Have the BBC just given up on local radio websites?

Recently someone was talking to me about trying to get a job at a local BBC radio station and he mentioned that he felt their online offer was a bit poor. I’d agreed and said, as far as I understood, it wasn’t an area that’s particularly well resourced locally and he should probably steer clear of lots of web suggestions as programming’s appetite for good online is probably outweighed by what they can deliver. As I was typing that out in the message I thought how rubbish is it that that’s best advice I can give to someone really keen and enthusiastic.

Anyway, it made me have another look at the local sites and it seems some of them are mid-way through a refresh. BBC Bristol seems to be taking the new template. Chatting to someone in the TSA, the URL they apparently give out on air is bbc.co.uk/bristol. This brings you to a Barley-esque page, which above the fold has nothing to do with the radio station. Below the fold there are two radio-ish options. You can click ‘TV and Radio’ (bottom left) where you can apparently “Find out more about BBC Bristol programmes” or there’s a ‘BBC Bristol’ link, which might be radio related as there are some radio frequencies underneath it, but it seems more a heading than a link. Oh, and the box is headed TV and Radio, but the content underneath it is radio followed by TV.  There’s also a ‘listen live’ and ‘listen again’ that go to iPlayer and a link to a BBC Programmes-powered schedule.

Oh, the links to iPlayer (live or on-demand) and the BBC Programmes schedule both give a different look and feel to each other as well as that of BBC Bristol. Just to keep it confusing.

So, if I click the TV & Radio link, illustrated by a pic of the Breakfast jock, I don’t got the TV & Radio section – I go to a page about presenters on BBC Bristol. If I click on the BBC Bristol headline I get a TV and Radio mini portal where the top three options, I kid you not, are:

1. BBC Radio Bristol presenters (i’ll skip over the confused sudden emergence of ‘Radio’ that useful word that seems to have been scrubbed everywhere else)

2. Thought for the Day (a daily feature at 7.40 – okay, it’s a breakfast benchmark of sorts, but is that the best thing on the show, or indeed the station?) because point number three is…

3. TV Switchover guidance (which links to an article from 8th December 2008)

On the right hand side there’s a nice graphic for ‘BBC Bristol’ (the radio station – I know this because there’s frequencies). If I click this I go to an alphabetical listing of the programmes on the iPlayer. Handy.

Underneath there’s that BBC Bristol link again, that takes you to, er, this page. Great.

If I go to the BBC Radio Bristol presenters page I get a biog that I guarantee will not be updated until they sack the presenter or refresh the site and then, I think for the first time, something useful. A list, for some, of what’s on the show and how to get in touch. All of this good stuff is below the fold and most users will ignore it when they see the biog that they’ve seen before.

I couldn’t find any other content connected to the radio station on their website. At all. And I looked.

With the danger of going all Daily Mail, am I the only one who finds it amazing that BBC Bristol, a radio station with 162,000 people listening for nearly 2million hours a week, doesn’t warrant a better radio station website than this?

I’m sure there’s loads of great things in BBC Bristol’s programmes and that they and the listeners experiences of them would be enhanced by some online content. Shoving it all on iPlayer does not, in any way, make up for there not being any web editorial. The station website, at the very least, should be curating this content and explaining how great it is and how people can then listen to it.

Either this site isn’t finished yet, in which case, it shouldn’t be online. Or, more likely, no one who’s ever worked at a radio station has had anything to do with it, whatsoever. If I was running BBC Bristol I think i’d refuse to give the website address on-air as I can’t imagine it meeting any listener’s expectations.

4 thoughts on “Have the BBC just given up on local radio websites?”

  1. Top blogging and I agree, that sort of online support to a radio station is unforgiveable.

    The BBC Radio Bristol web offering would, I hope, be a lot better had BBC local’s plans to expand not been shot down by Ofcom after intensive lobbying from vested commercial interests in the media.

    You mention the Daily Mail – they had a lot to gain from ensuring the bbc local expansion was stillborn as this excellent blog post makes clear:

    http://community.brandrepublic.com/blogs/gordons_republic/archive/2008/12/04/daily-mail-and-bbc-local-conspiracy-theory.aspx

    though having lobbied for the bbc to become toothless in this market it would be typical (and quite funny) if the Daily Mail left it a couple of months, then published an article deriding BBC Radio Bristol for letting down licence-fee payers with its appallingly shoddy website.

    I side with Gordon Macmillan (the guy who wrote the blog linked to above) on this – the multimillionaire owners of local newspaper publishing companies and other media conglomorates successfully stamped on a public service initiative that would have employed journalists at respectable salary levels.

    Since the decision against bbc local, ITV (one of the biggest lobbyists against the expansion) have shut down their own ITV local strand and the local newspapers continue to sack journalists by the shedload.

    There are good local newspaper websites out there, but they pay their employees a pittance, siphoning off any profit from this “developing market” to keep their owners/shareholders rich, all the while hoping their online presence develops to a point whereby they can sell the business, or merge it into a larger rival and sack the pitiful hacks who built it.

    Professional journalists may soon be irrelevant anyway as bloggers (through twitter especially) lead the charge into all quarters. But this bbc project could have helped lead that charge by increasing the number of young creative minds employed in local news.

    The online market for local news will develop without the BBC, and trusted brands will emerge, but without massive investment from the commercial sector, it won’t be any time soon. I can’t see that massive investment coming from anywhere right now.

  2. I think you are broadly right.

    The BBC local online strategy has always been to do websites first and foremost to serve online audiences. Unlike commercial players, the BBC is charged with providing a service for everyone and BBC English Regions, in particular, has always superserved older audiences whilst underserving younger ones. The web was their opportunity to redress that balance.

    The core BBC local services – news, sport, weather and travel are all (pretty much) finally simultaneously providing the same information online as you’d find on the radio. BBC Sport carries audio from local radio – both post-match analysis/interviews and commontary where rights allow. So although it’s not necessarily branded as BBC Radio x, there is a lot of value being exploited from BBC local stations.

    So what else could BBC local radio audiences gain from their website? The BBC was, as a result of Graf, barred from doing events listings online. Even before the recent competition debarcle, competitions were removed from the BBC local sites as they were deemed to be providing unfair competitions (a decision the BBC took, they weren’t forced to).

    BBC local radio covers a lot of issues in their programmes, but a lot of them are covered by other parts of the BBC’s online offering – and where they aren’t it’s generally because it was felt outside of the BBC’s remit. Again, it was the result of a review that the BBC really tightened up on duplication of content online … so you no longer get six (or was it eight) Glasto websites.

    BBC local, the former where I live sites, will be moved to the BBC News templates (Bristol was the trial site, hence why it is as it is) and limited primarily to doing campaign support (for national initiatives).

    What the above shows is that the BBC, as Nick points out, has been continually hemmed in by report/review/external requirements to the point that the local offering is more often than not limited by regulation than resource.

    Olly

  3. Matt, you make salient and valid points. Unfortunately the new local branding dictat for local [radio*] is to drop the word “Radio”. Stange but true. “Radio” is a non-term now. I find this particularly difficult as I can’t think what else to call the experience of listening to a box with an aerial out of which comes, er, content. Never mind, let’s press on…. Apparently ALL BBC services for a local area will share new common branding, hence “BBC Essex”, meaning the BBC local radio station, the BBC local website, the BBC local Big Screen and local BBC television (presumably meaning the daily local news opt outs and weekly 7.30pm local magazine programme put up against Corrie).

    But this local de-branding of “radio” is inconsistent. Television is still called “TV” and web stuff referred to as “On-Line” yet the radio is, er, to remain nameless, just a geographic area. So listeners now listen to “BBC Essex”, not “BBC Radio Essex”. Ditto BBC [Radio] Bristol, BBC [Radio] Shropshire.

    Of course, commercial radio doesn’t use the term “radio” – we all listen to “Heart” or “Magic”, or “The Bear”, but those stations are not using pyramidal branding like the BBC which has a core brand. Heart still refers to its website (OK, it isn’t exactly local anymore….), as does Capital etc, as extensions of their brand, not alternatives. But the BBC seems to be trying to abandon sub-brand differentiators (i.e. platform descriptors) altogether. So no more “Radio”, just a piece of geography. But I bet a bankers Bonus that the listeners will still call it “Radio XYZ” or “BBC Radio XYZ”. It’s a confused branding mess for the average Johnny.

    Matt is also right that the look/feel of local BBC websites is full of inconsistent links and terminology. Tacit links with the associated local radio station are patchy and poorly signposted. Odd considering it’s a fair bet most of the visitor referrals come the radio station plugging it all day on-air and when they get there it takes 5 clicks to find the local radio content. Navigation leads to all sorts of, frankly, duff material instead of showcasing the very best local material available, thus giving visitors a reason to listen again and a valued experience.

    One thing you might try to illustrate this is click on any BBC local (radio) website (i.e. bbc.co.uk/countyname) just as you would be invited to do on-air. Now find the link which explain the recent RDS “Reset your Preset” campaign. Pretty major change for BBC local stations, hidden 3 or 4 clicks away on the website.

    Question: Are BBC webstats are public domain information? I remember seeing somewhere that web stats would be published. Can we have the stats for the number of unique visitors (not hits or pag-imps) to the local sites and how many of these are to the local [radio*] sections of the sites, how many local live and local listen again streams are consumed daily/weekly, and how these compare to the RAJAR audience reach /cume for the relevant local [radio*] station. It would be interesting to compare and correlate how many visitors are sent by on-air mentions to those visitors who don’t also listen to the local [radio*] station (difficult to measure, obvioulsly).

    * Why is the word [radio*] in brackets? Given the elimination of the term [radio*] in this de-branding, just try reading the post again and omit the word [radio*]. Doesn’t make sense.

    Food for thought.

    Rog

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