July 20, 2009
A big question mark hung over the fate of BBC Asian Network this week after it was criticised in an annual report by the BBC Trust for its falling audience figures.
A report in the Evening Standard last week by former Eastern Eye editor Amar Singh, now their media correspondent, suggested the station was up for a chop.
A source told him: “At a time when we are under pressure to justify every penny spent, the feeling is that another rap on the knuckles from the trust could seal the Asian Network’s fate.”
Of concern to its executives were figures showing the station had become the most expensive to produce: at 6.9p per listener per day. This concern has been aggravated by falling listenership figures.
The digital radio station’s expenditure was put at £12.1 million for the year – half a million pounds over budget.
The BBC immediately hit back with a statement from Tim Davie, director of audio and music, who said: “The [Asian] Network is incredibly important in providing news, debate, music and entertainment to British Asians and is growing its audience following a major schedule change.”
He denied its future was under threat, adding: “The BBC Trust said it expects improvement in reach next year and we are committed to doing so.”
It’s doubtful the station will be chopped any time soon since the BBC sees it as a cornerstone of its attempt to reach British Asians with its output.
The BBC Annual Report admitted that the BBC Asian Network’s reach had declined over the past year, averaging around 400,000 listeners last year compared to half a million during 2007/08.
Its chief rival Sunrise radio maintains its dominance of Asian radio despite the huge investment by Asian Network.
The poor performance will undoubtedly raise question marks over its management.
When the radio station went national and digital it started off with Vijay Sharma as station controller. Within a few years however she was demoted to station editor as the controller for Five Live, Bob Shennan, took it under his wing.
But within a couple of years he left the BBC to join Channel 4 and Asian Network then became part of a stable managed by Radio 1 controller Andy Parfitt.
Despite continual schedule changes and new programmes, industry insiders say the station still lacks strategic vision and is unable to punch above its weight. In recent months the station has started adopting a much more “mainstream feel” according to one insider, who declined to be named.
She said the new controller, Andy Parfitt, wanted programming and discussion to focus more on popular culture and less on Asian topics. “It’s sad what’s going on there,” said the former employee.
“They’re ditching a lot of the Asian stuff and replacing it with mainstream trivia. Who wants that? You can get that on Radio 1. It’s becoming an Asian Radio 1 basically.”
|BBC Asian Network programming||In remit||Actual|
|Proportion of speech to music||50:50||46:54|
|% of music in daytime from uK artists||40%||40%|
|average hours of language programming each day||3-5||3-5|
|% of eligible hours from independent producers||c.10%||10%|
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