Sunday, 9 October 2011

Why we should worry about the BBC cuts

£700 million worth of cuts to the BBC from the last year's £3.5 billion expenditure (about 20%) because the licence fee is being frozen. Big cuts to sport, hardly surprising, since that's what commercial broadcasters want to control. Obviously, there's slack in the way any big corporation is run.  For example, most people made redundant get the statutory minimum, around one week per year worked, max £400 per week. You're lucky if you get £5000. It's shocking that the BBC pays up to 2 full years or a maximum of £75000. Since they're laying off thousands of staff, it might be cheaper to keep them on..

But what does it mean to classical music? BBC Radio 3 used to be top of the market but has been spiralling downwards for years. If the BBC continues to self destruct, we might as well listen to Classic FM. Or not at all. The Proms are safe because they're symbolic, but they're planning to slash around 25%  of key elements, like live broadcasts and performers. Cutting waste and management is one thing, but cutting the core of the whole service is plain short-sighted.  The way the recording industry has collapsed. there's a huge niche for live and original. But the BBC don't seem to have twigged how the industry has changed. Are they killing the goose that lays the golden egg?

BBC Radio 3 supports the whole music industry. Nobody makes money from seat sales alone: Broadcast fees make a huge difference to the income of any venture. Now the BBC Plans to cut live broadcasts, which are a key feature of the schedule. We all can hear some of what's on at the Wigmore Hall, for example, without getting into London, and we get to hear top European orchestras and opera companies as well. Smaller venues and festivals may not survive without BBC support. We get to hear what's on at the unusual East Neuk Festival in the Outer Hebrides, for example. Without broadcasts we won't get variety and regional ventures, and places like the Wigmore Hall might not have the leeway to keep standards high. The end result? Less music. less variety, lower quality.

It's because of the BBC that the British audience demographic is so much more integrated than in most countries. This itself keeps standards high, because everyone has to have something worthwhile to offer. Take away these unifying broadcasts and we could turn into a nation of insular one-horse towns, where there's no competition or wider perspective. It also might mean doom to specialist interests. No one-horse town can support specialisms like early music on their own. So will we get safe and boring? One of the cuts targets already announced is new music. The Proms prove that there is an audience for innovation. Eliminate new music and you eliminate development, sponsorship of new talent and composers who'll not reach mass markets in their lifetimes. Remember Schubert, and many others. Whether you like new music or not, it's part of the lifeblood of creativity.

Even the BBC orchestras and singers are possibly under threat. This is nuts, as they are an integral part of the whole industry. Each orchestra has its purpose, and regional significance, and the BBC Singers are world class. In turn, they provide work for musicians, composers, and creatives. Cut back on gimmicks like celebrity presenters, popularity charts, glib talkshows, even the BBC Young Generation Artists Programme (which spins duds and well as goodies). But don't cut the core business. Pretty prattlers (male and female) you can get anytime. You can't replace years of professional experience.  Bizarrely, one of the ideas being floated is to replace orchestral programming with more chamber music. That logic doesn't work. You may have to pay more musicians in an orchestra, but orchestral music is what most people want to hear. They might as well amputate much of the classical tradition. You can't appreciate chamber music without knowing the bigger picture. As for opera, I suspect the BBC won't understand at all. Seriously warped economics.

Meanwhile, they want to keep the plethora of channels , each with its own infrastructure of overheads and cushy management.  Some channels are essential services, like the Asian Network, but what's the point of BBC TV 2 or 3 reduced to doing nothing but repeats? Again, technology has changed the business. With online on demand, we can get repeats any time, we don't need to support a repeats-only channel. For a while BBC Radio 3 was turning into back-to-back repeats of Composer of the Week, recycling the same programmes over and over. Recently, they've gone back to real broadcasting and more realtime concerts. But no more. This time maybe even CotW might be replaced by repeat drivetime drivel, because that's even cheaper. And you don't really need to listen. But maybe that's the long-term strategy. Stop people paying attention and they'll swallow whatever they're given. Perhaps that's the rationale behind having lots of soundbite news snippets instead of in depth investigative journalism. That's not just the BBC of course but a result of the Attention Deficit Disorder that politicians and big business would like the population to develop.

What is going on? Don't they have the business nous to realize that, if you have a unique product, you don't strip it down so it resembles junk anyone else can do? The BBC is our patrimony, and has made this country what it is. It helps keep the whole music industry afloat. Rupert Murdoch, for example,  has long wanted the BBC cut down so his ventures can compete. OTOH, if capitalism is so good, why can't he outshine the BBC without whining?  A good horse can win without the competition being hobbled. Too much short-term thinking and vested interests in this country, not enough vision.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Eliminating ccontemporary music strikes at the very heart of music's ability to engage with the issues of its time, and to develop a language capable of doing so. It's the driving force behind the art-form's grapping with contemporary concerns and helping audiences look at them from a different perspective. Make it - and keep it - new!