Keep Thinking Differently

I’ve had a really good response to my blog post about BBC Local Radio. Lots of people have sent me their own submissions to DQF and many of them positively engaged with trying to re-think the work that they do.

Some of the responses I got to the post were questioning why BBC Local Radio should be hit when there are other areas that should bear the brunts of cuts? Usually this is thrown at things that they personally doesn’t like – BBC Three is usually a good example.

One of the issues that the BBC faces is that the scale of the cuts means that pretty much everything will see budget reductions. So, in the spirit of that, here’s another suggestion.

Put out to tender all of BBC Radio’s music networks.

What would that mean? It means the BBC could set a budget, some stringent content and operational requirements and then commission a third party to operate each of the networks.

It doesn’t mean they have ads or anything like that, it just means they’re operated by someone other than the BBC directly. At the moment the BBC networks commission third parties to make programmes, why not the whole network?

At the moment Radio 1 spends £31m a year on content, why not open the network to competitive tendering? The BBC would specify types of programmes, audiences, scale of events etc and it would be up to the bidders to compete on the cost of providing that. The BBC would then judge the quality of the providers and the value of the bid.

The arguments often stated against doing this is that quality would drop, that it would become too commercial and that third parties don’t have the skill to carry it off.

I think most of the reasons are a little unfounded. Already the BBC independently commissions hundreds of radio and television programmes, some of which are the most popular shows on the networks and often they do disproportionately well at awards and Audience Appreciation too. These shows aren’t overtly commercial, they’re designed to the specs the networks come up with. In fact, often because you’re working under the network means you deliver even more to ensure that relationship continues.

Indeed, because the station is non-commercial it would make it an incredibly attractive opportunity for consortia. A guaranteed budget and the ability to be creatively-led would bring out some excellent radio practitioners to bid for the project.

Maybe provision for news on the networks stays in house, but is there any particular need for the rest of the music output to stay in fortress Beeb?

With a tendering process there’s an opportunity to maintain service levels, significantly reduce costs and bring in some new thinking. With regards to the current teams, why not let them bid to operate the networks as well? They would probably have a good chance of winning, but potentially at a lower overall cost for licence fee payers.

One of the BBC’s central problems is that, like many large companies, there are significant structural inefficiencies because group functions have grown at pace. By contracting-out parts of the business (like 1, 1x, 2 and 6m) it also makes it easier to re-think back office functions as well – as there’s less internal operations to support.

So, if DQF is about there being no sacred cows, how about putting those music stations out to tender?