Culture Secretary: “digital radio industry needs to do a lot more work … to carry the public with it”

House of Commons Culture, Media & Sport Committee
30 March 2011 @ 1006 [excerpt]
Committee Room 15

Jeremy Hunt MP, Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media & Sport

Q: What are your expectations now with regard to digital radio switchover?

A: Well, I think the future is digital. I think the future is DAB. But I think the digital radio industry needs to do a lot more work to boost the penetration of DAB and to carry the public with it. And I think that it has not been nearly as successful as that, as the TV industry has been, in persuading the public of the benefits of digital switchover. And that’s why, at the moment, the industry is having to bear the costs of running two systems [analogue and DAB] in parallel. I very much hope that they won’t have to do that. We want to do everything we can to help the industry migrate smoothly, but we would like it to be user-led, so we have said that we are not going to have an arbitrary 2015 deadline. We will make a decision in due course as to whether we can have switchover in 2015, but we want the radio industry to step up to the plate in making sure there are better products and services available, and that consumers really can see the benefit of DAB.

Q: Would your expectation be that the financial commitment of the BBC to expand the radio coverage in rural areas will remain the same or might that be affected by their review of spending?

A: Well, the BBC are committed in the [Licence Fee] Agreement I did to national availability of national DAB channels. There is still a discussion to be had about the funding of local DAB channels, which is an additional cost. And I am closely involved in discussions with the radio industry, and very keen to resolve this as soon as possible because I think it’s a very, very important next step.

BBC Licence Fee settlement: for radio, where will the axe fall?

Jeremy Hunt, Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media & Sport
20 October 2010

“In the end the deal we got [for the BBC Licence Fee settlement] was tough but fair. Tough because the BBC, like everyone, is going to have to make demanding efficiency savings. But fair because it allows them to continue to make the great programmes that we all love and licence fee payers won’t have to pay any extra for the privilege. The assurances I have secured on magazines, local and online activities will also give some comfort to the BBC’s commercial rivals that the licence fee will not be used to blast them out of the water.”

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Feedback, BBC Radio 4, 21 October 2010 [excerpt]
Roger Bolton, interviewer [RB]
Sir Michael Lyons, chair, BBC Trust [ML]

RB: Does that mean that you would regard any significant cuts in the domestic radio services as something you could not go along with?

ML: I think … that’s rather a sweeping assurance that you’re asking me to give …

RB: Well, it’s people who listen to Radio 4 and to Radio 3 and who value that greatly, and Radios 1 and 2, want to know, as a result of this settlement, will they see major economies made in their networks?

ML: Well, let me be very clear, as I said before. The Trust is clear on the importance to Licence Fee payers of the family of BBC services. The care that we take in reflecting on those radio services is, I think, reflected in the decision that we took on 6 Music – a very careful balancing of the public value that that service provides against its cost. What I can give you assurance on is that the Trust will continue to demonstrate that care across the range of BBC services.

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Tim Davie, Director, BBC Audio & Music
Interviewed by Beehive City, 20 October 2010

“I don’t think anyone is proposing taking £300 million [for the BBC World Service] out of the Audio & Music budget. There wouldn’t be a lot left.”
“Obviously this is a decision taking place at a pan-BBC level rather than just looking at radio services. As the guy in charge of Radio I would say that our portfolio delivers value for money for the licence fee. I think Radio stacks up very well.”
“I don’t want to go into detail about discussions at this point in time. It remains speculation until we see what comes out in the Comprehensive Spending Review.”

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The Tony Livesey show, BBC Radio 5 Live, 28 October 2010 [excerpt]
Stephen Nolan, interviewer (presenter, BBC Radio Ulster) [SN]
Tim Davie, Director, BBC Audio & Music [TD]

SN: Interesting times for the BBC, Tim, aren’t they, because, with the Licence Fee freeze over the next six years, how’s that going to be felt by radio listeners? What are they going to miss, what are they going to lose?

TD: Well, I think it’s too early for me to say ‘oh, we’ve just had a settlement, this is what it affects’. I would say, as an overall principle, the last thing that people want – me or others want to do – is do things that affect the quality of listening. I think that one of the things the BBC has done pretty well over the last few years is: we have taken out quite a lot of costs. But the truth is our radio services, I think, are in fine shape. That’s for the listeners to decide but, actually, the numbers are good, I think the quality of programming is – frankly, it is quite easy to do cheap radio. The issue is that we also want to do the investigative journalism, we want to do the big stuff, and I think listeners care about that stuff. I would say that, of the Licence Fee, radio is only, at most, 20%. So, in terms of good value for money, as the head of radio, I would be arguing our case pretty hard.


SN: You say it’s quite easy to do cheap radio. Do we do cheap radio?

TD: I think, you know, overall, we do good value radio which is – I’m choosing my words carefully there – because, I think, cheap radio, what I meant by that was that it’s quite easy to have one person playing records. We don’t do that. You know. We get people like yourself, who have a point of view….

SN: [interrupts] Yes, we do! We don’t have one person playing records? Chris Moyles plays records. Radio 1 plays records and the commercial sector could do that any day of the week, couldn’t they?

TD: Well, I think Radio 1 is … that’s a big debate. I’m very clear that Radio 1 does something very different to commercial radio. An average commercial radio station would play probably about 200 records a week and Radio 1 … our records … we may get up to 900. We’ll be playing a lot more new music and, actually, we do a lot more speech. Nine million people are listening to news on Radio 1, with something like Newsbeat, and that’s important.

SN: BBC Radio 2 and the commercial sector will argue until the day they die –and I spent ten years working in the commercial sector – that Radio 2 should be given to the commercial sector. Give them a chance because that’s [no more than] very good presenters playing music.

TD: Well, I don’t think they would do what we do. Radio 2 is currently just about 50% speech so, if you listen … on a day in Radio 2, about half of it is speech.

SN: And define ‘speech.’ Are you including presenter links in that? Including monologues and all?

TD: I’m including everything in that. I’m also including Jeremy Vine doing Poetry Week last week. I’m in ….

SN: [interrupts] But it is a bit of a con to suggest that 50% is speech when that includes a presenter saying ‘good morning, it’s ten past ten’, because the commercial sector can do that.

TD: Well, of that, there’s a bit of speech which is those pure links. Point taken. But I think, if you listen to, as I say, Jeremy Vine, you also … It’s not just about music versus speech. You take the Folk Awards, you take Jamie Cullum doing jazz, I think Radio 2 can be pretty proud of what it does, and its playlist versus a commercial station… All I would say – and this is a very simple request, and a strange one by the head of BBC radio – but have a listen to commercial radio for a while and have a listen to us. I think that listeners know the difference.

SN: What is the difference? If someone was listening to commercial radio?

TD: I think we’re a lot less dictated to by a fixed playlist. We do have a playlist but it makes [up] a lot less of our output. I think we give our presenters, as you know, quite free reign and we allow them to do their stuff. And I think … there’s great commercial radio, by the way, and it would be remiss of me to say anything otherwise. But I would say the BBC – the great thing about having fixed income – is that we can do stuff. We can say go and do your stuff and, sometimes, as you know, that can get lively. But, overall, I believe in trusting presenters. The interesting thing as well, by the way, is [that] music services now on the web – you get all these automated recommendations – the one thing I think radio is doing well on is that we don’t kind of do that. We give a presenter the chance to do their stuff.

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House of Lords

debate on media ownership, 4 November 2010 [excerpt]

Lord Myners: I hope that when the BBC licence is next reviewed we start from a presumption that the BBC should not be doing certain things. The BBC should have to prove why it should continue to operate Radio 1 or Radio 2, for instance. It is extraordinarily difficult to explain to a foreign visitor why Radio 1, a popular music station, is a nationalised industry, and why it is necessary for it to be provided by a public service as opposed to a competitive one.

BBC Trust chair notes “the absence of a coherent digital [radio] strategy”

On 8 September 2010, Sir Michael Lyons, chair of the BBC Trust, and Mark Thompson, director general of the BBC, appeared before the government’s Culture, Media & Sport Committee. They were asked about BBC radio policy by a committee member:

David Cairns: It will be brief because it is about radio. Clearly the [BBC Radio] 6 decision has come and gone. Where does this leave you? There seems to be a slight divergence between the Trust and the executive on the vibrancy and distinctiveness of the offer. You wanted to close Radio 6 to make [Radios] 1 and 2 more distinctive. Now 6 is staying open, so a couple of headlines on where we are in terms of the strategy in radio, with particular reference to 1 and 2?

Sir Michael Lyons: It isn’t part of the Government’s structure that the Trust and the Director General have to agree on everything and indeed we’ve had some criticism for not more frequently exposing to public scrutiny the debates which do take place, which are often challenging. I think getting the balance of that right between how much of that discussion is open is I think a matter for reflection.

Now let’s turn to the strategic review: the Trust rejected the proposal to close BBC 6 in its current form believing that the arguments didn’t stand up as a result of the consultation analysis we’ve done. But what that proposal did do was to bring into really quite sharp relief the two big strategic issues sitting behind it. The first of those – the greater distinctiveness of Radio 1 and Radio 2 – very much the subject of the service reviews that the Trust had undertaken earlier in the year, requiring both stations to work more energetically to distinguish themselves from each other and to serve a rather different audience demographic.

The second issue, of course, is the absence of a coherent digital strategy – not an issue for the BBC alone because it immediately brings in the issue of where the Government stands on DAB radio for the future. So where we are at the moment is the Director General is now working on both of those issues, recognising those are the big issues, the big strategic issues, and 6 continues perhaps for ever but certainly until both of those big issues are clear to us.

Mark Thompson: I think Michael answered that very clearly. We have had, I believe, a real success with our television portfolio, including our digital channels, in helping encourage the public to move from analogue to digital television. We are not alone in that, Sky has done a great deal to help with that and so have others. But we know that our digital television channels have made a significant difference in people wanting to take digital television up. We have yet to see the same level of success with digital radio. We are very committed to digital radio. We support the Government’s and indeed the previous Government’s ambitions around moving towards analogue-to-digital switchover in radio as well. The challenge for the BBC is coming up with a portfolio of services which firstly encourages people to sign up on digital radio, but in ways which support the rest of the radio market rather than producing adverse competition.

We need to make sure that the core mainstream channels, like Radio 1 and Radio 2, are sufficiently distinctive, are really doing something different from their commercial counterparts, but also that we have a range of attractive but also distinctive new digital services.

So I think this is a hard Sudoku. It’s not absolutely straightforward because there are a number of different things going on, and I take the BBC Trust’s response on 6 Music I think in the way it is intended which is there are bigger things at stake here. Go back and look at the broad radio strategy and that’s what we’re doing at the moment.

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On 14 September 2010, Jeremy Hunt, Secretary of State for Culture, Media & Sport, appeared before the government’s Culture, Media & Sport Committee. He was asked by a committee member about progress with digital radio switchover:

Damian Collins: There was a report in the press this morning claiming that a report to your Department has been published today by the Consumer Expert Group, saying that 2015 is too early as a target date for digital radio switchover, and even questioning the consumer demand for it. I wonder what your views are on that?

Mr Hunt: On 8 July Ed Vaizey published a digital radio action plan. We made it very clear that we think when it comes to radio, the future is digital. We aspire to the 2015 date but there need to be some changes in consumer patterns of radio consumption before we would agree to a switch-off of the analogue spectrum. Those include a greater-than-50% market share for digital radio listening. At the moment it is about 25% and DAB is only 16%. It includes, for national radio stations, coverage that is as good as FM and, for local stations, 90% coverage and coverage on all major roads. So until we are confident that those conditions are met, we won’t be signing the bit of paper that says there will be switchover in 2015.

Damian Collins: But do you still see 2015 as a date the industry should be aiming for?

Mr Hunt: I hope that we can deliver it by then but they need to work much harder to persuade consumers of the benefits of digital radio. I would much rather this was a process similar to the transition from records to CDs and from CDs to iPods, which was driven by changes in consumer behaviour, rather than something that we change as a sort top-down mechanism.


[these transcripts are uncorrected and are not yet an approved formal record of proceedings]