The BBC has published its third Annual Plan for the
current Charter period, updating its strategy and setting out the work plan for
the year. Below is a thumb-nail sketch of some of the contents as they apply to radio and audio.
There is much mention of the BBC’s responsibility with news
at a time of “growing partisanship and fragmentation in politics and the media”
which has “changed the context in which our news teams operate, altering
perceptions of impartiality and bias”. “We are determined to sustain the trust
audiences express about the BBC.”
“Our updated editorial guidelines will renew our commitment
to impartiality, accuracy and other core values, and we will roll out new
training resources to challenge subconscious bias and test how it might creep
into anything from a presenter’s tone to a programme’s running order." It is
good to read about “the need to stand up for impartiality”, and I have long
said that the BBC might just be a little more confident in its official rebuttals
and do even more to explain to rational consumers the lengths to which it goes
to get things right rather than leave it to its valiant and long-suffering producers
As expected, there is a focus on young audiences. It’s pointed
out that music streaming has grown by 40% in a year and “15-34s now spend
around as much time each week with Spotify as with BBC Radio (both around four
and a quarter hours)”. The report also suggests
that “the internet is the primary source” for news amongst younger people and habits
are being adopted by older demos. They are comforted, however, by Ofcom’s conclusion
that “a substantial majority of young people support public service
They talk of new formats
that match the ways young people are consuming news, on-demand podcasts for younger
listeners and developing the ‘voice’ offer for news on smart speakers.
Creativity remains a priority and the intent to “take even
more creative risks for our audience”, especially younger audiences. In radio
they mention Radio 2’s changes as being “a great example of creative
refreshment – with Zoe Ball at breakfast, Sara Cox at drive-time, Jo Whiley in
a new evening solo slot and Trevor Nelson bringing his Rhythm Nation to late
Other creative highlights are Radio
1’s Big Weekend in Middlesbrough, the return of BBC Music to Glastonbury, BBC
Proms and BBC Music Day. “Across the BBC, we want to make sure all our output is marked by
the confidence to do things others simply would not”.
The focus on diversity on and off air is highlighted: “audiences
will be able to see and hear diverse voices in everything we do”. I think we
do. There is an acknowledgement that “there are still too many creative talents
who can feel locked out of an industry that remains stubbornly tilted towards
London and the South East”.
The first few months of BBC Sounds “have proven the impact
that ambitious new podcasts can have”. They say it will “continue to improve as we
listen to audience feedback” just before they close the iPlayer radio app.
Growing BBC Sounds is included in the BBC’s second major
priority for this year: “For the future of radio, pushing ahead with BBC Sounds
is vital. In its first few months we have seen around 1.8 million downloads of
the app, and an average of more than a million listeners a week. This year our
aim is firmly to establish Sounds as the best place to listen to all BBC audio
– music, podcasts, and radio.”
There will be new “investigative, storytelling and funny
podcasts” for the increasing numbers of on-demand listeners and more companions to television programmes, plus “new titles from the
archives, and more exclusive music mixes”. “We will explore combining human and
algorithmic techniques to curate our content more effectively so that audiences
discover more content they love".
There is talk too of implementing proposals to
link from BBC Sounds to live linear
radio and podcasts from third party sources and trial of ‘windowing’ BBC
podcasts in BBC Sounds. There is a nod to the industry too: “Our plans for BBC
iPlayer and BBC Sounds are bold and ambitious. It is important that we are
clear and transparent with the industry around our plans in these areas.”
Culture and HR
The BBC recognises a need: “to modernise our organisation
and make the BBC one of the very best places to work”. I hope they feel sufficiently confident and open to publish suitably granular detail of the latest
staff survey and hold managers to account across the Corporation.
By 2021/22 they want the BBC to be used every week by 90% of
the adult population. It’s now 91%, but they want 90% of all under-35s to sign
in to one of our online products every week, compared to the current frequency
of once a month. There are also specific goals set out for all services; and an account of the distinctiveness of each.
Radio headlines the music section, with Radio 1 supporting BBC Introducing, and of new music in general: “Radio
1 will maintain its support of new and home-grown music with 50% of music
played during daytime hours being new, and 45% of daytime music played from the
UK.” 1Xtra will continue to "surface new UK artists and Asian Network will act
as a showcase for The British Asian Sound". BBC Radio 2 will "shine a light on
specialist music" and BBC Radio 3 will "promote new talent. 6 Music remains
committed to championing new and alternative music from the UK and beyond. In
2019/20, at least 30% of music in daytime will be new and there will be more
than 300 live music sessions".
In local radio: “Work is already underway to reinvent BBC
Local Radio”, some two years after the DG announced it was starting. “All of our 39 Local Radio stations in England
have introduced 15 hours of new local programming each week” “more than 200 new
shows on BBC Local Radio, with a diverse mix of presenters and themes", as part
of the "effort to build a new relationship with underserved audiences across
England”. Transforming local radio aims to ensure “stations better reflect the
communities they serve, uncover and nurture exciting new talent, and engage
younger, more diverse audiences. Local Radio will be the front door for new
talent into the BBC and the place where local conversations are heard.”
They flag up some possible changes, including “refreshing”
the speech quotas for English Local Radio, Radio Scotland, Radio Foyle, Radio
Ulster, Radio Wales, Radio Cymru, and Radio nan Gaidheal. Whilst speech – “with
news at its core – will remain a vitally important part of our local radio
service”, they will be asking Ofcom to
amend the Operating Licence to remove the 100% speech quota at breakfast time,
whilst retaining the overall 60% quota for speech content.
There is also mention of 'The Social' online service from BBC
Scotland, which will be expanded into England; and of the progress at the World
Service since their language expansion.
In funding, the BBC points out that it has had to absorb inflation and the cost of significant new obligations imposed by
government (such as paying for the World Service and S4C) with largely a frozen
licence fee. They calculate that by 2017/18, licence fee income available for
UK public services fell by around 20%. For the current period, licence fee
inflation has been restored, which helps, but the
BBC points out it is lumbered with the funding for free TV licences for over 75s. Over this period, they point out that ITV’s
income has grown by more than 31% and Sky by 99% in real terms.
It’s a useful document and, as one might expect, no huge
surprises in this interim report. Drawing back, I just get a feel though that maybe the real value of everyday
radio to the BBC’s audiences is not totally understood. Some would say that’s
been the case since the 1960s. And yes - tomorrow's BBC customers are hugely important and pivotal to the health of the whole industry - but let's also attach suitable importance to radio's most avid consumers and they're a tad older.
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I work with radio stations around the world in a range of areas. From programme strategy to research, key brand work and marketing strategy. From presenter training to compliance, consultation responses and licensing. Talk to me via www.davidlloydradio.com