MEDIA: Can the BBC hold its own in the tabloid TV news trough?

Are we ever going to see the News Bunny defect to the BBC and share an autocue with Peter Sissons? I ask only because something is stirring in its huge news and current affairs empire. It wants to be more popular.

Are we ever going to see the News Bunny defect to the BBC and share an

autocue with Peter Sissons? I ask only because something is stirring in

its huge news and current affairs empire. It wants to be more popular.



This week’s annual report and account from the Corporation, was, on the

face of it, a pretty smug document. But in a few terse lines director

general John Birt underlined a key failing, which has only recently

surfaced in the corporate consciousness helped, I suspect, by Kelvin

MacKenzie’s jibes from the sidelines of Live TV.



It is that, despite all the attention and resources lavished on BBC news

and current affairs programmes, these distinctive offerings are not

succeeding either with people living in the five million homes now

connected to cable or satellite who can dip into 24-hour news channels

if they want, or with the late teens/early twenties audience. Panorama’s

Princess Diana interview was a freakish exception.



Only one third of the audience tunes into a BBC current affairs

programme each week, although the BBC hardly helps matters when it

schedules its most accessible, Here & Now, against Coronation Street.



A further problem is that Radio 5 Live, which was supposed to bring in a

younger audience, has actually made its name with sports coverage. Its

news coverage hardly registers in the minds of the majority of the

audience, except as an irritant when it interrupts play. This is why the

new controller of Radio 4, appointed this week, should have a free hand

to reassert the network’s key role in providing news.



This discovery explains another surprising development, which has been

seeping out over the last few weeks as the BBC has been forced to

provide details of its digital plans.



The 24-hour television service which Jenny Abramsky, ex-controller of

Radio 5 Live has been deputed to start within the next 18 months, will

be targeted at these lost millions of young and somewhat down-market

families. Instead of copying CNN or Sky News, which are basically pretty

straight forward and quasi-authoritative programmes, the BBC has decided

on an unconventional populist approach. It will have younger presenters

with a light touch, fewer desks, and a warmer feel.



The problem, of course, is whether the Corporation really understand

this sort of niche broadcasting. The message from seasoned operators

such as CNN is uncomfortable. They point out what the weekly Barb

audience figures repeatedly stress: that while around 35 per cent of

viewing in cable and satellite homes is now devoted to the non-

terrestrial services, the lion’s share is taken up by entertainment,

movies and sport, not news, however sensational - with or without a

furry friend.



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