BBC Radios 3, 4, and 7 should extend appeal: BBC Trust Review

A BBC Trust review has found that BBC Radio 3, Radio 4 and Radio 7 must “gradually extend their core appeal without jeopardizing their distinctiveness.”  As a result of the review, Radio 7 will be renamed as Radio 4 Extra in an effort to better promote digital radio. BBC Radio will also make more shows available online on demand, and a new strategy will be developed for children’s programming.


The review, which included a 12-week public consultation, considered the overall performance of Radios 3, 4 and 7 – including the stations’ quality, distinctiveness and value for money, and the BBC’s future plans for the services. The consultation received a total of 16,795 responses from licence fee payers, the most for any BBC Trust service review.


Announcing the results of the review, the BBC said:

The Trust recognises that Radio 3 has gone some way to adopting a more welcoming tone, and should build on this while maintaining its commitment to high quality music and arts. Radio 4 should aim to broaden its appeal amongst different demographic groups, such as those outside of London and the South East. As part of the review, the Trust has approved the BBC Executive’s proposal to reposition Radio 7 as Radio 4 Extra in order to raise awareness, bring more listeners to the station and promote DAB radio.

Three strategic proposals, put forward by the Executive, have been approved as part of this review:

–      The repositioning of Radio 7 as Radio 4 Extra

–      A new strategy for children’s audio which is designed to better serve children of all ages; this will see the refocusing of children’s programming on Radio 7 to appeal more to families

–      The development of permanent collections of on-demand content for Radio 3, Radio 4 and BBC 4.


BBC Trust Chairman, Sir Michael Lyons, said:

“The Trust is there to get the best out of BBC services for licence fee payers – and that means ensuring that programmes are distinctive, high quality and entertaining, while delivering value for money. This is particularly relevant in light of the long term savings the BBC must make following the new licence fee settlement.

“We found that Radio 3, Radio 4 and Radio 7 are doing much to meet those challenges of distinctiveness and quality – and the Trust will work with the services to ensure they build on this good work.”

BBC Trustee David Liddiment, who led the review, said:

“It is evident that Radio 3, Radio 4 and Radio 7 are much loved by the loyal and passionate listeners that tune in each week.

“The challenge now is to bring in new audiences, while retaining the qualities that make them special. The report sets out measures to achieve this and we now look to the Executive to implement these.

“The Trust is clear that the BBC has an important responsibility to serve children via radio, television and online. It is regrettable that the current strategy for children’s radio is not working. The Trust nonetheless believes that the Executive’s new strategy will ensure children of all ages are better served by the BBC.”


Key findings and recommendations:


Radio 3

Radio 3’s high quality mix of music and cultural programming is listened to by around two million people each week. Over recent years the BBC Executive has taken steps to make the station more welcoming and accessible in an attempt to attract potential listeners. The Trust endorses this strategy, although this should not be at the cost of the station’s quality and distinctiveness. The Trust recognises that the station’s exploration of a wide range of challenging music means that there will ultimately be a natural limit on its overall audience.


Radio 4

Radio 4 is the most listened to UK wide radio station and is greatly valued by its sizeable audience. However, the Executive has some concerns about long term declines in listening amongst the ‘replenisher’ audience group – this term refers to those who may have an interest in speech radio but tend to be slightly younger and lighter listeners than the Radio 4 core audience. The Trust endorses the Executive’s strategy of appealing to this audience to help secure the station’s strong reach and healthy listening in the future. There is also lower listening amongst certain audience groups – such as those living further away from London, and those from black and minority ethnic backgrounds. The BBC Executive has set out initiatives to broaden Radio 4’s appeal amongst these groups. The Trust supports these initiatives, but asks the Executive to ensure that it does not alienate Radio 4’s core listeners.


Radio 7

The Trust found that Radio 7 provides a high quality service that is much loved by its audience. With around a million listeners, Radio 7 has the second largest audience of the BBC’s digital stations – but overall awareness is very low. The Trust endorses the Executive’s proposal to reposition Radio 7 as Radio 4 Extra – a move which will encourage audiences to sample the station. But to preserve the elements that audiences value, the Trust will strengthen the service licence so that the commitment to comedy and drama is increased, and limit the amount of Radio 4 catch-up progamming.


Children’s audio strategy

The Trust regrets that the dedicated children’s programming on Radio 7 is not serving audiences well – and performs very poorly in terms of reach, quality, impact and value for money. The Trust has approved a three point strategy for children’s audio proposed by the BBC Executive in the course of this review. This strategy involves:

–      A focus on family-friendly content for older children on Radio 4 Extra, with an overall reduction in the hours of children’s programming from 1400 to 350

–      The creation of CBeebies pre-school audio available for download from the CBeebies website

–      The release of children’s radio content for broadcast by third parties. The Trust believes there is value in working with third parties, provided the BBC brand and reputation can be protected.


BBC Archive – Permanent collections

As part of this review, the Trust has approved BBC management’s proposals to develop permanent archive collections for Radio 3, Radio 4 and BBC Four. Although these offers will differ slightly for each service, the BBC Executive has selected these services for their focus on knowledge, culture and arts and the programming in the permanent collections will reflect this.