Friday, June 26, 2015

Up all hours

It looks like there may be some nice offices coming free at Broadcasting House and Western House over the next six years, with BBC Radio's Helen Boaden gradually increasing the current 9,000 hours of production indies can bid for, to 27,000.

Under Tony Hall's Compete or Compare mantra, BBC Radio has gone further than many people inside expected, with what looks like a big win for the independents. A core of daily news output, weather, repeats, EBU broadcasts, schools programming and coverage of State occasions stays with the BBC long-term. Outside that, Charter willing, Helen says 60% will be up for open competition, with no quota guaranteed to either in-house or indie by 2021.

What goes into the 40% bucket marked "Compare" is interesting.  Here's the relevant bit of Helen's speech to the Radio Independents Group last night.

We believe that some programme activities - like working with our in-house orchestras, daytime programmes on tightly playlisted pop stations - should be kept in-house for reasons of simplicity and efficiency, and because the key decisions are made at a station or genre level rather than by programme teams. 

So, in Radio 1 and Radio 2, this means talent-led daytime output in which the music is centrally-controlled and core to the programme. In Radio 3, it means some daytime music programmes and live orchestral or operatic performance. 

And there are a handful of programmes - let me call them enduring titles - which it’s highly unlikely we would want to refresh for a long time. Programmes like The Archers, Woman’s Hour, Any Questions? and Desert Island Discs on Radio 4, or Composer of the Week on Radio 3. I do not envisage them being put out to competition in the foreseeable future.

Not entirely fireproof on the logic front. Radio 2 has a range of Desert Island Disc-type shows which are already out to indies; Gardener's Question Time is perhaps the longest-running indie on Radio 4. Helen's news chums are happy for comparable political shows to go indie, like Question Time, to Mentorn and This Week, to Juniper. What's special about some Radio 3 daytime music programmes, if every music strand on 6Music can eventually go out to tender ?

Helen says the change has to take time, partly because, on average, only 10% of network radio schedules change every year. Exhausting work for the commissioners, eh ?  The sadness is that this move isn't cost free. Obviously, BBC Radio will need more commissioners, rather than make the existing ones work harder. Money previously spent on programmes might have to go to cover in-house redundancies, and towards sharing of costly BBC overheads between a smaller number of teams.

Helen also admits there's more to sort out on production outside London. Let's hope those Birmingham MPs don't get wind of the news.

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