Tag Archives: BBC

BBC Proms, a branding disaster

21 Aug

BBC PRoms 2013It is this time of the year when eager press releases accompanied by expertly Photoshopped images start coming out of the Beeb’s press office. They concern the now regular Proms in the Park format that is happening concurrently with the actual last night at the Royal Albert Hall. Over time they have stretched the meaning of classical to breaking point by inviting musical stars and entertainers. This year a pair of old timers return, Miss Jenkins and Mr Boe. They endemically crop up as the star attraction at one of those arena classical pap nights and it still makes me wonder if the Proms brand means anything for the BBC.

They keep promoting it as the premier classical summer festival (this year with an execrable campaign using the RAH as a glorified egg cup, see below) and then they contradict their own promotion by inviting popera stars to head those outdoor events.

It is a very contradictory statement by the Proms bosses and it opens them up to questions of good management of a valuable brand that is slowly losing its hardwon reputation and meaning. There is always a discussion of what the programming of the season has to contain and how it should embrace the real world outside the classical bubble. By inviting Boe and Jenkins the BBC organisers are essentially making a statement of non trust to the very genre they promote. In the past they had no issues selling out the Hyde Park event with either Angela Gheorghiu, Bryn Terfel and Placido Domingo headlining. Now it seems they depend year after year on popular entertainers as if admitting defeat that bona fide classical stars can’t sell out the large outdoor venues.

Ultimately isn’t the Proms brand about promoting and disseminating classical music to the widest possible audience, why do they feel the need to call on to people without the training or essential credentials? Boe and Jenkins will claim to have performed for the Proms without ever having to step on the platform of the Royal Albert Hall, a veritable own goal by the Proms bosses. 

When singers like Joyce DiDonato, who is singing for the RAH last night, do so much to bring a new audience to classical music and opera, an organisation of the size and influence of the BBC is seen as cowardly and predictable.

The BBC does it again! / Update, what the Controller says…

5 Jul

On a previous blog post I lamented the lack of opera performances on TV and in particular on BBC Four, the Beeb’s flagship cultural destination. At the end of that post I urged any readers that felt compelled to write to Richard Klein, the Controller of the channel. I did too and he was gracious enough to respond to my criticisms of the all too rare appearance of opera performances on his channel.

His main point is the lack of funding: ‘Unfortunately given the nature of both the funding for BBC Four and the remit that the channel has it is inevitable that there are opera events and performances that the channel simply cannot take. Under my current funding I have space for two or three new opera recordings and performances a year,and I can acquire at slightly lower prices a couple more.’

And we get (possibly what is the identity problem of BBC Four) a rundown of the channel’s spectrum: ‘But there is a bigger issue at heart here and that is that BBC Four’s remit is to cover all the arts and all culture, as much as it can, from the contemporary and pop music world, jazz, folk and classical symphony etc, to dance, the visual arts, sculpture and applied arts, through to interesting new comedy, drama, history, science and documentaries, the best of world televison like The Killing, and Storyville’ sinternational documentary, and feature films from the world.’

And finally we get a distict impression that BBC’s Radio 3 is the answer to the complaints for more opera on TV: ‘I am genuinely sorry you feel under-served but would point you to Radio Three as a place where there seems to be an abundance of specialist attention to opera amongst other classical music forms, as befits a specialist radio station.’

I do not want to be one of the usual moaners that must deluge the electronic or physical mailbag of any TV executive, and will not pursue him with follow up emails etc. But his very pragmatic response opens up a totally new chapter. The overall responsibility of the BBC to make “high culture” accessible to all corners of the UK and as far away from the capital as possible.
It seems that BBC Four’s remit is as wide as the Atlantic and clearly not focused enough on the performing and visual arts. A large number of programmes aired on it (most of them just cheap imports e.g. Nordic dramas and documentaries) have no connection to artistic production in the UK, but clearly are there to plump up viewing figures. Is the BBC a public service broadcaster or just another branch of commercial media, with the distinct advantage of a huge cushion of public funding? The fact that (as stated by the Controller in his email) Anna Nicole and Faust only attracted ‘modest’ audiences makes them less valuable as a broadcasting commodity? I am expecting the BBC to step up to its responsibility to entertain, to enlighten and to educate not to just chase after viewing figures.

There is a whole generation of amazing breakthrough opera talent in this country that goes unnoticed by mainstream media. And the BBC to relegate that coverage to the niche radio station for the “classical ghetto” is indicative of how marginal is opera and classical music in the wider cultural life as depicted by the media as a whole.
If Sky can have two HD channels that have a large proportion of opera and classical music in its line-up, why can’t the BBC offer a bit more than the promise of three opera productions a year? We pay our TV License tax for them to cover a broad spectrum and also to reflect the wealth of production in all the different sectors of the blossoming creative industries around Britain. And currently they are offering us underwhelming quantity and quality.

The BBC does it again!

28 Jun

Well done BBC big wigs, you’ve done it again! As announced this morning the Royal Opera will be broadcasting on European TV and online its much awaited production of Les Troyens. Now why the BBC would pass on the chance to show it live on BBC 4 on 5 July is anyone’s guess (the schedule doesn’t exactly look crammed with goodies)…it seems the newly launched The Space has become the outlet of choice to bury non mainstream high quality programming. Similar fate was in store for the 50th anniversary performance of Britten’s War Requiem from Coventry Cathedral last month. Had the BBC been a commercial entity and they depended on advertising and viewing figures to keep going, it would be more understandable. Surely Les Troyens will not be the next X Factor, but when they have a whole channel dedicated to more “intellectual” niche programming why not utilise that positioning to a greater effect?

The fact that the UK misses out on the free to air TV relay is a sad reflection of the BBC’s priorities. Incidentally that is the night I’m watching it live in the House, but would have loved to know that the whole UK could have had the chance to see it live too. After all the Royal Opera House is funded by our taxes as does the BBC, but once more they have spectacularly failed to work together and bring opera to an as wide an audience as possible. Especially coming on the back of the bizarre decision to show Puccini’s Il Trittico in three consecutive Fridays instead of in one evening!

Oh well if anyone want to see it…in November, there will be cinema screenings (in establishments left outside the Met Opera’s exclusivity blanket). The rest of us will just pop to Glyndebourne’s website and watch each of their productions being available online globally.

PS Possibly not a bad idea to tell Richard Klein,  the Controller of BBC Four,  how we feel about the lack of coverage of opera on his channel, email away: richard.klein at bbc.co.uk

BBC Proms you have the most expensive booking fee in London

20 Apr

Tada! Fanfare and pomp and Roger Wright the director of the Proms (or rather officially Controller, R3 & Director BBC Proms) presented yesterday the new season of the Proms.

Unfortunately the jubilation for the announcement is clouded by the booking fees that they will charge anyone prudent enough to book in advance. Surely if the well subsidised and much accused for being expensive and exclusive can afford not to charge a booking fee, the Proms and the Royal Albert Hall charge 2% of the transaction amount plus £1 per ticket up to a maximum of £10!  This exorbitant fee makes the Royal Albert Hall a touch cheaper than the hideously priced Ticketmaster. For instance three tickets for The Phantom of the Opera would cost £159 with Proms pricing while the Ticketmaster price is a more robbing £163.50. Of course the main difference between an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical and the Proms is one of them is subsidised by tax called euphemistically a licence fee…it seems the Proms are a licence for the Royal Albert Hall to make a killing on fees (as they do for the rest of the year). As one of the biggest block bookers of the Hall couldn’t they come up with a better arrangement on the booking fees? If most classical and opera venues can offer the same service for under £3 how dare they ask for £12?

It is impossible to find out how much putting up the Proms costs, due to the BBC’s  hiding behind Sphinx like statements to freedom of information requests. But it is estimated to cost around £10million*

It is hugely disappointing to allow the host venue to capitalise at such a degree on the back of the Proms. Everyone would have been more understanding if the ticket prices had gone up a bit to cover the administration costs. To their credit the RAH responded with a couple of tweets, attributing their high fees to their lack of public subsidy. As for the Proms twitter folk they just think taking a pound off the standard booking fees of the RAH is enough. Dear readers what do you think, is it appropriate a public body like the BBC, using public tax money to put up this festival to gouge us with such fees?

*Just the broadcast of the festival cost £3.7m and they employed 145 staff (2008 season numbers, published in 2010 NAO report)

Read More

BBC’s Annual report 2011/12 http://downloads.bbc.co.uk/annualreport/pdf/bbc_ar_online_2010_11.pdf

National Audit Office looking at spending for Proms: http://www.nao.org.uk/publications/0910/bbc_coverage_of_major_events.aspx

Overgrown path blog on the Proms cost: http://www.overgrownpath.com/2009/08/what-price-bbc-proms.html

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