Tagged on the end of this BBC press release about the new Controller of BBC Radio Five Live, it’s been added that the Asian Network has moved over to Andy Parfitt‘s control. Andy is very much the teen tsar with responsibility for Radio 1, 1Xtra, BBC Switch, indeed the announcement says:
From audience perspective it makes sense that the Asian Network, which provides so much for young British Asians, sits with our other youth stations, Radio 1 and 1Xtra
Which made me think. I didn’t realise the Asian Network was supposed to be a ‘young asian’ station. I always thought it was a broad service for a range of listeners. However looking at the new ad campaign and the website, it’s definitely the ‘young’ bit that seems in evidence.
I therefore wanted to know whether it was supposed to be young Asian when it started. This meant digging through the DCMS archives (thank you Google) to try and find out how the BBC described the services in the firs place. The best I could find (and please correct me readers if you find something better) was a letter from Caroline Thomson, then Director of Public Policy. It’s not very long – 23 pages – and that includes all the information about BBC Three, BBC Four, X, Y, Z (what would become 1Xtra, 6Music and BBC7), Five Live Sports Plus (later Extra) and the upgrade of the Asian Network from a local AM network to a properly national one. Caroline describes the services thus:
BBC Asian Network: a range of programmes specially focused on Asian audiences currently available only regionally.
The Asian Network
• The Asian Network will be a new service nationally but is already available in the Midlands, parts of Lancashire, Yorkshire and Cambridgeshire.
• The Network will be the only national network focused entirely on the interest of Asian audiences in the UK, giving a full and fair view of the various Asian communities throughout the UK, reflecting back to themselves and the wider community.
• The service offers a wide range of programmes, from new and current affairs to entertainment and music.
• The service is primarily in English but includes three to five hours of language programming every day, rotating between Hindustani, Hindu/Urdu, Bengali, Gujarati, Punjabi and Mirpuri.
Nothing about ‘young’ Asians there. The Government then later allowed the creation of the new Asian Network with some service commitments, as follows:
1. The service will offer, nationally, programmes both in English and a range of Asian languages, covering news, sport, current affairs, audience participation and a wide choice of music.
2. The service must deliver to the format set out in the BBC’s application, in particular with speech content of around 50% including a strong focus on news and current affairs.
3. As a national service, this must address the needs and interests of a wide range of Asian communities within the UK.
4. The BBC should consider carefully the use of spectrum and, in particular, the desirability of making available any spare capacity when a national service for Asian listeners commences.
Again, somewhat demographic free.
A little while later, in 2004, Tim Gardham is instructed to review all of the BBC’s digital radio stations, which he does in a very well written report. And this is the first mention of younger audience.
“The Asian Network offers a general mix of music, speech, sport and latterly drama to Britain’s Asian community. The programmes are aimed at Asians under 35 but also first, second and third generation Asians and all communities whose origins are the Indian subcontinent.”
At this point, through data Tim’s report publishes, the audience was pretty much 50/50 older and younger than 35. I’ve just had a look again at figures from Q4/07 and it hasn’t changed much – reach is 55% for under 35s and share about 52%.
The ‘under 35’ target was however crystalised though in the BBC Trust’s service licence for the network in late 2006, when this was added:
The remit of BBC Asian Network is to provide speech and music output appealing to British Asians, with a strong focus on news and current affairs. It should be primarily in English, but some programming should be provided in a range of South Asian languages.
The primary target audience is British Asians under 35 but the station should also appeal to anyone with an interest in British Asian issues, music and culture.
Now, I don’t have any particular problem with Asian Network targeting younger audiences, indeed, it’s a station that isn’t in my presets. It does seem a bit disappointing for the Asian community over 35 who seem to be losing their radio station to a different audience. Indeed, probably much of the audience who used to listen to it on AM. It’s also probably another example of BBC radio’s format creep where pre-Service Licences they were able to change the format of their services at a whim (the Radio 2 move from Soft MOR to AC being the biggest example).
As it’s locked into a BBC Trust licence there isn’t much scope for change now though, it will however be interesting to see if there is an ongoing push to make more of the programming on the station appeal to a younger audience. Or will it continue to “appeal to anyone with an interest in British Asian issues, music and culture” – or maybe that will be “Young British Asian issues, music and culture”.
If I was running the BBC radio networks as a commercial entity it makes perfect sense to align Radio’s 1, 1Xtra and Asian Network together with a cross-platform entity – BBC Switch – woven throughout it. Together they can do a great job of cross-promoting each other and keeping as many 15 to 24s within the BBC’s walls. Whether that’s the point of the BBC’s public-service networks, i’m not so sure.