BBC in-house speech audio production review – our response

BBC Radio has today announced its proposal to “evolve its in-house speech audio production model to strengthen the BBC’s overall offer to audiences as listening habits change and to increase creative opportunities for talent” (see the full announcement here).

The review of speech audio production, which began in March 2022, comes in the wake of the growth of the podcast market by nearly 50% in the last five years. The review recognises that: “Live listening continues to be hugely popular and our portfolio of distinctive stations will always be at the heart of our offer to millions of listeners”  but also acknowledges the need to “carefully consider different models to see how the BBC could tap into the global market for podcasts, strengthen our public service output and keep talented people at the BBC”.

As a result of the review, the vast majority of network radio speech content that is produced by the BBC’s in-house teams will stay as it is now. At the same time, the BBC will look to grow the existing audio production teams at BBC Studios (a commercial arm of the BBC) by moving over selected programming from drama, factual and entertainment. The review also aims “to build on BBC Studios’ distribution expertise for the benefit of the whole audio industry in the UK”.

What does this mean for WGGB members?

The Archers production will stay in-house and the main change will be for other audio drama. The proposed changes are subject to regulatory approval and are anticipated to take place on 1 April 2024, so we will be closely monitoring the situation at our regular BBC Audio Drama Forum to address any potential impact on writers.

WGGB Audio Chairs Nicola Baldwin and Lucy Gough said:

“We welcome the fact that the exciting, global potential of audio drama for listeners is being acknowledged by the BBC. That said, this review comes as we celebrate 100 years of audio drama being produced in-house at the BBC, a milestone which now potentially marks the end of an era.

“A move to increase creative opportunities for writers and other talent is laudable, though we will want to ensure that a more market-driven approach, with its inevitable emphasis on metrics and sales, does not in fact undermine this objective, and risk a blander output for listeners.

“Our number one priority is to ensure that writers’ terms and conditions are protected throughout this whole process and our negotiators will remain in constant contact with the BBC.”