The BBC has lost the plot

First, it was BBC 6 music.  Then, it was the World Service.  More recently, it has threatened to cut the short story slot from three to one a week on Radio 4.  And now, they want to cut BBC 4’s budget.

Well, they can try.

A massive campaign by presenters and listeners saved 6 music.  And while the first batch of cuts to the World Service’s budget have started to bite, the Commons Foreign Affairs Select committee has called for its funding to be ring-fenced when it moves from being taxpayer-funded to licence fee funded in 2014.  All hope is not yet lost, especially when the vital role the World Service plays in reaching global and domestic audiences in its many broadcasting languages was underlined by the Arab Spring.

The short story commissioning is still under threat but has garnered powerful allies, led by the remarkable Susie Maguire, an author who tweets and blogs as @wrathofgod.  BBC Executives would have been wise to check this out before it started out with its plans, for Susie has waged a one-woman campaign to have the decision reversed.   She has launched a petition and a Twitter campaign, signing up big guns in the literary and arts world along the way.  Blogs and newspaper articles have been written condemning the move.  If the BBC thought it could usher through these proposals with the minimum of fuss, well they ken noo.  Beware the Wrath of God!

The latest misguided attempt to save money has just leaked out and already the lieges are revolting.  Earlier tonight, I was the 378th person to sign the online petition protesting at the budget cuts:  at the time of writing, signatories were up to 508.  A Facebook and Twitter campaign are underway.  Thanks to all who follow me @burdzeyeview who retweeted the sign the petition plea.  Keep doing it – and more importantly, please sign the petition!  This one has a long way to grow yet.

I can’t help but think the BBC has lost the plot.  Or more precisely its demographic compass.  For the one thing all these cuts have in common is that they are of concern to a particular demographic, the powerful and resourceful 35 – 54 year olds.  We’re the inbetweeners:  discerning customers who like their music, their current affairs, the spoken word and quality broadcasting.  Clearly we are not averse to change, else we’d never have embraced BBC 6 music and BBC 4 in the first place.  But it has to be change for good, change with a purpose, change that improves things.

And if the burd realises this, why on earth doesn’t the BBC?  I’m guessing the high heid yins are needing a little help in understanding why its proposals are short-sighted and why attacking the viewing/listening choices of the inbetweeners is not good business sense.  Allow me to enlighten them.

1.  We were weaned on the BBC.  One of my earliest memories is of cuddling up on the couch after lunch with my mum and little brother to Watch with Mother.  She got to doze, we lost ourselves in the delights of the Herb Garden, Bill and Ben, Andy Pandy and Fingerbob.  Consequently, the BBC is synonymous with my childhood, my adolescence and now my adulthood.  That matters.

2.  We are the generation of terrestrial television.  Our channels of choice largely remain the ones we grew up with and unlike the under 35s, we not only still watch TV and listen to the radio, but prefer our lifelong brands, only tentatively edging out our listening and viewing experiences into digital channels.

3.  We are not quite the technophobes our parents are.  Thus, we tweet, facebook, youtube, blog and game with as much panache as the younger generation.  We get i-player and digital radio.  In fact, we positively lurve these innovations.  It’s how we discovered Radio 6 and BBC 4 in the first place.  It’s why we are managing to launch these mainly successful “save” campaigns.  But we still like wir telly and wireless.  Our generation is the one with a TV and radio in practically every room in the house.

4.  We are all going to live until we are well into our 80s.  Well most of us are.  We are your loyal customers past, present and future.

5.  Unlike the baby boomers, we inbetweeners are not looking forward to wealthy retirements.  In fact, some of us are toiling now, and that will only get worse in the next few years.  We know you know this or else you wouldn’t be trying to make the cuts.  But get this, having less money to spend means the pleasures of the short story on Radio 4, of Swedish and Italian noir on BBC 4 are going to become more important to us.  Cheap thrills for the price of a licence fee.  The idea of families huddling round the wireless or the TV set might seem quaint but could be on the verge of a comeback.

6.  Quality matters.  Content matters.  We like the nostalgia fest that BBC 4 regularly serves up in music, but we also like the new drama, intelligent comedy and arty farty stuff too.  Who do you think is responsible for the success of Wallander, the Killing, Mad Men and the Thick of It?  You?  Sheesh.

7.  Protest is in our blood.  During the 80s many of us spent every other weekend marching for something or other.  Ban the bomb, save our water, support the miners, free Nelson Mandela, can pay won’t pay.  Check out your old VT.  That’s us, in the front row, biggest banners, silly hairstyles.  We know how to make a noise and we like to win.

8.  Apart from Family Guy, we don’t watch BBC 3.  There’s a clue there on where to cut without a fuss.

Sign the petition.  Save BBC 4!

8 thoughts on “The BBC has lost the plot

  1. While I agree with some points-I hate it when people hide behind ‘we’ to promote their own individual agenda/tastes.

    Speak for yourself! Don’t speak for me!

  2. I think you have summed up the situation very well in this piece, fancy a job as CEO of the BBC?

  3. Cutting BBC4 would be a massive mistake. Its doing the sort of things which BBC2 used to do – the good science programs, the good arts programs etc. The theme nights and series’ that it does are excellent and the sort of thing a public service broadcaster should do.

    However, dont target BBC3! There are some good programmes on there – but just because politicians or businessmen dont watch it, doesnt mean to say that no one else does! The BBC is a diverse broadcaster – catering to every taste. As soon as it stops doing that, someone will complain that it doesnt and the licence fee should be abolished etc.

    Plus, I’m surprised no one has noticed the sale of Radio Times. RT IS the BBC! There are plenty of listings magazines out there, and I havnt heard that it is out-competing them! Save the Radio Times!

    • John, I was kinda jesting about BBC 3 – agree wholeheartedly about diversity required by BBC. But my serious point – which may have been hidden – is that the BBC is getting its demographics all wrong and protecting its output for the yoof market at the expense of stay at homes like me. I watch the BBC, my 19 year old son rarely watches any terrestrial TV.

      Radio Times – I’ll pass on that campaign. I never really got the point of listings mags at all, except at Christmas.

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  5. If the BBC cancel BBC4, I will do an Alex Ferguson (I don’t mean kick football boots) I mean boycotting the BBC. On the plus side, I won’t have to watch Torchwood anymore.

    • So don’t! I don’t…. And if they cut BBC 4 to the bone there won’t be any point watching the BBC anymore – we won’t have to boycott it!

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