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6Music: Dead man walking?

BBC strategy review public consultation ends

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Analysis Public consultation on a whole raft of cuts planned at the BBC ends today, after the Corporation confirmed in March that, among other things, it would axe digital radio stations 6Music and the Asian Network and halve the number of Beeb websites by 2012.

Auntie said at the time that it hoped to make savings of around £600m a year, which it would then pump back into “high-quality” programmes.

However, following BBC director-general Mark Thompson’s announcement there has been a sleb-heavy outcry from some who have bemoaned the Beeb’s plans to cull 6Music.

It’s been 12 weeks since listeners of the radio station learned of its proposed demise, and in that time 6Music has seen an impressive climb in the number of people tuning into it. Listening figures now stand at more than one million people for the last quarter, up from a little under 700,000 in the last three months of 2009, according to Rajar numbers released earlier this month.

But the Beeb’s decision to swing the axe simply presaged the formation of a new government in mid-May. All three parties in the run-up to the general election made it clear that big cuts would be necessary to help lift the UK’s economy. And then fast forward to yesterday's announcement by chancellor George Osborne that UK.gov would make cutbacks of £6.2bn this year.

Meanwhile, more protests are planned today in a last ditch effort to save 6Music from the cull. Interestingly, the fact that the likes of the BPI just yesterday waded into the argument that the station’s licence payer expense can indeed be justified could yet save 6Music... kinda.

“6Music is exactly the kind of programming the licence fee is there to support - distinctive, high quality broadcasting that the commercial market would not provide," said BPI chief executive Geoff Taylor.

"This is a chance for the Trust to stand up for the rights of the listener, and save a national treasure. Signing its death warrant would not only let down music fans, it would fail generations of British artists who do not get played otherwise.”

Clearly the BBC station is, as we noted last week, important to the music industry.

And it has friends in Whitehall too. Newly-installed government minister Ed Vaizey, who last week took charge of the thorny Digital Economy Bill, now agrees that 6Music should probably be saved. He initially welcomed Thompson's plans, including ditching the digital station.

But is all this attention enough to convince the BBC Trust, Auntie’s governing body, to let 6Music survive the planned cuts; or is it simply too expensive to keep the one million listener-strong station ticking over given the need to spend less in these money-poor times?

That’s really what the trust now has to consider. At the same time, the ToryLib coalition has been making plenty of noises about the possibility of using some of the Beeb’s licence fee to fund the rollout of next generation broadband. And after all, that cash has got to come from somewhere - which doesn't just mean some serious downsizing at the BBC, but also a likely hike in the licence fee too.

So perhaps Thompson and indeed the trust, which faces an uncertain future of its own, have bigger fish to fry than 6Music right about now. ®

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