Why the BBC shouldn’t stop at axing 6Music.

28 02 2010

I love the BBC. I think people who attack the license fee are mental – for the quality, diversity and breadth of output it’s absolutely phenomenal value. Compare it with the cost of a Sky subscription and see what you get. I understand that the difference is a Sky subscription is opt-in, but the BBC is just as important a public service as the NHS, transport or schools in my opinion. If nothing else, the BBC helps to keep the Fox News wolf from the door and intensely irritates family Murdoch, which on its own is worth £140 a year. They were also one of my favourite clients when I ran their communications tracker for a while.

Anyway, perhaps that explains why I’m going to be a fairly rare voice of support for the BBC’s plans, despite the fact I’m probably slap-bang in the middle of the 6Music demographic. My argument is, that more than ever, channel and station brands are an expensive waste of time. They have never been very effective brands in their own right (Channel 4 in its heyday perhaps the best defined of a bad bunch), but they are becoming increasingly meaningless. People are not loyal stations or channels, they are loyal to content – channels and stations are just a directory by which that content is organised and easier for people to find. As such, the premise of my argument that axing 6Music (or any station/channel) shouldn’t really matter only holds if the best content from that channel survives.

Let’s look at some examples – SkySports has massive viewership and is perhaps the key reason Sky has any subscribers in the first place, but is anyone actually loyal to SkySports? Of course not. If the Premier League games all moved to ESPN next season the viewers would follow. EastEnders is a BBC flagship programme, of course there’s plenty of reasons why this could never possibly happen, but if EastEnders suddenly moved to ITV would 8m people stop watching it? No, they would follow it to ITV.

People are saying that 6Music shouldn’t die because the content is distinct from any other station. That’s true and I wholeheartedly agree that the best of that content should survive. The fact that no commercial station mirrors it, that presenters are given free reign without restrictive playlists and so on is hugely valuable. But my understanding of the BBC’s proposals is that the best content will survive and be split across Radio 1 and 2. Let’s be honest – we love 6Music because we love Adam & Joe, not because we love 6Music as an abstract separate entity.

I started by saying channels and stations act as a directory or classification system which allows you to simply find music or programming that is likely to appeal to you. Increasingly, it is a classification system that is becoming redundant. Once the analogue switch-off for both TV and radio is complete (which is relatively imminent) I would go so far as to say the BBC should axe all of its sub-brands, the building of which is expensive and often unsuccessful. With PVRs, iPlayer and online search, content can easily be found by genre and type. You can quickly build up an individual profile of programme recommendations exactly as amazon, lastfm or spotify does. People can listen to what they want, when they want. The only brand you need to pay to support is that of the BBC itself, already a stamp of quality and trust despite being battered a bit in recent years.

The cost benefits for the BBC in having to build fewer brands are obvious, but there is also a significant public service benefit. Scheduling becomes almost completely audience driven (obviously there would still need to be some premiere or release date for new shows), the individual is the channel rather than the BBC organising content by what they think certain demographics would like.

The problem for 6Music listeners is that sometimes you don’t want to actively search listings for something you like, you just want to pick a station that will play what you like and leave it on. So unless/until the above situation exists and you can just click on your own personalised radio channel which gives you all the content you love, the loss of the station is still a big deal. But I don’t think it’s a distant utopia, we’re talking a couple of years. In that context, the loss of 6Music really doesn’t matter and I’d much rather the BBC’s future is secured than any of it’s individual channels, regardless of how much I love them.

Am I right about channels/stations just being a directory, and a soon to be redundant one at that, or am I missing something?

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5 responses

28 02 2010
Simon Kendrick

By and large I agree with you, but 6music – and radio as a whole to an extent – is an exception. Discounting George Lamb, pretty much the entire week’s output caters to the more discerning indie/alternative/rock music lover, with a high quality of presenters and music. Aside from perhaps Adam & Joe (on hiatus) and Jarvis Cocker, there aren’t really any flagship shows.

Aside from the odd exceptions (the above, and perhaps Radio 4 in general), people aren’t as likely to tune into radio for specific shows. It is wallpaper to soundtrack a period of time – whether a workday, car journey or spring cleaning – and this can traverse multiple shows. So in that regard, the station’s identity is more important than the particular programme and so I’m not sure if splitting the shows over other channels would work.

I too love the BBC and would much rather see them scrap BBC Three – aside from promoting new comedy (with a very hit/miss record) that can move back to BBC Two, there is nothing the channel does that isn’t, or can’t be, replicated by E4 or other commercial rivals.

28 02 2010
researchgeek

I guess Radcliffe and Maconie might be another flagship – but speaking to my wider point, what’s to stop you checking the boxes for indie/alternative/rock/music lover/discerning and hitting the iPlayer version of shuffle and leaving it in the background? Relevant shows from across the BBC could play sequentially, if you choose to you can rate each one and it learns your tastes – all the better wallpaper no? Not really any more conscious involvement than selecting the station.

If anything, if the shows and presenters are not even important, that’s just another layer your peeling back towards the nature content itself being in the primacy – the categorisation by neither channel, nor specific show is important – genre or mood is. This system would also have the advantage of being able to check the ‘do not play’ button for Craig Charles, George Lamb and Cerys Matthews (insert/delete presenters appropriate to your own tastes).

Undoubtedly we could all think of better stations or channels to cut (though this will also necessarily be driven quite heavily by our personal tastes and our perception of the BBC’s role) and BBC Three is definitely a candidate, but that’s not really the debate I’m interested in as there will inevitably be cuts and someone’s nose will be out of joint wherever they fall. And that’s my point, don’t pick on particular stations or channels, put a plan in place to gradually roll them all back, with a firm commitment that the money saved on their management and marketing will be invested in quality, diverse content delivered in a simple and accessible way. Nobody loses.

1 03 2010
Carl Knight

I agree with the majority of that.

Although I would like to point out that Radcliffe
and Maconie is Radio 2 programme.

1 03 2010
researchgeek

Thanks Carlos. Just goes to show that I’m already liberated from the tyranny of specific stations. Or perhaps just that all my BBC radio listening is necessarilly limited to iPlayer due to being off in the distant colonies.

25 03 2010
The persistence of channels « Curiously Persistent

[...] stations have existed for almost as long as the platforms that host them. Andrew Jerina, writing in this post, believes that channels are a waste of money, given the nature of our on-demand world. The post was [...]

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