MEDIA: The BBC must set the agenda by publicising its best assets

No sooner had Marks and Gran’s new sitcom, Starting Out, finished recording two weeks ago, than BBC1 started to run trailers, preparing for its ultra-speedy broadcast on 21 September. With the duo’s hits Birds of a Feather and Goodnight Sweetheart at an end, it’s a key sign of the way the corporation is trying to reinforce the autumn schedule.

No sooner had Marks and Gran’s new sitcom, Starting Out, finished

recording two weeks ago, than BBC1 started to run trailers, preparing

for its ultra-speedy broadcast on 21 September. With the duo’s hits

Birds of a Feather and Goodnight Sweetheart at an end, it’s a key sign

of the way the corporation is trying to reinforce the autumn

schedule.



It’s now clear that even by BBC standards, the corporation is

experiencing a prolonged period of attack across a wide front. It

gathered in earnest over standards (Vanessa), lost stars and sports

rights during the spring, but to the despair of its publicists, the

trouble has not blown over.



Meanwhile, related concern about declining standards has, unfairly, left

ITV untouched. The high level of criticism has been kept going

throughout August and now into September by the licence fee debate,

unpopular proposals for an extra pounds 24 digital levy, uniting

commercial broadcasters.



There is also a gulf in perceptions: the BBC believes itself strapped

for cash. The outside world sees a privileged organisation being given

the runaround by Talk Radio and Channel 5. Only last week a collapse in

ratings, leading to the channel’s worst peak time share since 1946

brought fresh impetus, including an attack on BBC1’s controller by Noel

Edmonds (still under contract for a further pounds 1 million of

work).



No wonder press officers worked all weekend not glorying in the Last

Night of the Proms or the new Children’s Prom in the Park, but putting

up director of television Alan Yentob for rebutals. Why can’t the BBC

get a better press? Its executives seem surprised newspapers persist in

judging it by crude ratings, rather than supposedly more sophisticated

measures like the audience ’reached’ by programmes.



That’s rich: outgoing director general Sir John Birt proudly used these

very measures himself in countless public presentations. And measures of

reach are also pretty crude. There has been no attempt to develop a more

refined breakdown or publish levels of satisfaction.



The extended period of handover to Greg Dyke can only lead to further

confused messages. Take the current rethinking of BBC1, as a ’more

distinctive’ public service network. It shouldn’t be necessary - the

absence of arts and the cloning of lifestyle programmes has been going

on for years.



Now I’m told Dyke’s big theme is to be education. He’s going to need all

his communications skills to get this across. On the day of BBC1’s

freakishly low ratings, chairman Sir Christopher Bland was stressing

this role at the launch of The Century Speaks, a huge pounds 1.3 million

oral history series broadcasting on local radio. Alas, there is no

national Radio 4 compilation aimed at opinion-formers. Much valuable

work comes out of the BBC. But it does hide its light.



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