Extra marketing 

12 April 2010 tbs.pm/1179

If BBC management weren’t planning to close any radio stations, the repositioning of 1Xtra as a closer relation to Radio 1 would make sense from a marketing perspective because at a stroke you would broaden the appeal of 1Xtra, thereby making it less niche and providing greater value for money.

Much has already been written on the proposals to scrap BBC Radio 6 Music and the Asian Network (only being topped by the storm surrounding the Digital Economy Bill) as part of the BBC Strategy Review, but keeping and raising the profile of 1Xtra at the expense of 6 Music is certainly bound to raise more eyebrows at the very least.

Having two stations with mass market appeal that heavily promote each other will certainly annoy commercial radio operators at a particularly crucial point in time, especially when young people are a very sought-after demographic. (Just imagine the uproar if the BBC had two television channels that were similar to BBC Three.)

Any cross-promotion may be intended as a way of further promoting digital radio in particular, but this ignores the much greater diversity that’s now present in terms of music listening sources. Let’s be honest: if there’s a marketing battle being fought, the targets are now much more likely to be Last.fm and Spotify as opposed to Choice or Kiss FM.

Retaining 1Xtra notably gives the BBC’s marketing department an excuse to continually promote an alternative radio service on Radio 1 (and vice versa), as part and parcel of reminding listeners of a variety of BBC services above and beyond what they’re currently listening to.

It’s easy for stations like Radio 2 to cross-promote other radio stations like Radio 3 and Radio 4, and vice versa, etc., without losing listener relevance, but the Radio 1 audience won’t be particularly interested in The Archers, as well as Chris Evans not quite being their cup of tea, although 5 Live might be in for a shout.

(Other BBC services such as the iPlayer are equally important but are consumed in different ways at different times as opposed to casual radio listening.)

Indeed that could be a partial justification for retaining 1Xtra as a weapon in the war to attract younger listeners to BBC radio services, maintaining a lower age profile for Radio 1 by association.

But these arguments have somehow been lost through obfuscation, perhaps because management may be too scared to openly admit them, let alone having them subjected to public scrutiny. So we were left with a disjointed BBC Strategy Review document that only gave some of the answers, leaving perplexed readers to work out the rest for themselves.

Then there’s the whole issue of attracting younger listeners to BBC services in general, which is contentious in itself since a good percentage of young people tend to change tastes and associations as they grow older, even if they never change such things as their car insurance provider.

It may be cheaper from an operational perspective to have a 1Xtra that’s more closely aligned to its ‘parent’ – for one thing you can have more resources shared between the two stations – but from a musical diversity perspective it’s a non-starter compared to the sheer variety that 6 Music currently offers.

And it was also perhaps easier to justify the retention of 1Xtra if it predominantly served a specific audience that was neglected by other stations, but making it more accessible also risks diluting any uniqueness that 1Xtra may currently have, even if such a move appears to make sense in terms of overall value.

Increasing the appeal of 1Xtra would also cannibalise the audience of Radio 1 to some extent, which could theoretically be also an attempt to disguise or limit any perceived dominance of Radio 1 from an audience ratings perspective.

In an ideal world there would still be a place for all of these radio stations, but closing one station whilst simultaneously creating a compromised “double-headed monster” just superficially appears to be a somewhat tactless decision predominantly based on financial and marketing perspectives.

Adding more fuel to the fire, so to speak.