With commercial radio struggling, should BBC stations be shaken up?

How we miss Peter Bazalgette in the broadcast industry. He says he's involved in some “new media ventures” these days, which is enough to accelerate my plan for opening a tea room in Suffolk. Baz, when he pokes his head above the parapet, always make a contribution that stirs the hornets' nest. Without him we have almost no senior industry figures who will say the unthinkable without first laundering it through their extensive public affairs departments.

This week's contribution, via the pages of the Financial Times, was to suggest the BBC should privatise Radios 1 and 2 and redistribute the money to Channel 4. Not sure why C4 is still seen as the only possible recipient of public funding when ITV is disappearing down its own ratings drain quicker than you can say Bet Lynch. Or indeed in a world where holding a licence to broadcast is no longer a signal of sole fitness to provide public service content.

Nevertheless, as Baz says, the debate needs to be had. It is at least a decade since we kicked the “privatise Radio 1 and 2” can round the block. I don't think there is a hope in hell of the idea bearing fruit, given the parlous state of aspects of the commercial radio industry. Where Baz is right though, is that given the problems radio is currently encountering, both in finding a sustainable model and in funding future distribution platforms, perhaps it is time to review the BBC's role. Maybe the best thing it can do is carry on funding DAB and providing money for commercial providers to use the platform rather than them having to invest their own cash.

It will, it seems, be inevitable at some point that the BBC's share of radio - which can only increase given its dominance on the web - will mean there needs to be either a handicapping system or a fundamental rethink of what we want from a radio network. The DAB debate is already problematic for C4, which sees its licence as a way to diversify its brand and remain relevant to wider audiences. Yet it is hard to see, given the launch date is still almost a year away, how this will do anything other than suck more resources from the core C4 services.

What happens when the commercial radio sector finds the competition from the public sector too much? Already at local levels the BBC can potentially become the dominant provider through multimedia services distributed through the web. It is clearly an area for more think-tank activity. If only there was someone to lead the inquiry, maybe a former broadcaster with a forward-thinking outlook and plenty of time on his hands...
Emily Bell is director of digital content, Guardian News and Media

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