Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2008/07/09/bbc_annual_report/

Trust on the slide, Chris Moyles on the up at BBC

Annual report shows serious navel-gazing

By Jane Fae Ozimek

Posted in Media, 9th July 2008 12:17 GMT

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.

The only quibble with all of this is that new technologies are grouped together under the heading of “Future Media & Technology”. Well, no - they are current technologies, and this kind of misapprehension of what the future is about may be one sign that the Beeb has not completely outgrown its fuddy-duddy roots.

So is all else sweetness and light? Not quite. The BBC Trust notes, rather ruefully, that ongoing trust levels in the BBC appeared to have fallen following a series of unfortunate “incidents” in the summer and autumn of 2007.

Chief of these was the discovery of dodgy voting practices - money that should have been donated to charity as a result of phone-in voting was retained by BBC subsidiary Audiocall. Other votes were fiddled – most famously on Blue Peter. However, in a masterpiece of spin, details of the Blue Peter story were remarkably absent. Instead, programme Editor Tim Levell described the event as a “catalyst for good”.

Other complaints were on the rise, as in 2007/08 a total of 56 breaches of “editorial compliance” were upheld - up from 38 in the previous year.

Concern was expressed about editorial inaccuracies in respect of online journalism. Meanwhile, a serious own goal was represented by swearing on air during the Live Earth concert broadcast in July 2007. This followed similar editorial breaches during the Live 8 concert in 2005 – and has since been compounded by even more swearing during Live Earth in April of this year. Ofcom is not amused.

The beeb - you can swear on by it

Further fears were raised about Southern/London bias - a survey supported the view that political coverage was seen as unduly focused on Westminster in volume and style, with audiences perceiving a general bias in favour of stories about England or telling stories from an English perspective.

Then there was navel-gazing about “artifice” vs. “deception”. TV audiences were found to have a sophisticated understanding of the boundaries between what is acceptable and unacceptable. Viewers accept a degree of artifice – especially in entertainment – but, unsurprisingly, they prefer factual programmes to be fairly factual.

There is, of course, far far more to the reports than this. Between them, they stretch to a magnificent 200 pages. No doubt analysts will be poring over them tonight, prising additional nuggets out from the dross. For example, a close reading of the production figures shows BBC2 has reduced its education programming by almost half – from 1374 to 785 hours. No doubt this change has some underlying significance.

Chris Moyles continues to be popular - his breakfast show yet again increased reach and share in the first quarter of 2008 with 7.7 million weekly listeners, up by nearly 700,000 on a year ago – a new record high.

Mark Thompson, director general of the BBC, is keen to explain that the biggest training course in the BBC’s history – designed to regain the trust of the public - was not, as some papers mischievously reported, ‘integrity seminars’, but a “conversation” involving no less than 17,000 BBC people. Slapped wrist, therefore, to the Blue Peter Director who talked about attending a “trust seminar”.

Finally, good news for those of geekish tendencies. In contrast to former BBC controller Michael Grade, Mark Thompson comments that for his family, the highlight of the week “remains the amazing Doctor Who.” Now that’s the sort of nugget that really does make a difference. ®