BBC 6 Music Saved.... For Now

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Gavin Riley

05th July 2010
At 11:29 GMT

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BBC 6 Music has staved off the threat of closure after the BBC Trust rejected plans to axe the station. In the initial response to the BBC strategy review, which originally stated plans to close the station, Sir Michael Lyons, chairman of the BBC Trust said that the case for the closure of 6 Music had not been made.

He said the Trust would consider closing 6 Music only as part of a wider strategy on the future of digital radio. However the Trust accepted plans to close the Asian Network as well as chopping off  25% of the Beeb's online budget.

Here's the full text from the report, it's loooong:

The Trust has not been convinced by the case for the closure of 6 Music.

The Executive’s proposal to close 6 Music derives from an underlying ambition to; do fewer things better and thereby focus the BBC more effectively on its core mission; ensure that it plays its full part in promoting the move from analogue to digital; and have due regard for the BBC’s competitive impact. While we endorse this ambition the Trust is not convinced by the case for closure, as presented.

We agree the BBC has a role in promoting digital radio and we want to see further proposals for achieving this but note that 6 Music’s current performance is comparable with that of other digital services.

While the BBC has a clear duty to help drive digital take-up we acknowledge that it will be difficult for it to develop a coherent strategy for doing so without both greater clarity from government in terms of overall policy and the active involvement of both the BBC itself and the commercial sector in helping to determine what that overall policy should be. We believe it should be a priority for all stakeholders to work together to resolve the issues facing digital radio as soon as possible and to plot a clear way forward.
In the meantime, 6 Music is making an overall contribution to digital radio listening similar to other BBC digital-only services. We are not convinced that removing the service, and reallocating its budget (around £9m per year) to spend on other aspects of digital radio, will make a decisive difference to digital take-up.

The idea of moving 6 Music content into a new ‘2 Extra’ station, a concept raised in public debate since the publication of the Executive proposals, prompted consultation responses arguing that this would not constitute ‘doing fewer things better’ and could in fact have a negative market impact.

We agree that BBC Radio needs to take its market impact seriously but that of 6 Music is currently minimal and likely to remain so.

In our review of this service earlier this year we concluded that it was both well-liked by its listeners, was highly distinctive and made an important contribution to the public purposes. At the time of review it had a reach of 600,000 listeners which was comparable with that of other BBC digital radio stations and we concluded that in terms of value for money it was also comparable with them. We concluded that there was scope to increase its reach whilst at the same time staying within the constraints of both its distinctive remit and current budget and we challenged the station’s management to do this.

Since the publication of Putting Quality First in March and the announcement of the Executive’s plan to close the service there has been a significant show of public support for the service. 78% of the 47,933 online consultation responses place specific focus on 6 Music as do more than 25,054 separate emails and 242 letters – in each case the great majority of responses oppose any plans for closure.

The service’s reach has also risen substantially since then to 1 million listeners a week. We think it is likely that the next quarter’s figures (April to June) which will be published in August will also show strong reach. This suggests that it may be possible to grow the audience without losing any distinctiveness, although we will need to look at longer-term trends before being absolutely sure of that.

Arguments advanced by respondents to our consultation who oppose the service’s closure include the view that its programming is unavailable elsewhere and that the commercial sector would be unlikely to fill the space vacated by it; the difficulty of transferring its programming onto other BBC networks; the removal of an outlet for new and emerging artists to get their music heard; and the station’s potential role in driving digital, particularly given the recent increase in its reach.

We recognise that any proposal to close a BBC service is unlikely to be popular with those who use it. However, we do need to consider the question of whether the future growth of the service would significantly impact the market. We note that throughout the period of our consultation we have received no evidence from the commercial radio sector to suggest that 6 Music presents any kind of threat either now or in the future so long as it remains true to its distinctive remit. We also note the strong view expressed by many in the music industry that 6 Music plays a very valuable role in the cultural life of the UK that would not be easily replaced and that would not be filled by the commercial sector.

We do not think that the station is a threat to the commercial sector so long as it remains true to its remit, but we do acknowledge that the risk – identified by the BBC Executive – that in the absence of effective safeguards efforts to broaden the station’s appeal could cause it to drift closer to the mainstream. For this reason we set out a number of such safeguards in our review and as with all our recommendations, we will monitor them both for their implementation and effectiveness.

Source: BBC Trust Website

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