I have mentioned many times that I don’t try and write a topical, current media affairs blog. There are a few reasons for that- stress (always finding something to comment about), it tends to be more last minute (and therefore adds more stress), and could generate more polarising opinions (and I could do without that stress too). Occasionally there is the odd thing that spikes attention and tempts me to start drafting a post. Few actually get to the publish phase, and my drafts folder is full of half finished posts and thoughts which will probably never see the light of day.
I posted a while ago about LOCAL. It was prompted by the BBC Sounds local activity a few weeks earlier which had one of those pings in my attention. Of course since then, the localness of the BBC has again been in the news with the BBC Local Radio proposals.
I have weighed up formulating my views on the perceived rights or wrongs of the plans and concluded that… who cares what I think! In fact I’m not totally certain of what I think and in the end there are people with lives and families involved in all of this news, and they matter. Their worries matter. Their concerns matter and my conclusions one way or another are irrelevant and just noise.
I shared on social channels a very eloquent post and point of view from David Lloyd the other week when the news broke. His experience and viewpoint are both insightful and well founded. I am not going to attempt to replicate and instead direct you to his post. It is balanced and interesting and very worthy of a read.
Why then am I still typing?
I remember many years ago delivering a presentation to some media students who were asking about the contraction of the commercial radio industry at the time as a result of deregulation and consolidation. At the time I mentioned that the model of the then commercial radio landscape was one built in the 1970’s and based on a set of realities of the 1970’s- the time of commercial radio’s birth. The foundation of those businesses and how they operated, and how commercial radio operated as a whole, was based on how society, industry and media looked at that time. It was also based on a regulatory framework under the auspices of the IBA (Independent Broadcasting Authority which regulated TV and Radio services). A regulatory position which was far more stringent and constrictive in comparison to today, and even from the later regulation from The Radio Authority. At the time when the idea of commercial local radio was born, there were no mobile phones, no internet, three tv channels and none of them 24 hours per day. Operating any other type of business, you wouldn’t try and limit your scope, operation and set up based on a set of criteria from decades ago which were no longer relevant! Things should evolve and change of course- including in media industries (or Netflix would be still focussed on mailing out DVDs and ignoring streaming!).
Where does all that leave the concept of LOCAL? Is local is still important and relevant in today’s media environment? Engagement seems to be healthy though. In Rajar “All Local Commercial” has 25.8 million listeners a week (All Adults 15+)*, with BBC Local having 7.8 million listeners per week*. Of course just because a station is classed “local” it may not carry much local programming and still be quoted as a local service (eg, Hits Radio, Greatest Hits, Capital, Heart etc, etc- which could be a local transmitter carrying a national or pseudo national output with local opts outs and news and commercials). On the whole the BBC Local stations’ output is more local with a lot less networking and sharing (at the moment) of course. In comparison the 7.8 million is small when looking at commercial radio’s 25.8 million- but a lot of that is down to audience targeting of the programming so its not a fair comparison. BBC Local Radio has around a circa 20% reach for over 55s in the latest Rajar results*. Its debatable if that is low or could be higher, and ultimately I’m drawn back to my “who cares what I think” conclusion from above.
*(Source Rajar Ipsos/RSMB Wave 3 2022, measured in own TSAs)
How important is it to the whole of BBC Radio though? The “Any BBC” Rajar number is the total combined number of listeners to any BBC service, local or national- so all listeners to a BBC service irrespective of what it is, as long as its a BBC service. The total reach for Any BBC is just over 33 million in a week*. That’s the total number of people who listen to any BBC station in any given week. If you use that total as your base, then what is the make up of the individual BBC services? Radio 1 has just over 8.1 million listeners a week*- or 25% of the whole “Any BBC” number.
Below is a breakdown of the “Any BBC” reach number and what each part of the BBC accounts for, expressed as % reach.
BBC Local Radio in its entirety, accounts for 24% of the BBC total reach each week.
Now I’m going to get granular here and in the weeds of Rajar, so bear with me… its worth noting that 1 Xtra from the BBC reports on 6 monthly figures, as does BBC Asian Network (meaning its from April – Sept for Wave 3, and therefore not included in the above graph or calculation. If you redo the numbers based entirely on 6 month across the board then BBC Local is 22% of the new “Any BBC” figure- that’s also partially why when you add all the percentages up they don’t come to 100. Reach can be shared, i.e. you can listen to more than one station). Who said it was easy! Rajar nerd restored- move on!
My conclusion is that change is not simple- and you knew that already! The world in which BBC Radio Leicester first appeared as the first BBC Local station is almost unrecognisable from the one which exists today. Media consumption is equally unrecognisable, that said, radio in general still has an 89% reach* of the UK population! BBC Local Radio accounts for a pretty big chunk, somewhere around a quarter, of the total BBC audience and so change could have very sizeable impact.
On a macro level, as I said already, the changes have a disproportionate impact on the people involved. To them it is personal, monumental and long lasting. I have great sympathy with the upheaval they feel and are going through at this moment, which irrespective on how it finally works out for them, will have an equally long lasting impact on their relationship with their employer as a result.
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