McMusic will not solve classical music's problems

At the recent Association of British Orchestras Conference the director of BBC Radio Helen Boaden declared that Radio 3 listener numbers do not represent a station in crisis, and went on to propose that the "creation of snackable access to classical content is the key to audience engagement". Since the ABO conference the latest RAJAR audience figures have been published, and it is instructive to review Ms. Boaden's two statement in the view of these new figures.

The key measurement for radio audience is the number of listeners multiplied by the hours they listen, which gives total listening hours. When Ms. Boaden was appointed director of BBC Radio in February 2103, Radio 3 total listening hours stood at 13.8 million (Q1 2013). RAJAR data published this week reports that in the most recent quarter (Q4 2014) the station's total listening hours dropped to 10.8 million. This is a plunge of 22.1% in less than two years, which represents a crisis in my book if not in Ms. Boaden's. McMusic will not solve classical music's problems, because, as the RAJAR data indicates, snackable content does no more than deliver face-saving audience numbers at the expense of the key metric of audience robustness.

Radio 3's continuing catastrophic performance was, as usual, glossed over by the official BBC press release which chose to spin the less damning headline audience size. The damaging fashion for McMusic in the form of 'snackable' content - sampled symphonies etc - must be a contributory factor to the reduction in listening hours, and these new audience figures once again pose the question asked in a 2011 Overgrown Path post - do the arts need wide or deep audiences? Now excuse me while I listen to Kaikhosru Sorabji four hour Opus Clavicembalisticum, a work I assume which will not be broadcast on BBC Radio 3 in the near future. You can read about my own money-where-the-mouth-is experiments with distinctly non-snackable content in 'New music premiere for internet radio' and 'Music of Black Africa on Future Radio'.

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