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Annual report shows serious navel-gazing

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iPlayer good, London bias bad, rigged phone-ins very bad. Those are just some of the (predictable) gems that emerged yesterday as the BBC published its annual report on 2007/8.

If you want a no-holds-barred, warts-and-all insight into what the BBC has been up to over the last year, this is probably not the place to look.

It comes in two halves, one from the BBC Trust and the other from the the BBC Executive. It provides a slow and stately wander through the world of the Beeb, much of it dreadfully predictable.

As the BBC Trust opines: “At the heart of BBC culture sit the values of honesty, integrity and straight dealing. These values... must be impressed on people on the day they join and be at the heart of their professional life throughout their time at the BBC.”

Time Lords, time-shifts

There is much that is worthy here, with views that appear to be genuine and well-intentioned, though sprinkled with plenty of buzzwords. The Beeb is concerned with the new regionalism - quality content still rules, value is king and “non-linear” programming is the way to go. The latter, for those not steeped in tele-speak, is programming that you can access to suit your own agenda. “Time-shifted”, in a decidedly non-Whovian sense.

The flagship for non-linear programming, described as “a seismic power shift... in the media landscape” is the iPlayer service. Since its launch in December 2007, following a “public value test”, it has been a great success, with some 42 million programmes accessed in the first three months of 2008. The introduction of streaming has helped content requests to more than double to 4.7 million a week by the end of March 2008.

But the iPlayer is a success story not just in terms of demand, but also the way in which it has directed audiences toward niche programming, such as BBC Three and Four.

Another new media success story is BBCi. This allows digital TV viewers to access continuous and constantly updated news, information, education and entertainment in the form of interactive video, audio, pictures and text. BBCi is currently available through three platforms: Freeview, satellite and cable. An interactive service is offered through the “red button”. The average annual weekly reach for BBCi in 2007 was 11.0 million, and more than 2.6 million people used BBCi to watch Glastonbury with over 1.5 million pressing red.

Plans are under way to make BBCi available on Freesat.

Online, bbc.co.uk celebrated its tenth birthday as still the most popular content site in the UK. In March, in the UK alone, there were an average of 17.2 million weekly users, Radio Player served a total of 12.5 million hours of live listening and 7.7 million people successfully downloaded podcasts. The respective global figures are 33 million users, 17.2 million hours of listening, and 16.4 million downloads.

bbc.co.uk’s reach grew by 16.2 per cent over the year, with page impressions averaging over 3.6 billion per month.

Digital radio listening is growing steadily. More than 17 per cent of listening to BBC stations is now via digital platforms – DAB in particular. However, the overwhelming majority of digital radio listening is to the BBC’s analogue services (Radios 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 Live). Awareness of the digital-only services also remains low - only 41 per cent of the population have heard of them, even when prompted.

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