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?