We announced proposals yesterday to reprioritise nearly £600m of existing licence fee funding into programmes and activity that will increase the quality of our programmes in the 5 priority areas we've been discussing here.

Of this £600m, almost £400m of funding will come from existing service licence and genre budgets, and will be spent in new ways to drive higher quality content in local radio, BBC One, Two and Four, Children's programming, Radio 2, and the revised budget for Online. A further £100m will be raised by reducing the running costs of the BBC, and through continuing efficiencies, while the final £100m will come from service closures and by reducing spend on BBC Online and acquisitions.

Another question coming up is why the BBC does not further reduce spend on management pay, rather than cut services - why don't you?

We are committing to reducing the cost of running of BBC and the amount we spend on infrastructure projects so we can spend more on content. First of all, 10 years ago, the BBC spent ¼ of the licence fee on running the BBC. We have halved that to 12p in the pound today, and the strategy review pledges to cut that by a further ¼ to 9p by the end of the current Charter.

We are already taking tough action on reducing senior management pay - these proposals recommend a combination of both. We've already committed to dropping senior management headcount by 18%, and their pay bill by 25%, and executive pay has been frozen, and bonuses suspended.

Mad Men, The Wire and other US imports are some of the best programmes on TV, and fall into that high quality drama category highlighted in the review. Why are these going when they add so much value?

The proposals are not about individual shows but the BBC's future focus - there will always be a place in BBC schedules for high quality programming and distinctive acquired programming.
There is an expectation that the licence fee should be spent on the best UK originated programming - what the majority of our audiences watch, listen to, and love. There are some distinctive things we will want to acquire, including international documentaries, foreign language films, and uninterrupted family films at special moments of the year such as Christmas Day, as well as selected high quality series. By cutting spend on acquisitions by 20%, we will invest more on original UK programming for our 5 editorial priorities outlined above.

Lastly, it's worth reminding you that the BBC Strategy Review proposals are now with the Trust, where they will undergo a public consultation. This will run until May 25 2010, after which the Trust will look at all the submissions which they have received, including those from the public and industry, alongside other research and analysis which they will carry out. The Trust will then form a final view on what the future strategic framework for the BBC ought to be, and will aim to provide a provisional view of their conclusions this summer and a final strategy in the autumn.

Anyone can participate, and full details are available here


  • Comment number 1.

    This response again seems to miss the point about Radio 6 by claiming that what Radio 6 currently does can be taken up by Radio 1 and Radio 2.
    This demonstrates a failure to appreciate that Radio 1/Radio 2 and Radio 6 are fundamentally different in the way they approach both the listener and the music played. That's why Radio 6 has such a strong following, and that why so many current Radio 6 listeners are worried that this approach would be lost by trying to merge its current output into Radio 1 or Radio 2.
    It also misses the point about the nature of the demographic of Radio 6 listeners by claiming that, at an average age of 37, they are at the heart of the market targeted by commercial radio. The most important feature of listeners to Radio 6 is NOT their age, it's the fact that their primary interest in choosing a radio station is the ability to listen to music other than mainstream pop music - and commercial radio will never be interested in targeting a demographic who are not interested in the mainstream!
    Unfortunately it seems BBC Management continue to fail to grasp these points - hopefully the BBC Trustees will.

  • Comment number 2.

    Dear BBC Management. You haven't justified axing 6Music at all. Stop insulting us with soundbites.

  • Comment number 3.

    Intersting tidbit - So the average age of a 6Music listener is 37. Does anyone know what the average age of the UK population is? It's 39 as of 2008. so the average age of the listening population is only marginally lower than the average population of the UK.

    There's therefore every possibility that 6Music's "demographic" is actually significantly broader than the review would suggest; from reading the hundreds of blog posts arrayed across this website I have found people from their early teens to 60+ bemoaning the station's demise.

    Therefore the report is suggesting that the BBC shouldn't be stepping on the toes of commercial radio's important 0-100 year old demographic. Bravo.

  • Comment number 4.

    Ah - so you're the *other* guy who's going to lose his job over this nonsense. Nice hearing from you - please close the door on your way out!

  • Comment number 5.

    Mr Tate, please understand that 6Music is not a pop music station and should be seen as a completely different service to Radio 1 and 2. If you intend to merge the content of 6Music with Radio 1 and 2 then you might as well try to get Classic FM to partner up with XFM!

    A quick comparison of the playlists of 6Music and Radio 1 and 2 on comparemyradio.com show that they share only 5% and 7% of the music of 6Music respectfully. How can you possibly claim that these two stations can cater for the hugely diverse and original content that 6Music provides?

    BBC should focus on producing a broad range of content that other commercial outlets do not, can not and will not produce. The commercial sector already provide the kind of mainstream content that Radio 1 and 2 have and it is only services like 6Music that provide an alternative. The BBC should strive to be unique, different and promote innovation and creativity of all media in this country.

    I do hope that you listen to your license fee paying public and see sense. Closing down 6Music would be a huge step backwards for the BBC to make and would undo so much of the amazing work it has done over the years!

  • Comment number 6.

    You say you want to address the issues raised in response to Mark Thompson's post. The response is overwhelmingly about the proposal to close 6music and yet you spend nearly all of your post talking about other issues. You say listen to the Media Show to see what you've said about the proposal to close 6music. I listened to the programme and you didn't address any of the issues raised in the comments.

    On the Media Show you say 6music is expensive and has a small audience but it achieves an audience rating almost half that of Radio 3 on less than 1/5 of the budget.

    You say that the average audience age for 6music is 37 which is the same as the average audience age for commercial radio but the point made very clearly in the feedback to Mark Thompson’s post is that 6music provides something that isn't available from any commercial station and fits squarely with the bbc's commitment to high quality, inspiring programming that isn't available from any commercial station.

    You highlight the large TV audience that bbc 3 gets in defense of the decision to keep bbc 3 as opposed to the small number of 6music listeners. This point fails to acknowledge the fact that a far larger group of people have access to digital TV as compared to the number who own a DAB radio. What’s more, if you want to make a comparison between the two then surely your framework should be the principles underpinning the strategy. The quality of bbc 3 is poorer than 6music, its not unique, its doesn’t fill a commercial void and I’m certain sure if you decide to axe bbc 3 instead of 6music you wouldn’t have provoked anywhere near the same reaction.

    I think we would all appreciate a reply on the issues raised in response to Mark Thompson's post.

  • Comment number 7.

    John, at the end of the day you made a serious miscalculation when you carried out the “size and scope” review last September. Any amount of spin you put on this issue won't change a thing, I'm sure that deep down you realise this.

  • Comment number 8.


    You say that "The BBC has one mission: to inform, educate and entertain audiences with programmes and services of high quality, originality and value."

    BBC 6 Music does inform, educate and entertain me with new music ive never heard before, old classics, excellent documentaries and concert recordings from the BBC archives, and with intelligent presenters that entertain me.

    All the output is of high quality, its original and great value.

    The gap left by the closure of BBC 6 music will not be filled by the commercial stations, as they are funded by advertising and will always be chasing a mainstream audience of pop music fans..not alternative music fans.

    As a licence fee payer, the BBC will no longer serve me with the closure of BBC 6 music.

  • Comment number 9.

    The strategy bases the decision to axe 6music on the principle of,
    'Recognising the lead role commercial radio plays in serving popular music to 30-50 year-olds'. This simply does not stand up to analysis.

    i) 6music is not a 'popular music' station - it plays an eclectic range of modern music, much of which is not played anywhere else. If it's not played anywhere else then it's hardly 'popular' is it? Pop music is what is played on the commercial stations, and on R1. It's the stuff in the charts, the stuff on heavy rotate across the airwaves. 6music does something different, its audience is different. 6music is not competing with commercial radio - that's what Radio 1 is doing!

    ii) Radio 2 cannot be merged with 6music, this simply will not work. Your own strategy document calls for R2 to focus on '50% speech during daytime', on 'more documentaries, comedy and jazz' and on 'older listeners' (i.e. not the 37 y.o. ave age of 6music listeners). So how can a speech / light entertainment station replace a specialist music station?

    iii) as is pointed out above, analysing audiences purely in terms of age is over-simplistic and patronising. 6music has an audience which loves music. Many of us were listening to a wide variety of music when we were 15, and will still be when we are 95. We are not a 'market segment' for commercial radio, we are listeners who love music. Expecting us to transfer our attentions to Absolute, R1, or other pop music stations displays a woeful lack of understanding. Personally, I think the main beneficiaries of 6music closing would be R4 and 5Live - most of us would rather listen to our own music and switch to speech radio than suffer the pop / muzak of other music stations. We are not a segment you can just sell on. Or sell out.

    It looks like the Trust is already preparing the ground to reject your proposals on 6music in light of the huge backlash (120,000 supporters so far on Facebook, and the consultation page is straining under the weight of complaints). If I were you, I'd be watching my back, someone is going to be a scapegoat, and it's not likely to be your boss, is it?

  • Comment number 10.

    Very disappointing post. Keep trying to spin the lies about "high cost and low audience" all you want. Using those criteria, close Radio 3. Job done.

    Let me make this as simple as I can.


    If neither you or Thompson are willing to listen, get out of the way in favour of someone who is.

  • Comment number 11.

    Well, what can I add? I wonder if you would receive such articulate and well researched comment if you'd have proposed the closure of 1Extra, which Mr Thompson believes is 'fulfilling it's niche role'. Does Mr Thompson actually listen to music other than the Proms, which he was so proud of covering extensively on BBC4.

  • Comment number 12.

    I agree with the notion in the strategy review that the BBC should "Put Quality First". And to me there is no better example than 6 Music!

    The UK has been at the cutting edge of popular music for the last 50 years. So a radio station that shows off this strength should be of paramount importance. Yet commercial radio in the UK in insipid, tame and ultimately just a marketing machine for a music industry focussed solely on profit. This is where 6 Music fills the breach by -

    • Not relying on uninspiring playlists, meaning the station can be enjoyably listened to all day long
    • Promoting new artists outside the mainstream, that commercial radio stations would otherwise ignore
    • Employing presenters who are knowledge and passionate about music, both current and past
    • Mining the fantastic BBC archives of live sessions and concerts

    To suggest that 6 Music could be merged into Radio 1 & 2 is frankly laughable, and suggests poor understaning of what makes 6 Music so distinctive. This is especially true for Radio 2 as your proposals are calling for it to have >50% speech in the daytime!

    6 Music has an international reputation for quality. People all over the world still look to the BBC and the UK for music quality – please don’t let them down!

  • Comment number 13.

    Clearly there are many highly motivated and passionate people leaping to defend 6Music. I still wonder why my pensioner sister has to pay a tax for you to listen to your programme of choice. If 6Music did not exist, why would these passionate folk not subscribe to a similar commercial service or listen to one paid for by advertising. When Digital came about, the BBC promptly filled the space and so there was no opportunity to see whether commercial stations might enter that space. If the BBC vacates some of these areas then they may be filled by other entrants.

    However all those who point out that BBC3 is more expensive and is essentially not a quality station do have a point, and dropping this would be welcome too. Those who point out that moving some of 6Music's type of output to Radios 1 and 2 is not the answer, also have a point - all that will happen is that the existing audience will be unsatisfied but it will continue to squeeze the opportunity for a commercial provider - how about the BBC gradually move 6Music into the commercial sector so that the station retains its audience and identity and gradually moves out of the BBC, a sort of privatisation? The music and station remains but the BBC manages a transition towards its core operation.

  • Comment number 14.

    Hi John

    I am a huge 6music fan. I bought a digital radio solely to be able to recieve the station. Even I have been suprised by the number of licence fee payers who feel as strongly as I do about the importance of the station, the vital role it plays, and how it is in keeping with the spirit and the stated aims of the BBC.

    It appears that Sir Michael Lyons has also been surprised by it, given his recent comments on the possibility of a "rethink" of the review.

    Has the volume of objections caused you to reconsider your position on 6 music? It certainly feels that you are out of touch with the licence fee payers on this issue. If not, can you please explain why not?

  • Comment number 15.

    @DBA 11:09am,

    Re: 'I still wonder why my pensioner sister has to pay a tax for you to listen to your programme of choice.'

    With no disrespect to you or your sister but by the same argument, why should I pay a tax for the services that you both use on the BBC that I do not use and have no interest in? Surely the BBC has a responsibility to it's license payers to provide a mixed and varied service for all tastes and interests?

    6Music is no more expensive per listener than Radio 3. I hear no plans asking for Radio 3 to be shelved.

  • Comment number 16.

    I suspect these proposed closures are a recognition that DAB only channels are dead in the water due to low take up of DAB radio. Expensive equipment, patchy coverage and inability to make it work on the move (even in the DAB equipped £50,000 Jaguar XF I was fortunate to have a trip in) all conspire to work against any DAB stations, but the BBC can't be heard saying this as you are the ones charged with increasing take up of DAB services.

    You've flown your 'close 6 music' kite now. 120,000+ people say don't do it (+1 as I don't have a facebook account).

    That should be enough for you to realise this kite flying is over, wind the string in and wait for the trustees to give you permission to enter the toyshop and buy another less conspicuous kite to fly.

  • Comment number 17.

    Mr Tate,

    The vast majority of our questions remain unanswered. You also repeat Mr Thompson's blog and the review itself - both of which most of us here have already read at length. They didn't do anything to explain to or appease us the first time, so please stop churning out the same vague rhetoric.

    We would all like an answer to the question that you so clumsily dodged:

    'The BBC stated yesterday that the strategy review was "Putting Quality First", and yet a great demonstration of quality, 6 Music is to be cut. How is this justified and not contradictory?'

    I will add to this, in asking if this is not even more of a contradiction:

    'And we'll focus on areas that build overall public value, and that are most at risk of being ignored or under-invested in elsewhere.'

    Of everything the BBC does, nothing is more unique and worthy than 6 Music. A service of this value will never be provided by commercial radio. The fact that you don't recognise this renders you unqualified to make this decision.

    You have a gem in your hands, but you've missed it, and are about to throw it off the edge of a precipice. Everyone is screaming at you not to, but you don't seem to comprehend...

  • Comment number 18.

    Many thanks for your comments. Tim Davie - The BBC's Director of Audio & Music has posted on this blog about the future of BBC Radio here today.
    I'd also like to take this opportunity to remind all our readers that to have your say on the BBC Strategy Review consultation process you can also post your views on the BBC Trust site.

  • Comment number 19.

    Thanks Chris, can you let us know whether John intends to return to this blog to comment on the questions raised?

  • Comment number 20.

    Yet another ignorant opinion from someone at the BBC who doesn't understand 6 Music, it's purpose or it's audience.

    6 Music CANNOT be assimilated into Radio 1 & 2, it is a totaly different beast.

    6 Music provides a valuable service of providing people who like music something to listen to.

    6 Music is the only reason I boaght a DAB.

    6 Music treats it's listeners with respect and decent music. This is obviously a concept which goes right over the heads of the BBC hieracrchy.

    Over 130,000 licence payers feel the same way, and that's just the ones with facebook.

    Stop digging for feeble excuses taken from the 'Mark Thompson Spoon-fed Book Of Excuses' and give us 6 Music back!

    Radio 1 says nothing to me about my life.

    Mark Thompson should either relent or resign.

  • Comment number 21.

    Hi John. Thanks for taking the time out to pen some initial thoughts on this matter. Please can you tell me how likely it is that 6 Music will be axed? A percentage. If its 100% likely it will close please can you tell me now so i can formulate a coping strategy well in advance. If it is 30% likely then perhaps i can delay any new proposals and enjoy the time, i may or may not have left with 6 music. I wouldn't expect you to calculate a percentage based on any figures or data, just a personal opinion percentage. Thanking you in advance.

  • Comment number 22.

    I'm 37. According to you makes me the key demographic for commercial stations so I don't need 6 music. This stupid fallacy nicely highlights a) how little you understand about 6 music content and it's audience; and b) the crude (and basically incorrect) analysis that your decision to axe the station is evidently based upon.

    Some things that wouldn't have shown up in your spreadsheets: There is nothing in the commercial sector that appeals to me (or my friends) like 6 music, nor will there ever be. 6 music enshrines the distinctiveness and quality that you are purpotedly seeking. 6 music supports one of the UKs most succesful industries. 6 music is a flagship service for the BBC bolstering its reputation, and arguably that of the UK as a whole.

    Meanwhile, I've just had a look at tonight's BBC3 schedule and it's total trash (apart from Family Guy which I can watch anywhere). To justify BBC3s continuation at the expense of radio 6 IN THE NAME OF QUALITY is a contradiction so glaring as to be beyond comment...

  • Comment number 23.

    "And we'll focus on areas that build overall public value, and that are most at risk of being ignored or under-invested in elsewhere."

    YES! YES! This is 6music! Excellent value at only £9m compared to £51m for Radio3. A bargain. Also at risk of being completely ignored and not invested in elsewhere.

    Lets take this further. Lets swap 6music for Radio1 on FM. That would give 6music the potetnial to reach more people whereas Radio 1, which is a station that is somewhat duplicating services in the commercial sector (but of course very popular and valid it it's own right) could be a digital only station thus driving takeup of digital sets by its huge audience. That would benefit the people who get to keep the excellent value 6music. It would benefit the commercial radio stations who would have less competition on FM, it would benefit the radio industry by promoting digital radio and it would benefit the music industry by nuturing up and coming artists. Not to mention things like the educational role that 6music provides.

    You know it would even benefit Mark Thompson as it would exactly fulfill the kinds of objectives he talks about.

    It would be a win situation for everyone. :)

  • Comment number 24.

    She doesn't. 6music is funded by the television licence fee which is optional as opposed to central taxation (to pay for things like old age pensions) which isn't.

    Also, are you totally sure she doesn't listen to 6music? Perhaps she would if it was more easily available on FM or MW? Maybe she just hasn't tried it yet! :)

  • Comment number 25.

    I still don't understand the proposal to murder 6music. Its not stepping on commercial toes because there isn't commercial alternatives to what it provides we all know that (what station has access to the bbc archive and can afford risks with unheard of bands). Whereas bbc3 is stepping on commercial toes and bbc1 is with strictly come dancing trying to compete with x factor on itv ! The problems you have identified in the review are correct the bbc has got too large and yes it shouldn't step on commercial broadcasters toes. However to deal with these problems you have chosen exactly the wrong stations to axe, its clear to EVERYONE that it should be radio1, 1xtra and bbc3 to go which are frankly not containing examples of great british quality programming or value for money! Please understand this.

  • Comment number 26.

    More of the same from the BBC PR department. Why not just take some notice of the points made.

    @DBA: why do I have to pay a tax for your pensioner sister to watch BBC1/2 or listen to other radio stations - crazy argument!!

  • Comment number 27.

    As must as I object to the closing of 6music, I think the refusal of the BBC executives who made the decisions to answer the points raised in these responses is particularly galling.

    Most posts have been polite, and focussed on the issues of the review, rather than any personal comments. If the executives who posted these blogs are unwilling to engage in discussions, their blogs stop being efforts to communicate with their customers, the license fee payers, and start being propaganda.

    Please stop pretending that we, and the arguments we present, don't exist! It's part of your job to explain your decisions. The license fee payers, fund these blogs and message boards to give you a vehicle to do this. We're not being unreasonable to answer the well thought out points made here.

  • Comment number 28.

    Sorry, that didn't contain any new insights as to why 6music is getting sacrificed. Just the same befuddling half-logic (using 'relatively' a lot there weren't we?) comparison of your Radio stations.

    It would be nice if someone in the BBC directly answered the questions that are being continually being re-iterated on these blogs. Isn't it the duty of the BBC to listen to the license fee payers?

  • Comment number 29.

    There is no problem with carrying out a review; there are quite a few areas where the BBC could cut back on some of its output. The issue is that the principles the BBC says that it wants to champion will not be served by targetting the services under threat. Surely the output of the likes of daytime BBC1, BBC3, Radio 1 and Radio 2, all of which more closely mirror the commercial services that the BBC does not want to be seen to compete with, are more obvious areas to review?

  • Comment number 30.

    Radio 4 is my friend and constant companion; but if savings have to be made, it seems that Radio 6 Live hits all the buttons for quality, service and promiting new music and musicians and sure should not be cut - unless merged with Radio 3, 1 or 2.
    The Asian Network seem now to be attempting too wide a Listnership. ( My Indian relations in Mumbai have to speak at least 5 languages) Asia is a large diverse area.
    Why not make savings by cutting popular light entertainment, like Strictly.... easily done by ITV or does the BBC really have to justify the Licence by large numbers? Less that £3.00 a week is not too much to pay for Radio and TV 7 days and nights a week.

  • Comment number 31.

    Please can you list Mark Thompson's artistic achievements from the last 5 years.

  • Comment number 32.

    You haven't answered any of the questions about the idiotic decision to close 6 music.

    6 music is a unique service unlike radio 1 and 2 where there are plenty of commercial stations to fill the airwaves.


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