Saturday, 6 March 2010

The Joy of 6

In response to Mark Thompson’s recent proposal to close BBC 6Music and BBC Asian Network as part of a wider strategy review, I would like to offer my comments. Whilst most will refer specifically to 6Music, many of my points are transferrable to other parts of the policy, but also of the BBC’s overall remit as I see it.
The BBC has a responsibility (because of the unique way it is funded – remember the adverts?) to produce programming that noone else could. I would go so far as to say that the proposals made this week reflect a desire for the BBC not to diversify, but to conform to commerical norms, and as such, this would oppose me to the licence fee, should it come to pass.
BBC 6Music represents the intrinsic values of the BBC remit. There is a proven market for such a product as has been shown by the passionate support the station has been receiving from the music industry and public alike since the idea of closure was mooted in The Times leak.
Whilst it is acknowledged that 6Music is not likely to become the most listened to station in Britain, it fulfils a gap that the BBC is obliged to cater for. XFM, the nearest equivalent, is so watered down in its creativity due to commercial pressures, that it acts as living example of exactly WHY 6Music is needed.
Without 6Music there is no formal platform for up and coming bands who desperately need national exposure to feed into the mainstream. Without it, music in the UK is likely to become a homogenised mixture of American R&B and reality show winners.
The “Top 40” has no relevance to the majority of music fans. Radio 2 listeners are faced with a minefield of “safe” oldies and specialist shows that, again, bear no relevance. Radio 1 is a similar minefield of occasional brilliance in a sea of mediocrity, aimed at younger listeners. The demographic of popular music listening has changed, with over 25s looking to be challenged by popular music, rather than sinking into a conformist mixture of oldies, speech and classical.
6Music is clearly misunderstood by the BBC hierarchy. It is essential that they understand that around 40-60% of music played on 6 would not appear anywhere else, thus leaving NO outlet for these genres and artists. If it goes, these listeners won’t go to “appointment to listen” shows on 1&2, they will just leave.
One of the key arguments for the closures is the cost benefit of the station, given its relatively low listening figures. However, comparing “apples with apples”, Radio 3 has far lower figures, despite being on FM. 6Music is as important to popular music as Radio 3 is to classical, and given an FM platform it would outperform it consistently. Proof of this is Radio Nova in Paris who have a nationwide FM platform and a similar format and the station is a huge success.
The take-up of DAB has hitherto been limited by government policy. With plans to close FM in favour of DAB or a newer format such as AAC+ continually in flux, it is unfair to pass judgement on a station that is yet to reach a level playing field. Most 6Music listeners do not have access in their cars, at work and in many cases at home.
The cultural shift to listening through digital television, upgrading to DAB in offices and cars, or listening online is in relative infancy. Habits are changing all the time, and it will take at least 5-10 years before a digital-only station can hope to find its feet. In affect, the closure of the station at this point is tantamout to an abortion.
The content of 6Music is unique and represents a realisation of the dreams of presenters and music industry figures such as John Peel and Anthony H Wilson. The British licence fee system exists to allow the BBC to step away from the boundaries of commercial constraints and cater to minorities, untapped markets, and culturally relevant areas. 6Music is the embodiment of everything that the BBC should be about, and as such, its safety is a responsibility of the BBC towards its licence payers, and the world, to which it acts as a beacon of example and innovation.
In closing, I would like to reiterate that BBC 6Music is not doomed. It is not a minority station. It is a cultural masterpiece on a minority platform. The BBC’s first crime is that it isn’t given prescidence over Radio 1, which serves no real purpose in modern Britain, and that it isn’t given a mainstream broadcasting format to allow it to thrive. For the sake of the future of music, culture and radio in Britain, it MUST be saved.
Thank you for listening.
Chris Merriman

PLEASE join the Facebook group, follow @savebbc6music and make your feelings known to - your voice matters!

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