20 July 2017
Ofcom has entirely removed quotas for radio comedy, drama and readings in their first draft Operating Licence (OL) for the BBC. BBC programming was previously defined in Service Licences set by the BBC Trust which gave a commitment to a minimum of 790 hours a year across BBC Radio 3 and 4. Conversely quotas for religion and arts programming have increased.
Increased funding pressures on BBC Radio make it likely that cuts will affect drama and comedy going forward. Over the last decade, with quotas in place, we have already seen a reduction in bespoke drama commissions, the removal of drama from the World Service, the Friday Play from R4 and The Wire from R3.
The Radio drama department is seen very much as a patron of the arts - nurturing new voices, helping sustain established voices, seeding writers of all genres and disciplines. Drama and comedy programmes attract significant audiences and the Audience Appreciation figures are high. It is worth noting that Radio 4’s Afternoon Plays each get a bigger audience on one day (around 1 million) than the National Theatre gets in all its South Bank venues in a year.
We appreciate that significant cuts have to be made at the BBC overall, but radio producers have always worked to tight budgets and consequently the smallest cuts are felt more deeply in radio than with TV. The consequence of fewer commissions will be less innovation and risk-taking, less diversity, less choice, more repeats, and more reliance on out of copyright works rather than contemporary commissions. This is not best serving the UK audience and will have a significant impact on our members.
The Ofcom consultation has now closed, but members can continue to lobby the BBC directly as they are seeking comments on their Annual Plan. This consultation closes on 30th September 2017. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.