Thursday, March 21, 2019


A couple of key indicators to the future health of BBC Radio are due soon.

Any day now we should get the BBC Annual Plan. Flick past the guff to the tables marked 'Content spend'. There we may discover what proportion of the £450m cuts required by the Over 75 licences has been shouldered by radio.

Equal, independent podcasters will hoping for transparency on spending on BBC Sounds, estimated at £10m this financial year. I suspect they're in for a long wait.

The third litmus test will be the revelation of a new Radio 4 Controller. We have to presume it's now in James Purnell's gift, with Bob Shennan moved to Lord Hall's dug-out. Will Jim choose someone ready to fight for Radio 4's future?

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Givers and takers

Lord Hall, silent in the House of Lords since January 2013, gets on his hind legs this evening to deliver a Lord Speaker's lecture.

It's been widely previewed. He's calling for the establishment of a Local Democracy Foundation, to be run as a charity. He wants it to take over the existing BBC local democracy reporters’ scheme, which costs £8m of licence fee funds a year, paying for 144 reporters who share their output with the BBC and local and regional papers.

The expectation is that it might grow exponentially with conscience-money from Facebook and other internet monsters. The problem - finding a mechanism that checks Reach Plc, Newsquest, and Johnston Press from sacking even more directly-employed hacks and relying on a growing, free newscopy service.

Mid term

BBC chair Sir David Clementi is relying on the mid-term Charter review to mitigate the cuts that might flow from the Over-75 licence fee snafu.

Those negotiations might start in 2022; Lord Hall might be on his final grand tour, for the 100th Anniversary of the BBC. If the BBC is shouldering the complete cost of free licences, they'd need £750m - which would work out at £30 on each £150.50 licence. Good luck to a new DG with that, even if he or she is dealing with a new government.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Jim'n'Bob separated

So Bob Shennan is to be the BBC's new Group Managing Director. After what was presumably a gruelling round of presentations, interviews and deep psychological testing, Bob has been anointed by Lord Hall.

The immediate unanswered question: will he be replaced as Director of Radio & Music, or does Lord Hall now think James Purnell, after two years strapped to Bob's supportive underbelly, can fly on his own at the head of the BBC's radio networks? 



Missing the bus

BBC finance supremo Glyn Isherwood is proposing the end of a notable London perk, on green grounds....

"One area where we feel there is a need to review our environmental impact is the London-based shuttle bus services between W1 and W12, and W12 and Elstree.

" Over the past few years, the number of passengers has reduced significantly, meaning the carbon footprint per person is far higher than the same journey by public transport. The cost per journey is also significantly higher than the same journey on public transport, where options have increased with the opening of the Wood Lane tube stop. 

°Alongside this we’ve looked into replacing the current fleet with electric vehicles but the cost per person would be far higher than public transport and wouldn’t represent value for the licence fee payer. We’re therefore proposing to stop the services."

If you're brave enough, you can explain to Glyn why he's wrong about saving the planet...

Poker faced

There's no sign that the Dalziel and Pascoe of public service broadcasting, BBC Chairman Sir David Clementi, and his ennobled side-kick Lord Hall are going to re-open the imposition of Over 75 licences on the Corporation. This is despite campaigns from the Daily Mirror, Gordon Brown, and AgeUK (80,000 signatures so far).  Sir Dave's speech to the Oxford Media Convention yesterday confirms he's sticking with a process, and gives no clues to the outcome of the online consultation which closed on 12th February. 

"The consultation process has proven that there are strong views on all sides. Any choice will have its merits and its drawbacks, its critics and its backers.

Ultimately, it is for the Board to decide. And I can assure you that none of us underestimates the significance of the decision.

At this stage we are still gathering the threads together from the consultation period. We will need to make the best and fairest decision for everyone, and we hope to do so before the summer."

Sir Dave was slightly stronger in his resolve to loosen some of the shackles of Ofcom, calling for a change to the rules when they can interpose themselves between the BBC and new commercial venture. He wants there to be actual evidence of risk to competitors, rather than a hypothetical risk - and when they do intervene, inquiries must be way faster than the current eight months.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Remaking the UK media system

Those media-savvy technocrats at the IPPR seem a little premature with their reporting of the 2019 Oxford Media Convention, at Worcester College today.  This is the website at 0928.

Off script

There's a tiny piece of Radio 4 that escapes 'listen again' every weekday. When the early newsreader wrests control of the network back from World Service at around 0520, the Great Digital Tape Recorder is off, until after the Shipping Forecast has finished at 0530.

I suspect Susan Rae knows this. A couple of weeks ago, she referred to herself and weather forecaster Helen Willetts as the Cagney and Lacey of early morning radio ("in the fight against crime the female of the species can be as deadly as the male").

This morning Susan's introduction offered "more news than you can shake a stick at", and noted that forecaster Darren Bett had "seaweed".  Let not the crushing boot of compliance stifle this free-thinking; it can only improve audience figures. 

Sunday, March 17, 2019


How soon will the BBC be 'cutting over' between iPlayer Radio and BBC Sounds (i.e. letting the iPLayer version wither and die ?)....

On Google Play, BBC Sounds has been downloaded 500,000+ times, and gets a 2.2 star rating from 3,700 users.

The BBC Radio iPlayer has been downloaded 1,000,000+ times and gets a 3.7 star rating from 25,000 users


Series 26 of Top Gear drifts to an end tonight on BBC2, with audiences hovering around the 2m mark. It's Matt LeBlanc's last hurrah. BBC America can't be too worried that US audiences will track it down online - they're not starting this five-part series until the end of April. Will BBC America even bother with a Top Gear featuring Paddy McGuiness and Freddie Flintoff ?

More worrying for UK audience figures: The second series of Killing Eve starts on BBC America (and simulcast on AMC) on 7th April, but there's no simulcast for BBC1, and no news yet on a start date - which may lead eager fans to some online hunting.

Other people who read this.......