FoR3 news items for 2017
19 May 2017: Two steps forward, one step back
- Quarter 1, 2017 was not a good RAJAR result, but this first quarter is notoriously volatile – it’s seen the highest ever reach and the second lowest. But this latest result was at the very low end.
However, now that we have all four quarters for 2016-17, the average at 2.046m is solid, above the yearly average and the yearly median, for all years since 1999.
The total listening hours (and hence share) are down – as they must be with fewer listeners; conversely the hours per head are up because the faithful few(er) tend to be those who listen for longer anyway.
The Breakfast figure at 570,000 has taken a tumble of almost 120,000 compared with this quarter last year. This figure is also notoriously volatile, presumably because the sample is very small once we reach the numbers listening to individual programmes. Overall, though, a very low Breakfast figure will mean a low figure overall, since Breakfast accounts for, give or take, about a third of the total reach, and this will impact across the schedule.
Individual listeners have their own reasons for choosing to listen or not listen so it’s impossible to generalise about it. Or rather, it’s certainly possible to generalise but not with much hope of arriving at a tenable conclusion.
Nevertheless, pressing on regardless: one may speculate that an event like Breaking Free: The Second Viennese School – which has been welcomed in some quarters as ‘exactly what Radio 3 should be doing’ is less likely to appeal to an audience that was attracted to the station in the first place by its attempt to appear accessible, welcoming, not at all elitist and reassuringly condescending.
But in any case, the event only lasted for a single week – too short to affect an entire quarter; though contemporary works have regularly been introduced across the schedule. One may take what lesson one likes from that and proceed with either Radio 3’s core values, as against attracting new listeners. Or some sort of muddy compromise.
Most likely, though, it’s just the way Radio 3’s figures go up and down. Annoyingly.
May 15 2017: A critical debate
- There was a good deal of press comment last month when Radio 4 controller Gwyneth Williams announced that Saturday Review - the arts and culture discussion programme - was to be axed; another from the diminishing list of BBC arts programmes with a bit of critical bite to bite the dust.
The BBC - press critics declared - with its patronising obsession with popularisation, is rowing away from the intellectually rigorous. ‘Nobody,’ wrote Rupert Christiansen in the Daily Telegraph,‘wants to take responsibility for a ‘highbrow’ arts programme that draws a small audience.’ But wasn’t that the onus placed upon Radio 3 from the beginning, the station’s raison d’être?
The magazine Classical Music pointed out that while Saturday Review steered diplomatically clear of the subject of m-u-s-i-c, Radio 3 might now perhaps offer its own equivalent of the Radio 4 programme. Controller Alan Davey was, they said, ‘receptive to the idea’.
But what would a Radio 3 ‘equivalent’ be? Saturday Review was, presumably, tailored for a Radio 4 audience; and although many Radio 3 listeners (most, in fact) also listen to Radio 4, that isn’t to say that the two audiences are identical; nor that the nucleus of the Radio 3 audience coincides closely with that of Radio 4, and has no objection to Radio 3 ‘becoming Radio 4’ for the odd 45 minutes.
Forty-five minutes is not over long for any subject to be analysed in depth (and last Saturday’s programme covered five separate subjects – theatre, film, novel, art exhibition, television programme). Since it has been pointed out that the Radio 4 critics avoid discussing music because ‘most general critics feel unqualified to judge what is seen from the outside as a specialist area’, is there not room on Radio 3 for a programme in which the critics are ‘specialists’?
Richard Morrison in The Times has also castigated the BBC for eschewing ‘objective, no-holds-barred analysis of the arts’. But is the ‘round table’ format now, in any case, ‘outdated and irrelevant’ (a view expressed on our Radio 3 forum)? An overhaul of format and formula is needed, as is an antidote to Radio 3’s overused ‘fabulous’, ‘amazing’, ‘stunning’, ‘extraordinary’… Critical means critical, doesn’t it?
March 13 2017: Opera for All?
- BBC Music has announced a season of programmes focusing on opera, ‘across radio, television and online’. It will coincide with an exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum this autumn ‘Opera: Passion, Power And Politics’ (Sept 2017-Feb 2018), in collaboration with the Royal Opera House.
Strangely, one of the more recent 'pan-BBC' (i.e. BBC Two; BBC Four; Radio 2; Radio 3) seasons on classical music - and how many of these do we see? - was also on opera: ‘A Passion for Opera’ was broadcast in summer 2010, with an array of stars, operatic and other. There were specially commissioned films on BBC Two and BBC Four on the life and art of an opera singer, a three-part series on Italian opera with Antonio Pappano; even a film on BBC Two about the work of Graham Vick; and three operas: Domingo in Simon Boccanegra, Vick’s Othello and Jonathan Kent’s Don Giovanni for Glyndebourne.
Te Kanawa, Villazón, de Niese, Domingo, Pappano: quite a team on their own, not to mention Rick Stein, Stephen Fry, Radio 2’s search for a new opera star and Radio 3’s ‘The Nation’s favourite aria’ poll (it was ‘Dido’s Lament’) …
By contrast, news of this year’s season (BBC Two; BBC Four; Radio 3) lacks some detail: a BBC Two documentary featuring Lucy Worsley will explore, with Antonio Pappano, the themes and operas featured in the V & A exhibition. Further details will be announced ‘at a later date’, but BBC Music promises opera programming across BBC Two, BBC Four and BBC Radio 3 ‘as part of the BBC’s ongoing commitment to putting arts at the centre of its scheduling’ [it says here].
All eyes will be looking out for the full-length, televised operas, and the number of programmes which aren’t on Radio 3.
[However, we are told: “BBC Radio 3 will present recordings of seven operas, which feature in the V&A’s new exhibition, and broadcast episodes of its flagship programmes - In Tune and Music Matters - live from the museum as part of the season. Also on Radio 3, Sir Antonio Pappano will feature in a special Composer Of The Week looking at a different opera by Puccini each day, with presenter Donald Macleod.”]
February 17 2017: Anniversary RAJAR
- 'BBC Radio 3's audience was 2.12 million in this quarter, which covered the 70th anniversary of the station. This was from 1.98m last quarter and 2.05m last year and Radio 3's share [of total radio listening] was 1.4 per cent (1.2 per cent last quarter and 1.2 per cent last year).'
So reads the BBC's press release for Radio 3's listening figures for quarter 4, 2016. What it could have also said - but didn't - is that the share (in fact 1.37 per cent) and the listening hours per week (just short of 14.4 million) were the second highest figures recorded since 1999, the earliest date for which comparable RAJAR figures are available, the highest being 1.38 per cent and 14.6 million hours. The averages over the period since 1999 are 1.2 per cent and 12.5 million hours, so this should be a cause for celebration, but mysteriously the BBC media centre failed to mention it. 2.12 million listeners per week isn't a record, but is a good figure, the average over the period since 1999 being 2.03 million per week with a peak of 2.29 million in 2004.
This quarter covered the 70th anniversary of the inauguration of the Third Programme, a very different animal from Radio 3. Radio 3's main celebration coverage was entitled Sound Frontiers, included archive recordings and special programmes, and lasted for a fortnight. The station broadcast from a very visible 'pop-up studio' at the South Bank Centre for the duration, and encouraged the public to visit, which will have helped to raise Radio 3's profile. Other features during the period which could have attracted extra listening included: Three Score and Ten - a series of 70 five-minute features covering poets on the Third and Radio 3 over the past 70 years; River of Music - twelve hours of uninterrupted music on the last Sunday of October; Pass the Baton - a celebration of the BBC orchestras and choirs through a series of live concerts on the last Sunday of November; and a week of repeats of editions of David Munrow's legendary Pied Piper programmes which introduced many to classical music in the 1970s, broadcast in the evening concert intervals.
From the information available from RAJAR, it's impossible to say how the additional hours arose, although the above list is a good start. For instance, the 2.1 million weekly listeners would only need to have spent an extra hour with Radio 3 over the Sound Frontiers fortnight to have made a significant difference. Because of the low numbers in the samples for Radio 3 (we estimate that on average, in RAJAR's sample only about 78 people will have claimed to have listened to Radio 3 in a week) there is always some scope for sampling errors, so deviations from the norm should always be taken with a generous pinch of salt. It's the general trends that really matter, which are currently generally stable. The key is that there hasn't been any discernible fall off in response to the few tweaks which the Controller has made so far. As always, we look forward to the next quarter's figures.