BBC Radio 1 is the third most-popular station in the UK. And to many working in the music industry to break artists, it’s one of the most important media outlets in the world.
Not only does Radio 1 reach more than 10m people in its home country every week, it’s specifically targeted at 15-29 year-olds – usually the most important demographic for those attempting to bring through new popular music into the mainstream.
Earlier this month, a BBC Trust Service Review ordered Radio 1 to up its cost-cutting efforts, mandating that the network should broadcast less live music – both from major festivals and in terms of ‘sessions’ recorded for the station by artists.
The Review revealed a number of important challenges facing Radio 1 – challenges which are likely to impact on music rights-holders all over the globe.
1) It’s reaching fewer young people than it did three years ago, but more people over 45
Despite the BBC Trust being satisfied with the efforts of Radio 1 to target a teenage and 20-something audience, the station’s reach amongst every age group under 45 has fallen in the past four years.
In 2009/2010, it reached 41.1% of people aged 25-29, but in 2013/2014 that dropped to 36.3%.
Likewise, it is now listened to by 41.3% of 20-to-24 years olds – but three years ago that figure stood at 45.7%.
Conversely, its reach amongst people over 45 has actually gone up, raising from 8% in 2009/2010 to 8.4% in 2013/2014.
Of course, young people have increasingly varied entertainment media options – particularly in the age of YouTube and new digital apps.
The BBC Trust argues: ‘Radio 1’s reach among its target audience remains higher than any other radio station, and it is the BBC’s third highest reaching service among this age group, behind BBC One and BBC Online.’
The trust also noted: “Through our public consultation we heard from some listeners, largely those aged over 25, who say they feel pushed away from Radio 1, as the station seems to focus more on serving young listeners.
“However, we do not think this is a widespread impression as, in the audience research we conducted for this review, Radio 1 is felt to serve 15-29 year-olds well while also appealing to older listeners.”
2) 50% of Radio 1’s daytime playlist is music from non-UK artists – and that’s enough, for now…
Radio 1’s music output must adhere to several minimum conditions in its service licence – one of which is that at least 40% of its spins should feature UK artists.
It is currently meeting this commitment. In 2013-14 50% of music in daytime was from UK artists.
According to BBC a study from June 2014, Radio 1 played 307 different tracks across a week in daytime, with music from a variety of genres.
The BBC Trust says that although Radio 1 plays a slightly smaller proportion of UK music than some commercial stations, the amount of new UK music it plays is higher.
The latest data shows that 61% of Radio 1’s music played is from UK artists.
While this figure was slightly lower than two commercial stations monitored (XFM and Absolute), Radio 1 played more new music from UK artists than both of these rivals.
3) It’s all about new music – but it’s not 100% sure what ‘new music’ means
Radio 1’s service licence states that at least 45% of its music in daytime should be ‘new’, with continuous particular support for new and emerging UK artists.
In June 2014, the BBC Trust found that Radio 1 was, again, satisfying this mandate – approximately 62% of music in daytime on the station was deemed ‘new’.
However, new music in the BBC’s mandate is currently defined as ‘either unreleased or less than one month since release, based on a physical release date’.
The Trust notes: ‘As physical release dates may cease to exist soon and pre-release windows are also being reconsidered by the music industry… [we] recognise that the current definition of new music may become invalid’.
It says it is concerned that ‘establishing and tracking digital release dates for all tracks may be more challenging and costly’, adding that ‘the current new music measure does not differentiate between new tracks from established artists, which can become hits quickly, and releases from new talent,which may take longer to grow in popularity’.
It concludes: ‘Given its importance, we think the BBC should engage with the music industry to find the most appropriate way of defining and measuring new music on BBC radio.’
4) It has cut its presenter numbers right down – but it needs to save £2m more
Despite BBC Radio’s requirement to cut costs, expenditure at Radio 1 actually went up between 2011/2012 and 2013/2014 , from £50.6m to £52.8m.
The station has made sweeping production and staff costs, particularly around presenter numbers: since 2009, the number of presenters in an average week has fallen from 38 to 28.
But there has also been an increase in ‘central content-making related costs’, which the Beeb blames on an increase in rights payments to the likes of PPL and PRS, and in the station’s allocation of BBC overheads.
Between 2014-15 and 2016-17, Radio 1 plans to deliver around £2million of savings in its programme-making budget – which it says will be made through further ‘efficiencies and scope savings’.
Some of this has already been delivered through schedule changes announced in 2014-15, with the new enforced reduction in live coverage another attempt to save the pennies.
5) It’s being listened to by more non-white people than it was in 2010 – but it’s not enough
Since the Trust’s last Review, Radio 1’s reach amongst the 15-29 year-old BAME (black, Asian and ‘minority ethnic’) audience has increased, up from 17% in 2009/2010 to 23% in 2013.
However, this remains much lower than the average radio reach of 40% amongst this age group.
The Trust says: “We recognise the significant efforts the station has made to address this issue, so we will continue to track the station’s reach among BAME audiences.”
It notes that since its last review in 2009/2010, “Radio 1 has worked to develop a more diverse presenter line-up. It now has black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) presenters in more prominent positions at the station and representing a higher proportion of the overall presenter line-up.”
[Pictured: BBC Radio 1 presenter Greg James]Music Business Worldwide