The FoR3 Blog
From french frank:
If this is to be a serious exchange of ideas on the ‘future of broadcasting’ perhaps it should focus here on the BBC, Radio 3 and classical music?
Factually, we might agree that nowadays core classical music has been removed substantially from the nation’s everyday life; and from the BBC mainstream services compared with the days when the popular Home Service and Light Programme carried orchestral concerts (even Proms!); BBC television back in 1978 showed the complete Young Musician of the Year competition, yet by last year even reporting was so low key as to be invisible.
We might also agree that it would be a desirable thing for such music to become more widely integrated into mainstream culture so that it isn’t almost completely absent from the experience of younger generations.
Radio 3 managers, in announcing their ‘intention’ to reach out to the ‘broader audience’, effectively placed the major responsibility on Radio 3. Yet the BBC Trust, while endorsing this strategy, agreed that there were other, mainstream, services better placed to do this than Radio 3. They said:
“Radio 3’s ambition to increase accessibility and encourage lighter listeners will go some way towards achieving this. However, other services within the BBC portfolio should also play a role in meeting this requirement, and are potentially better placed to do so, given their size, scale and broader audience.”
Yet these services lag behind in presenting such programming (the few selected televised Proms tend to focus on Doctor Who, Hooray for Hollywood &c), and it is still largely left to the ghettoes of BBC Four and Radio 3 to somehow lure in this audience instead of taking the broadcasts to where the audiences are. But where is the sense in this? It is the BBC that has segregated audiences: children’s television, youth television, youth radio, popular culture, the arts … If you wanted to develop a children’s introduction to classical music, for example, wouldn’t you broadcast it on a children’s service which the children are watching rather than attempting to coax them to listen to some out-of-the-way radio service (which presupposes that the children have parents likely to value such a programme and push them in the right direction: the television audience has a much wider range)? The world does move on and we’re not in the glory days of Pied Piper any more. But that can just mean altering tactics, not giving up.
This is standard marketing/advertising nous. First locate your desired audience, then take your product to them. They don’t advertise Stannah stairlifts on Kiss FM in the hope that pensioners will flock there and listen to their commercials.
The additional downside of the Radio 3 strategy is that it wipes out vast segments of more serious broadcasting and loses the audience that wants it. Indeed, the BBC doesn’t even seem to recognise that such a service is needed. Many Radio 3 listeners are ‘serious’ about classical music. That doesn’t make them ‘experts’, ‘specialists’, or ‘connoisseurs’ (as the BBC would have it – definition: they’ve heard of Beethoven). But they still don’t need to have their music made palatable by being introduced by TV chefs; nor made interesting by being introduced by a fellow listener; nor truncated to fit their supposed limited attention span; nor lightened with trivial chat to provide regular respite from the music.
A simple formula: an experienced broadcaster accurately and informatively introducing a range of interesting music, well selected by knowledgeable producers. If there’s something that’s unfamiliar or above our heads, so much the better: we’ll cope.
RAJAR has been downgraded to the blog this time as Radio 3′s unsuccessful attempt to win a Sony award has taken precedence on the news side. There is also not a lot to say except to comment on the BBC news story that Radio 3 ‘increased its reach by 14% year-on-year’. This is half a story – spin, in other words – and they didn’t really stress the fact too much: last year in the same quarter the reach was very poor (1.902m), this year it has largely regained what it lost. More to the point, at 2.163m it is still 4.2% lower than it was two years ago (2.258m, a very good year) and just over 5.5% lower than it was in the same quarter in 2004 (2.290m, also very good). That puts the current ’14% increase’ in some sort of perspective. It also poses the question as to where all these new listeners are that the station has been going downmarket to attract. What actually happens when 2.258m falls to 1.902m in a mere twelve months?
Dear kleines c
I have alerted french frank to your latest comment. Not being already a registered member or a technocrat, ff may find some difficulty in accessing the blog immediately.
You are quite right: the blog is seldom updated but it was superseded by events. I hope ff will respond to you here.
A recent article on the FoR3 news pages raised a question about certain words: how they may be intended and how understood. How X intends a particular expression and how Y understands it may be two very different things. In defining terms, the reality may be the same, the effect very different on different people. X accuses Y of saying one thing, Y declares he meant something quite else.
‘Accessibility’ is one such word. To make something less complex, simpler is a good thing to X if it enables X now to access an idea or service, to be included. But if Y does not require such fundamentals to be explained in simple terms, it is ‘dumbing down’. Y resents the fact that nothing complex may now be tackled for fear of excluding those who aren’t equipped to understand. X resents the implication that he is ‘dumb’.
If X praises the ‘accessibility’ and Y complains of ‘dumbing down, X’s response is to declare Y ‘elitist’ (and probably ‘snobbish’ into the bargain). There can be no meeting of minds here. Both ‘accessible’ and ‘elitist’ have become buzz words, available to a general public which uses them without having much idea as to their implications – other than from their own perspective.
Ten years ago, the Radio 3 Controller described Radio 3 as ‘the UK’s leading cultural broadcaster’. That was then. Now, for nigh on 100% of peak hour broadcasting on weekdays, Radio 3 is no longer – in that particular role – fit for purpose: it satisfies families with small children but does not satisfy those who take a special interest in classical music.
Which brings us to another difference of opinion: those who appreciate the new ‘accessibility’ of Radio 3 apparently considered it had previously been aimed at ‘music experts’, ‘music connoisseurs’, an ‘elite’. But generations of Third Programme and Radio 3 listeners will testify that they received their earliest music education as children, and their inspiration, from the radio station, long before they had acquired much knowledge, long before the efforts to make everything ‘accessible’; and many current listeners will deny that they are any sort of ‘expert’, and that they learn constantly from those who are.
The great audience divide is not between those who know a lot about classical music and those who don’t know much, so much as between those who have a strong interest and want to be challenged and those who want easy listening radio: a classical version of the standard modern pop station, chat, quizzes, tweets, celebrities. Away with experts and bring in the DJs.
Last month, Mark Damazer, Master of St Peter’s College, Oxford, and former Controller of Radio 4, invited Roger Wright to Oxford for a public inteview about Radio 3 and the Proms. For a brief two minutes, Mr Damazer’s attention focused on Friends of Radio 3: ‘Please don’t join this group,’ he urged. ‘Please don’t join this group.’ Why? Well, apparently FoR3 wants a Radio 3 devoted entirely to classical music, says that there should be no ‘speechy stuff’ on Radio 3 since Radio 4 can do that, thinks ‘all of this sort of Womad, world music thing’ gets in the way of a diet of classical music, and that Radio 3 ‘shouldn’t do jazz’. Did he mean us? Well, yes, it seems he did.
We fortunately had a ready defender in the Controller of Radio 3 who interrupted Mr Damazer to attempt, politely, to put the record straight. Mr Damazer had clearly never consulted our Frequently Asked Questions which refute every single point he made. On the other hand, Mr Wright appeared quite well versed …
The misapprehension which Mr Damazer appeared to be under is one that seems to have taken root in the minds of many who have the advantage – the privilege – of a public platform of one sort or another and use it to spread their opinions. Where could they be getting their ideas from…..? They certainly didn’t take the trouble to check the facts for themselves. Or did they?
Back in 2005, an advertising executive from Pepsi Cola was the Director-General’s choice to head the BBC’s marketing division. Well, someone has to do it and to appoint someone with experience in marketing seems quite a good idea.
But, a mere three years later, in 2008, our marketing director landed BBC Radio’s top job: Director, Audio and Music (formerly called Director, Radio and Music). He was replacing someone with 40 years experience at the BBC, most of it in radio. He had no experience in radio, indeed, no experience in broadcasting. Bee-zarre …
His Wikipedia entry credits him with proposing the closure of 6 Music and the Asian Network as part of the Beeb’s cost-cutting exercise. Both proposals were rejected by the BBC Trust following audience protests.
Now, in 2012, with a new Director-General he is moved on. And up. The highly successful CEO of the BBC’s commercial arm is to ‘stand down’, and our marketing executive moves smoothly upwards to receive the very ample emoluments that go with the post. Given his experience in commercial marketing, it seems quite a good idea.
But … swanning in from marketing to BBC Radio’s top post, and then swanning back out again four years later doesn’t show much of a commitment to radio on the part of the BBC. Let’s hope that the new Director-General will feel that it’s just as important to get the right person to fill the top radio post as to fill the commercial position at BBC Worldwide. We shall see.
Meanwhile, we note that the BBC house mag Ariel points out that on our marketing executive’s watch ‘BBC radio stations have attracted record numbers of listeners’. Well, the digital stations have but that was largely to do with the general expansion of the digital market and sales of DAB radios, not formerly available. Oh, and as for the doubling of 6 Music’s reach, that was the direct result of the publicity that followed the announcement of the proposed closure. A promotional coup, certainly, although it was denied that the announcement was a publicity stunt. As for the analogue stations, Radio 3 has seen no record listening figures in spite of vigorous marketing and promotions; and BBC Radio’s overall reach hasn’t exceeded the 68% that it achieved earlier in the decade. Commercial radio’s reach has also firmed up since 2008 – is this also due to the BBC’s marketing strategy?
Goodness knows what the BBC was trying to achieve with its last radio appointment. But what matters is what DG George Entwistle, the new broom, will have in mind.
This quarter’s listening figures were unremarkable for Radio 3 and nobody much has remarked on them. Up quarter-on-quarter, down year-on-year. Listening hours were down on the quarter and on the year – so an average number of people tuning in but not listening for quite as long.
The BBC press release appears to get its figures slightly wrong: “The network’s share is 1.2%, from 1.1% last quarter and 1.3% last year.” In fact the share this quarter was 1.1% not 1.2%, a fraction lower than last quarter; and a year ago the share was 1.2% not 1.3%. What is 0.1% among friends? Well, this quarter it would work out at about 1,032,842 listening hours per week, which in Radio 3′s case is quite a lot.
Three quarters on from the controversial changes – or schedule ‘refreshment’ – of September 2011, in the wake of the Trust’s go-ahead to Radio 3 management to go downmarket in search of more listeners, and the figures show a big drop from the rather good results in the same period last year.
The Breakfast figures have shown a recovery from last quarter’s slump, but the sample each quarter is very small (only about 25-35 people) so fluctuations occur for no obvious reason.
Details (average weekly): Reach 2.038 million, listening hours 11.378 million, share 1.102%
Lord Patten, the serious and intellectual Chairman of the BBC, has been commenting on the corporation’s television coverage of the Jubilee pageant. As generally agreed, it was not the BBC’s finest hour.
The Chairman is very clear that when it comes to matters which merit serious treatment, getting the tone right is important. The BBC was criticised for being too solemn when they covered the Royal wedding, but over compensated by being too ‘chummy’ with the Jubilee.
Sound familiar? ‘Some people’ have said that Radio 3 sounded too formal so – Hence loathèd stuffiness! Bring on the comedians! Chill! And then, oops! people are now criticising Radio 3 for being too matey, not serious enough. Stop chatting and play the music!
What do you think, Lord Patten?
‘At the risk of sounding like a “stuffy paternalist”, he says that presenting an intellectual challenge should be part of the BBC’s DNA. Educating, informing and entertaining are the Reithian principles he is there to safeguard.’
Not only that:
“As the national broadcaster, if we have a choice to make between being grave or being jokey, we should always come down on the serious side.”
Can we have that in writing, please?
The quarterly RAJAR listening figures are always good for plenty of press coverage. We are not immune and tend to attempt a regular analysis of the tiny amount of data that is published.
The Controller of Radio 3 posed a good question: does it matter whether the listening figures are up or down? To which the answer might be, Yes, no, perhaps.
It would depend why they were up or down. For example, if Radio 3′s reach shot up substantially as a result of vigorous ‘marketing’ at classical concerts, in music colleges, in schools; or concerts and recitals became once more a regular part of mainstream television, with information and tie-ins to programming on Radio 3, that would be ‘good’, wouldn’t it?
But if Radio 3 had been targeting a ‘broader public’, researched what they didn’t like about current programmes, and what kind of programmes they would like, modelled its programmes on popular radio, dropped the challenge and breadth of repertoire, introduced ‘easy listening’, that would be ‘bad’ wouldn’t it?
A fall in listenership is probably never welcome; except that if Radio 3 alienated its core audience by trivialisation, by tiresome chat, by repetitious repertoire, and many listeners switched off as a result, it might be ‘good’ in saying to management ‘not this way’.
But does management ever know exactly why new listeners start tuning in and existing listeners switch off?
Let’s hope so, as how can you have any sort of strategy at all if you have no way of comprehensively assessing the results, beyond ‘up’ good, ‘down’ bad?
The suggestion on Feedback that Radio 3′s audience was ‘relatively’ small compared with Classic FM’s prompted the Controller to retort that this was not comparing like with like. Not exactly the same, that’s sure. Though a writer-in to Radio Times this week announces that he’s not too bothered about Radio 2 axeing Melodies for You as you can hear similar light music on Classic FM and <ahem> on Radio 3. Still, not quite like with like, no.
The Controller then enquired how many emails Feedback had received about Radio 3. Only 139? Paltry compared with the hundreds that Radio 3 received which far exceeded that number. ‘And you,’ he added accusingly, ‘have been calling for responses for a fortnight.’ Like with like? Not really, was it?
For a start, Feedback is on Radio 4 so something like 85%-90% of the listeners to the programme wouldn’t have been Radio 3 listeners anyway. How many times during the fortnight was the subject matter trailed? And, if it comes to that, how many times was this programme – which would have been of prime interest to Radio 3 listeners – trailed on Radio 3? Thought not.
Whereas everyone listening to the Radio 3 programmes is a Radio 3 listener and in contrast to a sporadic trail on Radio 4 for the Feedback programme people are urged to email, text, phone and tweet every ten seconds or so on Radio 3. Like with like?
Never mind the hundreds who sent emails to the programmes, how many tens of thousands listening at the same time didn’t email in?
And another thing. If only one enlightened soul spoke up and said the popularisation of Radio 3 is a gruesome mistake, would that person be ‘wrong’? As the BBC keeps saying, numbers aren’t the main concern. Good. If only the main concern was for the music, and high artistic and intellectual standards.