Marketing defeat 

10 March 2010

Pop Justice: Another quick thing about BBC radio then we’ll be quiet

BBC chief: 6 Music listeners ‘at heart of commercial radio demographic’

Steve Lamacq attacks ‘public flogging’ of 6 Music

Steve Lamacq’s Blog: 6 Music

BBC Trust: BBC Strategy Review

If you’ve already read the BBC Director-General’s proposal to the Trust, you can be forgiven for thinking that it’s perhaps the most confusing document to emanate from the BBC since the scripts for Big Top, as various sections appear to be written by two completely different people who are barely on speaking terms with each other.

That last assertion may not be true, but there’s superficially not much else that can apparently explain the several contradictions (some more subtle than others) that can be found within the document’s sections, along with what even seems to be two different writing styles being employed at various points.

Differing writing styles can be overlooked by virtue of (perhaps) a rushed integration job, because most major policy decisions within any large organisation are inevitably a byproduct of numerous individuals and consultations.

But all of this doesn’t excuse the lack of consistency in terms of the policy messages that the document attempts to convey, as discussed previously here and elsewhere, which in turn has left an even more confused message as to the overall direction of the BBC as a whole.

And has crucially left BBC management in an even worse state than it was prior to the submission; perhaps even more importantly it doesn’t quite yet fully appreciate the full ramifications of what’s currently going on. Or so it seems.

In the meantime we’re left with various people like Erik Huggers and chief operating officer Caroline Thomson attempting a poor defence of these policy decisions by almost quoting bits of the document verbatim, as with Thomson when saying “The average age of its listeners – 37 – is at the heart of the demographic targeted by commercial radio”.

A claim which will sound somewhat familiar at this point.

One problem with “reading from the script” is that this particular script has been steadily torn to pieces over the last few days, therefore anyone who still appears to be regurgitating quotes in parrot-fashion superficially seems to be defending a management position of which they themselves may not believe in wholeheartedly.

Or for that matter believing in a strategy that’s rapidly losing credibility, with a real danger that a wider cross-section of BBC management – as opposed to just Mark Thompson and, say, Tim Davie – will suffer greater collateral damage if the Trust rejects any element(s) of the proposal such as the controversial 6 Music closure decision.

If the closure of 6 Music is all about the BBC having “too many brands” to promote, as 6 Music presenter Steve Lamacq suggests in his blog, then it’s likely that BBC management could propose a substitute, cut-down “Radio 2 Extra” part time service as a 6 Music replacement if total closure of 6 Music is rejected by the Trust.

But that again will be totally missing the point, and would also force the Radio 2 brand into catering for a ‘younger’ audience as a consequence, helping to contradict that so-called pledge to keep the average age of the Radio 2 listener at 50+ along with more accusations of the BBC trying to dominate the “middle ground” of commercial radio.

As for the subject of demographics, all of this seems to be a somewhat convoluted attempt to bridge the worlds of public service broadcasting and commercial audience targeting together whilst at the same time getting muddled with previous (and ongoing) policies for attracting large audiences in the name of licence fee-justification.

So we have two seemingly different policies on a very uncomfortable collision course with each other, in the name of “doing fewer things better”. Or a clumsy, slight-of-hand approach that does fewer things whilst simultaneously annoying more people in the process.

And also judging from moves now being made to reduce the amount of “6 Music”-style broadcasting (i.e. Mark Radcliffe and Stuart Maconie) on Radio 2, the latter is sadly much more likely to be the case.

Don’t forget to contribute to the BBC Strategy Review if you haven’t done so already.

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