AudioUK calls on Ofcom to reverse 50% reduction in BBC Radio 4 drama

Trade body Audio UK has called on Ofcom to reinstate BBC quotas for key radio and audio genres such as drama and comedy.

In its submission to Ofcom’s consultation on its new draft BBC Operating Licence, AudioUK has documented the fall in hours of some key programme genres on Radio 4, noting that by April 2023 Radio 4’s output of drama will have fallen by 50% since Ofcom took over regulation of the BBC from the former BBC Trust.

This is due to Ofcom removing in 2017 specific quotas set by the BBC Trust, requiring a set number of hours in key genres to be broadcast on each of the BBC’s radio services.

The last BBC Trust Operating Licence for Radio 4 set the requirement for 600 hours of drama to be broadcast for 2016-17, but the subsequent removal of quotas has caused this to fall significantly, with the result that the BBC’s last Annual Plan committed to just 300 hours of drama on Radio 4 for 2022-23.

There has also been a 17% fall in annual comedy hours committed to by Radio 4, from 180 hours in the last BBC Trust Service Licence to 150 hours in the latest BBC Annual Plan.

AudioUK Managing Director Chloe Straw said: “When Ofcom published its original draft BBC Operating Licence in 2017, AudioUK voiced concerns that removing quotas in key genres could lead key output to be reduced significantly. These concerns have now become reality, with a 50% drop in Radio 4 in the last few years.

“Audio drama and comedy are hugely important for developing new producing, writing, acting, presenting and directing talent. Drama is also a way for the BBC to showcase and reach diverse audiences through a range of stories and storytelling techniques. Comedy offers the opportunity for people to share their lived experiences through humour.

“While there has been some increase in audio drama being commissioned by other platforms and also self-funded by producers, this is limited due to the budgets involved and therefore the BBC remains an important commissioner of drama. It is also a genre which helps the BBC to remain distinctive, as is comedy.”

“We realise the BBC is undergoing some financial pressures, nevertheless this doesn’t explain such a significant reduction in these key genres. We are therefore calling on Ofcom to reinstate its quotas.

AudioUK’s full response to the consultation on Ofcom’s draft BBC Operating Licence is here.