News clippings 

21 April 2011

The BBC’s “Delivering Quality First” (or should that really read Delivering Cutbacks First?) initiative, which has borne witness to a deluge of “trial balloons” in recent weeks, seems to (finally) have reached one of the BBC’s most-prized operations, namely management initiatives news.

Closure of the News Channel still seems to be off-limits, but judging from the proposal to concentrate on breaking news, namely showing the same reporter standing forlornly in front of an anonymous-looking building (or No. 10, take your pick) for what seems like an eternity, it seems by implication that the News Channel cannot be expected to last forever.

It’s also obvious that further non-specific staff cutbacks within BBC News are just not an option, with the department already operating at breaking point according to certain insider reports. Meanwhile there are still occasional accusations of overstaffing when it comes to sending reporters to certain events, which may or may not have a basis in fact.

Any remaining stand-alone programming within News Channel confines (eg. Click) must now be at great risk of being axed altogether for being too expensive, which will in turn place greater pressure upon studio presenters and on-location reporters, not to mention the inevitable increased reliance on prerecorded inserts for that added feeling of deja-vu.

You can basically see that the News Channel may be about to evolve itself into irrelevancy by accident or design, and the folks at Sky News must be feeling pretty excited at this point. BBC News HD is also most likely to be off the agenda for the next few years even if additional Freeview HD capacity miraculously becomes available.

This lack of HD for the News Channel will also hammer nails into its coffin even faster, unless the BBC does something previously unthinkable and makes a BBC News HD channel available only via satellite and cable – at present I can’t see this happening at all.

But before (the perhaps soon-to-be-semi-independent) Sky News breaks out the champagne, they must remember that the BBC still holds a significant lead in online news provision and it’s this that’s most likely to cause rolling news to finally roll itself into the dustbin of televisual history, with HD perhaps giving a short stay of execution.

(And in turn may help to explain why News Corp seemed not that fussed in hiving off Sky News in the pursuit of BSkyB.)

News reporting works very well online with broadband video and audio streaming, so the BBC News Channel turning into a succession of headlines will only serve to make it even less relevant in a world that’s rapidly moving online in many respects and could potentially reduce any advantages it may have once had in terms of in-depth reporting.

(Not to mention a small but significant risk of handing some of those former advantages to commercial competitors by default, at least in the short term.)

However it’s interesting to note that Sky News has very recently stopped using programme titles for its special features – if not actually stopping the features themselves – which does hint that BSkyB could be thinking along vaguely similar lines, if only in terms of marketing and/or commercially-oriented cost grounds.

Such a move from a commercial broadcaster then suggests another related question, namely whether the idea of removing ‘programmes’ from the BBC News Channel is not just a cost-saving measure but also has a marketing strategy-related element, as seemed to be also apparent with some of the BBC’s earlier radio station cost-saving proposals.

Any future attempt made by the BBC to monetise foreign reporting will put the corporation on a direct collision course with ITN, Sky News and various newspapers, therefore I can’t honestly see that particular idea gaining any degree of traction after the inevitable howls of protest. (This will now appear on the “ideas that aren’t going to fly” list.)

Plus there’s the BBC Parliament channel which is very likely to move to online streaming only, which may upset some politics buffs but for much of the time the channel just behaves like a very expensive webcam anyway. (Of course that’s an exaggeration but something that seems to have now been taken literally.) File under “most likely to happen”.

So what’s obviously left to cut back from the BBC aside from all the ideas openly floated so far?

Something not yet directly referenced in this respect is children’s television. Any cutbacks in this area are bound to be highly controversial regardless, especially in relation to both the independent production sector and the BBC’s general role as a public service broadcaster; not to mention any possible side effects on its new presence at Salford.

A CBBC Channel closure? Still incredibly unlikely at present, but if management gets desperate enough for cutbacks then perhaps what once seemed like a sacred cow may soon be very reluctantly moved to the slaughterhouse, with a general move to high definition broadcasting being the excuse wheeled out if necessary. (Same for CBeebies.)

Broadcasting hours cutbacks for both these channels are, however, much more likely, especially as the CBBC Channel broadcasting during term time these days could end up being an embarrassment if nothing else given the potential severity of cutbacks being made elsewhere that could affect more popular BBC services.

Anyway, the debate over what the BBC should and shouldn’t cut back is set to rage on, especially if the only channel that’s axed this time round is BBC Parliament, which might be an obscure political statement in itself albeit one probably made by accident (accidents now seem to be a recurring theme with BBC management, cf. the saving of 6 Music).

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1 response to this article

Glenn Aylett 24 April 2011 at 2:06 pm

I am very worried about the future of Radio Cumbria. Now that Border has gone, this is our only news, sport and information service and reducing it to four hours a day would destroy it. A real insult would be the BBC to spend a fortune on the One Big Weekend Radio 1 concert in Carlisle and then a week later announce it was slashing Radio Cumbria’s hours. If anything, is a pop concert more of a public service than a local radio station?

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