BBC Radio 2 Eurovision Pop-Up Station

Graham

On BBC Radio 2, Graham Norton has just announced BBC Radio 2 Eurovision, a four-day pop-up DAB Digital Radio station to celebrate the international music competition.

I think this is a great idea and something the BBC should do more of.

Why do I say that? Well, it makes use of existing technology as DAB multiplexes can be flexed to add (or remove) stations really easily. It’s also a technology that nearly half of UK households have, so lots of people can access it. It’s also a great way to sell a benefit of digital radio – choice. For those who don’t have a DAB Radio, they’ll also be able to tune in online and through mobile too.

It’s also (relatively) cheap to do. The BBC have lots of infrastructure for covering the main song contest, people out there etc, so it’s making better use of their resources – by producing even more content for licence fee payers.

And… it’s short-term. Four days is enough to provide value, but not too much that it’s providing even more licence-fee competition for us poor commercial broadcasters.

Hopefully it will also popularise the notion of pop-up stations – there’s been quite a few all ready and it’s something (with MuxCo) that we’re encouraging people to do too.

More radio, catering for people’s tastes and interests has got to be a good thing for our industry and our product.

It starts on Thursday 8th May.


Using Talent to Win on the Radio

K and J

 

A couple of stories have popped up this week concerning the power of talent to drive radio station successes.

Over in Australia, ARN managed to snatch the number 1 breakfast show in Sydney from 2Day FM. The talent were so important that ARN junked its Mix brand and created a new format that better suited Kyle and Jackie O – the pair they grabbed – KIIS.

The big question in the market was whether listeners would move up the dial. Were the draw of K&J big enough, or was much of 2Day’s success in their own brand?

Well, the results came out this week and K&J became joint number one in the market and they took their station from the least popular FM music station (7th) straight to number 1. Meanwhile 2DayFM went from number 1 down to the bottom, the 7th and least favourite FM music station.

This a storming result for KIIS  shows what an essential part of 2Day that show was. I don’t, however, imagine they’ll stay in that position for long. Their own new show will get better and some of the excitement about the change will likely fade a little.

Grabbing talent at the top of their game though, backed by strong marketing and distribution paid off for them. It’s also something that’s paid off for the BBC quite a bit here – see Evans joining R1/R2 etc.

K&J’s success has created a ‘the only way is talent’ mantra in  lots of Aussie radio discussions. However that tends to skip over the other success story in this ratings round and that’s Smooth FM. Paul Jackson (ex-Capital, Virgin and Richard Park’s son) took hos company’s perennially under-performing station Vega/Classic Rock and re-branded it 18 months ago as Smooth. Basically think Magic London. Whilst it has the occasional name, it is very much a music-driven radio station. The result has been a rapid rise to the number three FM music station in the market and I imagine there’s still some growth their yet.

The other story that caught my attention was Fubar Radio. It’s a predominantly comedy/entertainment speech station that emphasises its “we’re on the internet we can say anything” position and is a subscription service – £2.99/month to tune in.  It’s basically a comedy 6Music. They’ve got shows from people you’ve heard of – Mark Dolan, Richard Herring and Jarred Christmas and have just added a daily show from Justin Lee Collins and a weekly show from Sean Hughes to the line-up.

You get a 7 day trial and I’ve had a bit of a listen – it’s a good listen and an entertaining station.

I think their positioning is probably off though. I’d concentrate on the entertainment angle rather than “ooh, we’re naughty”. Most of what I heard would  actually be absolutely fine on a terrestrial station. What’s interesting about them is that they’re speech-led with good talent.

I’m also not massively sold on the way the subscription works – I don’t think they’re maximising the opportunity they have there. It’s also a tough model to make work in the UK. The choice of UK stations is pretty good, it’ll be difficult to make someone not only switch from a station they love, but also pay for the privilege too.

However, more power to them for having a go. Just as there’s always more than one way to win, I’m sure there’s also more than one successful commercial radio model too.

BBC Three Switch Off Update

Danny Cohen

My last post’s guesses about the announcements today were pretty accurate (point 5 in the top bit).

Turns out they’re basically saving £50m and then re-investing £50m in content for BBC3 on iPlayer and (politically friendly) drama on BBC1, a channel who already has a £1bn budget…

I also think my strategy claims were pretty accurate to, here’s Head of TV Danny Cohen quoted by Media Guardian:

“In an ideal world we would not be taking BBC3 online in 18 months time, we would probably do it in three or four years time.

“But taking on the World Service cost £245m to licence fee payers, we took that in from the government in the last licence fee settlement along with another set of commitments totalling £300m. It means we can’t keep offering the same with less money.

“For BBC4, that means if future funding for the BBC comes under more threat then the likelihood is we would have to take more services along the same [online only] route [as BBC3].”

Cohen added: “By making the move we made today we know we can manage our funding through the licence fee period which ends in 2016/17. We will have to see what happens in the future with the licence fee whether we can keep BBC4 [as a TV channel].

In other words, BBC3’s been sacrificed to tell the Government to keep their tanks of the BBC’s lawn, otherwise their favourite channel – BBC 4 – gets the bullet.

 

Turning Off BBC Three

The BBC has a problem. It does quite a lot of things. Most of which are very successful. It generates a lot of money from the licence fee (£3.7bn) but it spends this on a vast array of services. Unlike the Daily Mail would have you think, because of the level of consumption of these services, the value for money is generally pretty good.

It’s problem is that the Government is not really a fan. It’s freezing its income whilst loading on the organisation lots and lots more costs – £340m a year (to pay for the World Service, Monitoring and S4C). It wanted to load on even more – the cost of licence fees for the over 75s – £566m – but the BBC managed to escape that.

Like any organisation it’s hard to pay for everything you’re used to doing if the budget’s cut. Up to now the BBC has made efficiency savings to cope with these additions as well as small cuts to programme budgets – salami slicing in popular parlance.

There is clearly always more that can be done in ‘efficiency savings’ – but it’s hard. What’s much easier is to not salami slice, but to axe something. A big chunk of costs suddenly gone.

Therefore a leaked suggestion that the BBC is going to axe BBC3 – and perhaps move it online – therefore saving a huge chunk of cash. A big contribution to the £100m they want to save.

Unfortunately I don’t think this is really about money.

If there is one thing the BBC is exceptional at doing is that it works very hard to guarantee its future existence. And as a supporter, I’m very glad it’s good at it too. But let’s get real…

The BBC3 announcement is the first volley in the next licence fee settlement and a pre-cursor to warn off more government loading of services or top-slicing of the licence fee.

The reason the BBC are willing to sacrifice BBC3 is because:

  1. It demonstrates they’re willing to make tough choices
  2. If they incur more costs from the Government that they will be capable of axing more things rather than meekly just absorbing costs as they have done in the past.
  3. They will be happy to ingest the negativity of the closure because it will burnish their credentials that they’re serious and it’ll remind the Government again that licence fee payers are not happy about services closing.
  4. It will have very little political impact. The political class despise BBC3 anyway. They don’t watch it and the people annoyed by its closure don’t vote anyway. AND unlike 6Music are not made up of a moaning media elite who are able to be noisy.
  5. There will be a sop about the service continuing to exist online. This is clearly rubbish. Some shows branded BBC3 will survive on iPlayer, though they’ll also end up on 1, 2 or 4 too. Also – the purpose of killing BBC3 is to save money and 80% of its costs are content (and let’s be honest the other 20% broadcast/infrastructure costs are probably just group costs that will continue to be incurred with or without BBC3 being ‘broadcast’). In other words the savings will all come from programming, so there’s no way they’ll keep paying for the content for an online channel at anyway near the current levels.

Personally I think axing BBC Three is about tactics and not strategy. It’s a clever (licence-fee related) wheeze, but it will probably bite them on the arse.

Why?

  1. It still requires Trust approval. This will take ages and they’ll be a consultation. The story will be re-hashed over and over again – more BBC negativity in an already hostile press.
  2. There will be a ‘campaign’ of some sort from viewers. It may or may not be successful. The result will either be a climbdown (painful) or ignoring the wishes of a chunk of licence fee payers (long term not a good thing to do).
  3. The BBC has a bit of a youth problem – keeping and engaging with this audience is difficult. The BBC are sacrificing the number 1 station for 15 to 24s – I believe BBC3 does better in the demo than C4 does. This will leave R1 and 1xtra as the only services dedicated to the young. A demo that, as discussed ad infinitum, the radio stations themselves have their own problems in maintaining reach and hours with.
  4. Demographically it also does well with C2DE’s, which unsurprisingly, tend to have much more reduced internet access. So let’s assume there is an online move of some semblance off the existing channel’s content to iPlayer, well , a large proportion of the target audience won’t have the gear to receive it. Whatever happened to universal distribution?
  5. The BBC will have to come up with some ‘stuff’ to say that 12 to 30 year olds will be catered for on their other TV channels. Hello again T4 style programming on BBC2 etc. This will cost some money. So the savings won’t actually be that huge when everything’s counted.
  6. The Government want to ‘get’ the BBC. They’ve now got over a year to respond to this tactic. This is enough time to negate it or beat it.

Net result? No score draw in the licence fee battle. But viewers lose a valuable, decently watched service whilst other people carry on playing their poker match