Andrew Harrison is Chief Executive of RadioCentre – the trade body for commercial radio. Today he shares his view on the challenge ahead for BBC Radio 1’s Ben Cooper.
Harrison Commends Cooper’s Courage
Even before he was appointed controller of Radio 1 in October last year, Ben Cooper would have been well aware that the key challenge facing him was how he went about reducing the average age of the station’s millions of listeners.
It’s an important challenge for two reasons. Firstly, because for all of us working in radio, we need to work doubly hard to ensure young listeners enjoy our output and develop the same listening habits as older generations. That’s not easy when we’re competing with on-line music jukeboxes, with their breath-taking explosion of choice, available on everything from MP3 players to smartphones and IPTV. The BBC has to lead that effort. Why? Because its public service funding model is perfectly suited to engaging those difficult to reach younger audiences. By contrast, teenage and younger audiences hold less value to advertisers, making this kind of output financially unviable to the commercial sector. Fact.
Secondly, Radio 1, which receives £50 million from the licence fee, is the service best equipped to reach those younger listeners – and it’s failing to do so. Radio 1 has a service commitment to deliver an audience aged between 15 and 29 years old – but its average listener age is 32. The BBC Trust has consistently highlighted the fact that the average age remains too high and requires action. Cooper himself has acknowledged his ‘metric of success is going to be average age’.
So, Cooper has made a good start on a strategic imperative for the BBC and all of radio –ensuring young listeners fall in love with radio over and over again. He has made some big decisions early on in his tenure, attempting to embrace a younger audience by changing the station line-up and moving on many DJs who were not just colleagues, but friends. Cooper understands that although many younger listeners may like Chris Moyles, they do not identify as well with him as they do presenters of their own age. They also want to listen to music not talk.
So, we all hope that Cooper’s subtle hand on the tiller will embrace a younger audience. As for ‘festival dads’ such as myself, Tim Davie or even Lord Patten , there should be enough places on the dial across Radio 2 and 6 Music – let alone Absolute Radio, Planet Rock and elsewhere – to satisfy our daily radio cravings.
And, we can all still tune in to a favourite show on Radio 1 every so often. But the average age of the audience day-in, day-out, hour after hour should sit comfortably within the age remit for which the station is given its service licence.
There is still work to do – whether on distinctiveness, music policy or the public service output of the station – but Cooper is making some bold choices and big decisions now to plan for the future. I commend him for making the correct one for radio in this case. Without it, we’ll all have fewer listeners in 10 years’ time.