Friday, October 31, 2008

Auntie Out, Edgy Adolescent in, at the BBC

Throughout the whole debate surrounding Brand and Ross the one thing that keeps being said is, how important it is to have edgy humour on the BBC, how this somehow justifies the whole business of paying the huge salaries that are bandied about with abandon at the Beeb. The mantra goes something like this. If we didn't pay them the huge salaries then they would go to a competitor and that would be a disaster. Well let's look at what it is the BBC see as their remit and what we as punters see as their role in providing a raft of services on TV and radio.

Number one I'm not sure that ratings are what are the most important criteria for judging what the BBC do. Sure if nobody listened or watched then clearly they are not providing a service that is being demanded. However, with the plethora of channels and radio stations the whole business of broadcasting has been turned on its head. Much of the time it seems like the BBC behave like the Auntie of old and the rest of the time they think they are operating in a free market. That's the essential problem here. The Director General of the BBC gets £816,000 to do his job. Is it any wonder he is confused about what the going rate for any job is? That's £15,692 pounds per week! Over thirty times the average male weekly wage in Britain. Where in broadcasting is he going to get a salary like that elsewhere?

Last year the BBC’s Director-General, and his nine most senior colleagues had their salaries rise by 17 per cent; this was despite the phone in scandals. Their income of the BBC’s top executives totalled £4.96 million, which was a rise of up £708,000. During the same period the BBC licence fee increased by 3 per cent to £131.50 and most BBC employees got a 4 per cent pay rise. Hello? Is there anyone at home?

Back to edgy humour for a minute. Who is it that wants edgy humour? The thirty somethings according to Lesley Douglas the Controller who has just resigned. Well what about the rest of us? The idea that as a radio station you can be all things to all people is absurd. But the schizophrenic nature of Radio 2 is a weird one. They have driven the station younger and younger in profile, all the while leaving behind many people for much of the time. Why is this? Simple, so they can boast of being the biggest, most listened to Radio station in Britain. They equate this to best. Well there is a difference. They are, in part, the biggest because there is a lack of national competition.

Tonight on Radio 2 we have the Judy Garland Trail, followed by Friday Night is Music Night (light music from an orchestra), followed by James Bond stories and then Listen to the band, which is about brass bands. Is this the same station as gives us Saturday night with Russell Brand? What do the BBC think happens? People of a certain age tune in to listen to the light music of a Friday night but then are asked to clear off on Saturday evenings? Now I'm not saying that its possible to create a station that people of the target market age want to listen to 24/7 but they could do a great deal better than is being done. If Radio 1 caters for the under 25s what about the rest of us? Do they really think that past 55 people just drift off into a musical coma?

Like much of what is done in the name of broadcasting it is done from a media village in London that is out of step and out of tune with much of the rest of Britain. Only when and if they ever get to grips with this issue will things improve. Of course when people earn so much and operate in the rarefied air that many BBC Executives operate within it's unlikely to happen.


Ken said...

Well said Richard...even I can't add much to that! However it has at least served to reduce news coverage of more depressing matters, although its a sign of the times that the headline news for the last few days has been about two BBC presenters as opposed to global recession, murders etc etc.

Separately its a pity that other channels could not take a leaf out of the BBC's book...Channel 4 last night obviously threw caution to the wind and showed Mr Brand's show Ponderland...or whatever its called. No doubt a good strategic (if less than tasteful) move in light of all the publicity!

Ellee Seymour said...

How could this have happened after the Queen documentary? I think edgy in this case meant irresponsible big egos at work. Shame about Ross.

James Higham said...

Well put, Richard.

Anonymous said...

Well thank goodness for the iPod (your own station only playing your favourite music and no annoying speaking in between) and Radio 4 (for all its faults, unequalled).

Bluedog said...

Radio 2 still has "The Organist Entertains" which sits mighty uneasily in the programming.

And the Ross/Brand thing was totally fuelled by the Press, who have very long memories. Ross said a while back that he was worth 1000 BBC Journalists, and they kept their powder dry until the right moment.

BBC was correct to suspend both, and should have done so much sooner.

But the behaviour of the public is quite odd - hardly a single complaint suddenly becomes 10s of thousands, most of whom will not have heard the broadcast. Seems folk not got enough to do these days other than send Mr Angry e-mails to the BBC.

Richard Havers said...

BD, I agree about the public being a bit odd, but it's not surprising that most of them didn't hear it because most people are probably not listening to Radio 2 on a Saturday night. It doesn't excuse their bad taste at all, I think it's right to complain when people go over the top in that way. But...second is the fault of the BBC's somewhat confused management. They cannot decide what they want to be.