Latest News and Other Links Archives: April 2002

Wednesday, April 17, 2002

Lies, Damned Lies, and BBC Audience Figures BBC World Service released its latest audience figures yesterday. Audience numbers worldwide fell from 153 million to 150 million. World Service says this is due to a precipitous drop in the number of listeners in India. Tom Leonard takes the World Service to task in the provocatively-titled Listeners Desert the World Service in the Daily Telegraph (registration required). Julia Day in The Guardian also cites the loss of listeners in India in her article World Service loses 3m listeners. Radio Netherlands' Media Newsdesk page notes that the BBC claims an increased number of listeners in North America, up from 2.3 million to 2.9 million, then goes on to point out shortcomings in the BBC's record of research.

It seems necessary at this point the renew our criticism of the BBC's research, namely that it is more interested in raw numbers of listeners than in listenership. Our survey of local rebroadcasters makes it crystal clear that huge swathes of North America are uncovered or insufficiently covered by BBC's local partners. Our point-counterpoint page refutes every argument the BBC makes regarding the superiority of the audience gained through local rebroadcasts. The second question in particular takes them to task for the methods they use. The BBC appears to be more interested in counting listeners than listenership; someone who stumbles across The World on their local public radio outlet counts just as much as someone who deliberately seeks out the BBC and listens for hours to their news, arts, and cultural programs. Graham Mytton, perhaps the most respected audience researcher in the field of international broadcasting and former head of BBC research, concurs that the direct listener is vastly more valuable. The BBC may have gained 600,000 listeners in North America, but one has to question how much they're worth to the BBC and whether those listeners even realize that they're listening to the BBC.

In the mean time, The BBC's budget continues to grow by leaps and bounds. Ashling O'Connor reports in the Financial Times that the World Service, whose budget grew from the £180 million they had last year to £201 million this year, is now asking for an additional £65 million over three years. In light of this growth, the claim that the one half million pounds saved by turning the transmitters off to North America and the Pacific accounted for a major savings for the BBC is increasingly laughable.

Finally, the BBC makes the claim that the number of listeners to the BBC has likely increased in the wake of September 11. This may or may not be the case, but as we pointed out in October, they were completely absent from New York City during the most critical period. Their much-vaunted local rebroadcasts were pre-empted by US-based coverage, and they weren't heard on the New York airwaves for four days after the attacks. The BBC's strategy of moving to local broadcasting may allow them to count more people as listeners, but it seems guaranteed to marginalize their influence. The BBC's research will never tell them this, though, because it doesn't measure the factors that would expose this problem.

Posted by Ralph Brandi @ 1330 UTC [Link]

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