Bob Shennan's speech to the Radio Academy

In a world of almost endless choice, the role of the taste-maker is key. In a world of global impacts, only Radio still genuinely commits to promoting the new. Bob Shennan, Director Radio and Music
Date: 15.05.2018     Last updated: 15.05.2018 at 10.20
Category: Corporate; Radio
Speech by Bob Shennan, Director, Radio and Music, on Tuesday 15 May, 2018.

Good morning. It is a great pleasure to address this festival as the Director of Radio and Music at the BBC. Both areas go to the very heart of our public service mission. And both are being transformed by the technological revolution.

We are fortunate in the UK to have a great Radio sector. Between the BBC and commercial radio, probably the best in the world. The range and quality is unrivalled. And nine out of 10 adults tune in every single week.

Our Music industry punches way beyond its weight too. Last year, British artists accounted for four of the top 10 global albums (1-Ed Sheeran, 4– Rag n Bone Man, 5–Sam Smith, 9-Harry Styles).

Perhaps the UK is not as famous for as much as it used to be, but we ARE famous for music. And our broadcasters do their bit to keep it like that.

The man who runs Sony Music worldwide is called Rob Stringer. He’s British. So too are Max Lousada at Warners and Lucian Grainge at Universal. Rob Springer recently told Music Week magazine that the reason he reckons the Brits are so dominant is down to, amongst other things, BBC Radio. He said it had given them all such a well-rounded musical education. Wow. Well we will take that!

But our Radio and Music worlds are changing. Like so many industries, broadcasting is adapting to the impact of the internet. Whereas in years gone by my predecessors would today be eyeballing their competition across the UK Radio sector, OUR competition isn’t even based on this island. The new competitive set is global. Streaming services are the new best friend to music. After all they have transformed the financial fortunes of a sector that was on its knees. But they have set their sights on radio.

That’s why we’re reinventing and growing BBC Radio. Our new Podcast Commissioner started work last week so we can consolidate and improve our on-demand speech offering. And later this year we’ll be making more changes to our app and website to make discovery of content across speech and music easier for audiences.

Yet, even in an age of streaming, with the tangible consumer benefits that brings, I believe BBC Radio - in fact all UK Radio - plays an even more important role in the lives of our audiences and in ensuring the well-being of popular and classical music. There was a fascinating piece on the world of record pluggers in the FT a few weeks ago, where it was made plain that a place on the Radio 1 or Capital playlist is still their ultimate goal.

In a world of almost endless choice, the role of the taste-maker is key. In a world of global impacts, only Radio still genuinely commits to promoting the new. More than half the music Radio 1 plays in daytime is from new artists. Half the repertoire is UK based. And Radio 1 has scale too. Ten million weekly listeners, including a third of all 15-24 year-olds. Distinctiveness and scale. It’s a powerful formula and one which Radio 2 has taken to unprecedented levels of success.

And what do Florence Welch, Izzy Bizu, Jake Bugg and George Ezra all have in common? They all began their journey to stardom with the BBC Music Introducing scheme. There have now been 650,000 tracks uploaded to the BBC. Some of them have changed lives. That’s what BBC Radio can do.

And today we are announcing how we’re taking that mission to a new level, with a much more ambitious BBC Introducing Live event, combining our industry event with a live celebration of music.

We’re going to bring all quarters of the music industry together to help musicians looking for advice on next step of journey and those looking for a career in music.

It’s approaching four years since the creation of BBC Music - a clear sign of the BBC’s commitment to the genre. I don’t think that commitment has ever been greater than today.

Every day we offer the best new music on Radio 1 and 6 Music, British Urban on 1Xtra, British Asian on the Asian Network, plus a substantial commitment to World music and jazz, as well as high quality classical performance on Radio 3.

Radio 2 brings an astonishing range of pop and specialist music to UK radio, plays 10 thousand different songs in daytime hours alone each year, and happens to be the most popular radio station in Europe, with 15.5m listeners.

BBC Television commissions more original TV Music content than any other broadcaster. It ranges from One Love Manchester, where a moment of national catharsis was shared by a peak of 15 million viewers, to last weekend’s Young Musician of the year competition.

Performance, documentaries and music entertainment formats play across our TV and digital channels. There is a greater range and quantity right now than ever before.

Then, of course, there is the BBC Proms, the world’s greatest festival of classical music, with over 90 concerts every summer and as many years under its belt as any BBC event.

And of course then there is Glastonbury. Last year there were more than 20m audio/video requests for our coverage. More than 20 million people tuned in to the TV output too. In fact last year was a record year at Glastonbury on all fronts.

There’s no festival at the end of June this year. The Eavises gave us warning that Glastonbury would be planning a fallow year in 2018 a couple of years ago. So it got us thinking...

Could we produce a music festival, combining the strengths of our radio networks, involving our digital teams and using our TV channels to present concerts across the UK and produce a once in a life time moment?

In January this year, we announced BBC Music’s Biggest Weekend - a music festival that will take in four sites, in four nations, over four days, with over 175,000 tickets available to the public. There are over 100 acts. It will be broadcast live on all our music stations, there will be 120 hours of sets made available on demand online and on BBC One, Two and Four we will show over 20 hours of content. Undoubtedly it’s the biggest single music event ever attempted by the BBC.

The BBC will bring the biggest and broadest range of artists in the world to Belfast, Coventry, Perth and Swansea across the late May bank holiday weekend.

There will be performances from the biggest and best-loved names in music celebrating the incredible breadth and diversity of live music on the BBC.

Taylor Swift, Ed Sheeran, Sam Smith, Demi Lovato, Noel Gallagher (and luckily for them, at the other end of the country) Liam Gallagher, Rita Ora, Beck, Manics, Billy Ocean, Nigel Kennedy, Danielle De Niese - I could go on.

Four days, four locations across four nations -  all broadcast across multiple platforms.

The Biggest Weekend is built on the success of BBC Radio. It is ambitious in both its scale and its range. Global superstars will perform alongside the next generation of headliners. It will be hosted by our curators - our wonderful BBC Radio presenters. It has been booked by our music experts.

The Biggest Weekend is going to be a once-in-a-lifetime festival for everyone that loves music, whether you are at the venues in person or enjoying the whole spectacle of performances across BBC services. It’s a weekend that BBC Music will be immensely proud to produce. And it is a reminder of why Radio and Music continue to matter so much.