The BBC Trust reported today on the performance of BBC Local Radio. It makes for interesting reading.
Overall, it’s broadly supportive while asking for improvements in performance and taking politicians to task much more vigorously. Importantly, it said it should evolve to remain “relevant and appealing” and warns against further cost-cutting to a unique service.
However, as this is perhaps one of the last cross-examinations from a dead man walking (The Trust), a few may wish to ignore it. That would be a mistake as it has some interesting observations.
I worry about my beloved BBC.
A lot is happening right now. Penalised for being great, it is often pillaged by those who should know better without them fully understanding it’s enormous value to the public. It is popular because it is loved. In many ways, it is also unique.
That said, the pressure is enormous, brought about by quick-fire deals in dark places.
Tony Hall, who has the task of making the numbers add up, announced that his target for savings had increased to £800 MILLION. It is a staggering figure and is not achievable without a giant axe and a lot of pain.
Every single network will be affected and this is certainly true of local radio.
The current LR service budget of £115 plus MILLION is a very big number indeed and I suspect they will be asked to find savings between 10% to 20%, despite what the Trust may say. At that level, we are way past removing management roles; we are now talking about cutting or merging whole stations or taking, as reported elsewhere, 5LIVE.
The local network might be in a stronger position if it were not for the fact that audiences are falling away at a rapid rate. The report highlights an alarming graph showing its target audience of 50+ to have fallen from 30.3% to 23.9% over a relatively short period. performance_analysis
The 50+ market has far more choice now of course, but this result is disappointing, to say the least, especially as the ageing population is booming. It’s also a gift to BBC strategists who think a merger to be a good idea, even if it is ill thought out.
This time, protests will fall on deaf ears. MPs won’t rush to help, and Tony Hall will only direct you to the back of a very long line of complaints.
Life in BBC today!
The reports about strategy groups contemplating merging local with 5Live (accurate I suspect) shows cloudy thinking, at best.
If you turn local radio into an FM outpost of 5Live, it is no longer local radio. A sustaining overnight service perhaps, in daytime, never!
If you water down 5LIVE, you lose the whole point of what it was set up to do.
And there is no way commercial radio is simply going to allow 5LIVE to jump onto FM without a huge fight.
You either do it right, or you don’t do it at all.
Most people agree that local radio is vital, the issue is far more about how it is delivered. Even the BBC Trust nod to this fact.
If the strategists believe that merging national and local stations together is a blueprint for success, they are barking mad.
If it came to it, I would prefer to lose a whole network than see a festival of salami slicing which will only end up destroying both.
So, is local radio safe?
Despite its failings, I think so and there is a lot to be proud about in the Trust report. I would fight tooth and nail to keep it intact but it has to help itself. It MUST get those listening numbers up….and FAST.
If they don’t, they play right into the hands of the accountants who will point to the fact that the cost of reaching a local listener is more expensive than any other network. Never a great place to be in my experience!