Yesterday’s BBC announcement has been accurately assessed by Pete Marcus on The Media Blog as “pleasing pretty much no one and cheesing off just about everybody”. It’s rooted in what insiders tell me is a mindset within senior management that sees a Tory election victory as a certainty, so BBC has decided its own cutbacks will be better than those imposed from outside. That’s really as far as the strategy goes.
Newsnight‘s Jeremy Paxman drew attention to the fact that the massive overspend on buildings budgets was about the same as the total savings that would come from yesterday’s announcement, although BBC Chairman Mark Thompson attempted to convince us that the overspend would in fact mean a final saving in the buildings budget. One can’t help but wonder how wise the decision to move significant parts of the BBC operation out of London, where the centre of political and commercial power is, was. The move has been implemented at great expense and means many experienced staff are looking elsewhere for work. Criticism of the move move can’t simply be dismissed as ‘regional bias’, although this has proved a convenient cover.
The news that the BBC is also likely to sell its magazines arm makes it look even more as if the corporation is axing the stuff that makes money in order to save money. BBC magazines include Radio Times and Top Gear. Many of my old bosses in the magazine publishing world will no doubt be celebrating, as they’ve always seen the BBC’s ability to cross-promote its titles as unfair. And of course, magazine companies are well known for their aversion to cross promotion and their support for a diverse market.
The example of BBC magazines illustrates the problem the BBC has to wrestle with constantly. It’s attacked for being uncommercial when it uses the public service remit to justify activities that don’t get mass audiences, and attacked for being too commercial when it does get mass audiences. So the BBC’s muddle-headed response is to axe the money-making stuff like Radio Times and Top Gear mag and retain shows such as Skippy The Australian Kangaroo which Jeremy Paxman immortalised in his demolition of Thompson on Newsnight.
Mind you, sometimes the BBC makes it very difficult to argue for the levels of quality it can deliver. Newsnight‘s report on the closure of 6Music featured a closing sequence in which the presenter told us that David Bowie was among the stars opposing the move. “So how,” he said, “could we tell ths story through the medium of Bowie song titles?” As viewers began to shift uncomfortably in their seats, Culture Correspondent Stephen Smith went on “According to the many listeners who are emailing, texting and ringing in, it’s a case of Rebel Rebel, with the BBC management cast, inevitably, as The Spiders from Mars.” Pure Alan Partridge.