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BBC World Service Drops Shortwave to North America & the Pacific July 1 [2001]

Move Abandons More Than 1.2 Million Listeners

One Year On

The BBC World Service is a unique institution, the local radio service of the global village, broadcast on shortwave so it's accessible anywhere. But that service has decided that some neighborhoods don't need to be served any more. As of July 1, 2001, North America and the Pacific are no longer targeted with shortwave broadcasts by the BBC World Service.

This site exists to help you convince them or their paymasters to reverse this terrible mistake.

One year on, the situation regarding alternatives to shortwave has changed markedly. Sadly, the BBC's policy has not.

Coalition member John Figliozzi has written a Guest Editorial for the Radio Netherlands Media Network site, looking at the consequences of the cessation of broadcasts to North America and the Pacific.

Meanwhile, it's increasingly clear that the economics of Internet radio as it's currently constituted simply don't work. The Library of Congress has imposed onerous fees on American webcasters (fees that stations broadcasting over the radio are not subject to, incidentally) that ensures the death of most webcasters. The fees were based on fees worked out in a deal between Yahoo! and the RIAA (the recording industry's trade organization) that Mark Cuban, who was involved in the initial negotiations, has admitted were designed to squeeze small webcasters out of business. This makes it ironic that Yahoo! has now announced the shutdown of their Yahoo! Radio division (formerly Cuban's Broadcast.com). This shutdown deprives the BBC World Service of one of their main sources of webcasting capacity. Their own webcasting feeds are hosted out of New York; this makes us wonder if perhaps the BBC will now be subject to the fees imposed by the Library of Congress, since their webcast comes from the United States.

The BBC World Service continues to press its political masters for massive increases in funding to boost service in under-covered areas of the world. Their most recent request was for £76 million over three years (that's over and above their regular budget, incidentally). We would like to suggest to the UK Parliament that this figure be boosted to £77.5 million, on the condition that the extra £500,000 per year be mandated to provide service to the under-served North American and Pacific regions on the only medium that can provide cost-effective service to such large areas, shortwave radio. Note that the cost of restoring the service would be approximately 2% of the entire funding increase the BBC feels it is entitled to. Not 2% of their budget; just 2% of the increase they're asking for.

We continue to believe that the BBC's decision to cease broadcasting to North America and the Pacific was wrong.

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Thursday, March 13, 2003

The Guardian reports today that the BBC is going to be scaling back its investment in the net:

Some of the BBC's websites are likely to close as the corporation cuts back on its online investment, BBC new media director Ashley Highfield admitted today.


In the last two years, the BBC's web traffic has more than doubled from 4.2 million users to 8.5 million.

As a result, the BBC is also spending increasingly more money on its technical infrastructure and Mr Highfield said that another key goal was to decrease the amount of time that users had to wait for pages to download.

Hmmm, where have I read that expenses increase as the audience increases? Oh yeah, right here.

Posted by Ralph Brandi @ 0939 UTC

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Saturday, September 7, 2002

It's not enough that the BBC World Service stopped broadcasting to North America on shortwave. Now they're forcing a station that has carried them on FM (their preferred medium) for 30 years to drop them. Next thing you know, they'll be pulling their signals from the satellites or something stupid like that. I'm sorry, I just don't understand the mentality at the upper reaches of Bush House. They tell us to listen to FM, then start driving their FM affiliates away from them. I just don't get it. And unfortunately, after the end of this month, neither will the listeners of WCPE in North Carolina. (Thanks Alan Knapp via Glenn Hauser's DX Listening Digest issue 2139.)

Posted by Ralph Brandi @ 0004 UTC

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Tuesday, August 27, 2002

Proving that their cluelessness with regard to their American audience is not limited to World Service radio, BBC America television has sparked off a protest by moving the venerable Eastenders program from the Sunday airing it's had since BBC America started to a time on Friday when most of its audience is still at work. Angry fans started a website (gee, that seems like a good idea), but this time, BBC has pulled out the big guns and threatened the owners with legal action, proving that the best response to a little bit of love is an injury added to insult. The owners of the site have moved their campaign to another domain until things are resolved. Meanwhile, BBC America is deleting posts on their own discussion forum. When it was pointed out to them that their terms of service didn't forbid the deleted discussions, they changed the terms of service. Seems like someone's really got their knickers in a twist.

Posted by Ralph Brandi @ 1149 UTC

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Thursday, May 30, 2002

The New York Times agrees with us that web radio is not a panacea and makes an imperfect substitute for shortwave radio. Reporter Ian Austen mentions that when he travelled to France, the phones shut down when the hotel switchboards closed in the evening. He didn't make the mistake of not bringing a shortwave radio the next time he travelled. (Login and password required; Thanks John Figliozzi for pointing this article out.)

Posted by Ralph Brandi @ 1520 UTC

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Wednesday, April 17, 2002

Lies, Damned Lies, and BBC Audience Figures BBC World Service released its latest audience figures yesterday. Audience numbers worldwide fell from 153 million to 150 million. World Service says this is due to a precipitous drop in the number of listeners in India. Tom Leonard takes the World Service to task in the provocatively-titled Listeners Desert the World Service in the Daily Telegraph (registration required). Julia Day in The Guardian also cites the loss of listeners in India in her article World Service loses 3m listeners. Radio Netherlands' Media Newsdesk page notes that the BBC claims an increased number of listeners in North America, up from 2.3 million to 2.9 million, then goes on to point out shortcomings in the BBC's record of research.

It seems necessary at this point the renew our criticism of the BBC's research, namely that it is more interested in raw numbers of listeners than in listenership. Our survey of local rebroadcasters makes it crystal clear that huge swathes of North America are uncovered or insufficiently covered by BBC's local partners. Our point-counterpoint page refutes every argument the BBC makes regarding the superiority of the audience gained through local rebroadcasts. The second question in particular takes them to task for the methods they use. The BBC appears to be more interested in counting listeners than listenership; someone who stumbles across The World on their local public radio outlet counts just as much as someone who deliberately seeks out the BBC and listens for hours to their news, arts, and cultural programs. Graham Mytton, perhaps the most respected audience researcher in the field of international broadcasting and former head of BBC research, concurs that the direct listener is vastly more valuable. The BBC may have gained 600,000 listeners in North America, but one has to question how much they're worth to the BBC and whether those listeners even realize that they're listening to the BBC.

In the mean time, The BBC's budget continues to grow by leaps and bounds. Ashling O'Connor reports in the Financial Times that the World Service, whose budget grew from the £180 million they had last year to £201 million this year, is now asking for an additional £65 million over three years. In light of this growth, the claim that the one half million pounds saved by turning the transmitters off to North America and the Pacific accounted for a major savings for the BBC is increasingly laughable.

Finally, the BBC makes the claim that the number of listeners to the BBC has likely increased in the wake of September 11. This may or may not be the case, but as we pointed out in October, they were completely absent from New York City during the most critical period. Their much-vaunted local rebroadcasts were pre-empted by US-based coverage, and they weren't heard on the New York airwaves for four days after the attacks. The BBC's strategy of moving to local broadcasting may allow them to count more people as listeners, but it seems guaranteed to marginalize their influence. The BBC's research will never tell them this, though, because it doesn't measure the factors that would expose this problem.

Posted by Ralph Brandi @ 1330 UTC

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Sunday, January 6, 2002

I found this interesting item on a news site devoted to the Apple Macintosh, www.macintouch.com:

We've received a few messages about the removal of BBC News from Apple's QuickTime channels:

[MacInTouch reader] "The BBC World web page still lists shows QuickTime TV as their streaming video site on this page but now it just shows a message from Apple saying "Our channel selection has changed. To see your latest choices, please update your software now."

"Only a few months ago, BBC shut down their shortwave transmitters that broadcast to North America. It may be that BBC wants to generate more revenue from cable, DBS and XM satellite subscriptions, and perhaps they were demanding more money from Apple."

Posted by Ralph Brandi @ 1122 UTC

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Tuesday, November 13, 2001

Site unseen (Media Monkey, The Guardian): "November 12: Just days after relaunching as the 'UK's number one digital destination' the BBCi news site has fallen over again. This afternoon's plane crash in NYC saw the smooth redesign of BBC.co.uk abandoned in favour of old school web design with jumbled text and tiny images. Bearing in mind that the site collapsed completely on September 11, this is at least an improvement of sorts. But if your news site goes down every time there's a big news story then what's the use in that?" You have to scroll down below the many paragraphs poking fun at the BBC's John Simpson for singlehandedly liberating Kabul to see this item.

Posted by Ralph Brandi @ 1556 UTC

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