The BBC is planning to claw back an annual average of £700m in cost-savings over the next seven years, according to a freshly-released report setting out the plan for its next Charter renewal.
Fears are understandably growing within the music industry over what this could mean for the strength of UK entertainment broadcasting staples such as BBC Radio 1, BBC Radio 2 and BBC 6Music.
But just because the publicly-funded Beeb is tightening its belt, that doesn’t mean that new products aren’t coming – and one in particular should get music rights-holders pretty excited.
The BBC says it is planning to launch a ‘New Music Discovery Service’, which would make the 50,000 tracks broadcast by the BBC every month available to stream for a limited period.
This digital platform will go one better than the ‘BBC Playlister’ initiative launched in 2013, which allowed listeners and viewers to transfer playlists of radio DJs’ shows to Spotify and other services.
This time, the BBC will directly compete with the likes of Spotify and Apple for the attention of music fans – with a fully-fledged online music streaming service, owned and hosted by the Beeb.
“We have developed a digital music proposal with the music industry which builds on BBC Music’s playlister.”
BBC bosses aren’t taking this lightly, either, gently suggesting that the Corporation can do a better job than current players when it comes to that phrase du jour, music curation.
“The rapid growth in digital and online access to music is responsible for significant change in the UK music industry and is affecting how audiences use our music services,” says the BBC.
“We must evolve our music offering so that it serves new audience needs and habits and allows us to remain a strong partner and contributor to the UK creative sector.
There is no set timeline for launch, although it’s certainly more than just an idea, with the BBC revealing that it has already “developed a digital music proposal with the music industry”.
It adds: “We would make this product a champion for new UK music, whether that is the latest unsigned talent from BBC Introducing or a classical performance of new music commissioned and broadcast by Radio 3.
“We would also use it to increase our support for specialist genres, independent artists and labels — those who are less supported by the wider broadcast and digital market but for whom there are enthusiastic audiences.
“We would do this by featuring their music prominently in the playlists we curate, and we would add to the range of broadcast tracks by also offering a set proportion of music from [labels] which has not previously featured on BBC services.”
These tracks will include “exclusive and unique live performances… whether a Live Lounge, a performance from Radio 1’s Big Weekend, or a forgotten gem from our classical archive”, says the BBC.
Tracks will also link back to their original broadcast on the BBC, enabling audiences to discover more long-form radio and television programming.
“Our music product would be the only one in the market which would be fully open and integrated with other digital providers.”
Yet despite being a semi-rival to the likes of Spotify, the BBC is clearly being cautious about doing too much harm to its commercial rivals – making clear it wants to continue supporting third-party platforms.
“Our music product would be the only one in the market which would be fully open and integrated with other digital providers,” it says.
What that means in practice is that users will be able to transfer BBC playlists into other platforms – allowing them to play tracks on Spotify, Apple Music, Google Play etc. after BBC availability has expired.
There’s also consideration going into how artists get paid.
“We want our digital music offer to benefit audiences and artists,” said the Beeb. “We are working with the industry to develop this proposal in a way that achieves that objective, whether it’s by providing the first audience for an unsigned or undiscovered artist, or by working to license the product in a way that benefits artists fairly.
“We may also look at ways to deploy our digital curation skills globally, showcasing the best UK music to audiences across the world.
“This distinctive music discovery product would mean that the BBC could stay a key catalyst for the UK music industry, and it would be part of an exciting digital future for music on the BBC.”
“I firmly believe the BBC respects and values music more than any other broadcaster.”
It concluded: “Through this digital music offer, we would reinvent our role as a trusted guide, in partnership with our audience and with the UK music industry.
“Together, the BBC and its audiences would curate music in new ways, enabling the discovery of more of all the music we play across the schedules of our many radio stations and TV channels.”
This music streaming service is part of a range of new products that the BBC hopes will attract people’s attention away from commercial digital platforms.
Another launch will allow its audience to create their own, individual radio channels on their smartphones – mixing live and on-demand content from across the BBC’s stations.
It’s also planning to challenge the likes of Netflix, by opening up iPlayer to third-parties and permitting viewers to watch entire BBC drama series back-to-back.
David Joseph, Universal Music UK CEO & Chairman, is quoted in the BBC report.
In a general comment on the BBC’s relationship with the UK music industry, he says: “Music is at the heart of the BBC, from their programmers and presenters through to their programming and live output, throughout their digital and broadcast arenas.
“I firmly believe the BBC respects and values music more than any other broadcaster in the world.”
In a sad end to the section of the BBC Charter report regarding its entertainment initiatives, the broadcaster says:
“We don’t know how these innovations will do. We will close those that fail, and expand those that work. In time, those success stories may mean we no longer need some existing services…
“In an ideal world, we would move with the audience. Although much of the audience is consuming in new ways, a large part continue to enjoy radio and television as they always have done—live and through channels. For the next Charter, we need to serve both audiences.
“Other things being equal, we would therefore add these innovations to our portfolio initially, and only phase out services once they were no longer needed by audiences.
“But that depends on funding.”