SCOTLAND’S media marketplace became even more crowded yesterday with the launch of BBC Scotland’s The Sunday Show.
In what amounts to a “2 for 1” offer, the two-hour programme, split between television and radio, replaces TV’s Politics Scotland and the Sunday edition of Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland.
How did it do?
First observation: money has been spent. Not much, but the mezzanine studio used for The Nine has been given a Sky News-style news wall.
Second, the tech worked. The switches, from network BBC1 and The Andrew Marr Show to radio, and then on to TV, went smoothly. It helps that there is a 15-second delay between the radio and TV segments.
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Third, there was a lot of guests. Enough to fill a minibus. Depending on your view this either gave the show a newsy, 5 Live energy, or made for a right guddle.
Martin Geissler led the way on television for the first half hour, interviewing Jeane Freeman, the Health Secretary, Ben Wallace, Defence Secretary, and Scots actor David Carlyle from the Channel 4 drama It’s a Sin.
One way of judging the success of the programme is how many fresh news lines it generates. The Health Secretary would not be pinned down on quarantine hotels, and Mr Wallace steered clear of trouble, so not much luck there. Both interviews were rushed.
Just when you thought there was no more to squeeze in, Geissler crossed the studio to ask political correspondent Lynsey Bews for her take on the Freeman and Wallace interviews.
Interviewing each other about interviews was to be the order of the morning. First, radio host Fiona Stalker asked Geissler what he thought; then Stalker asked her two guests, The ’s David Pratt and solicitor Jillian Merchant. Later we heard the opinions of former Scottish Conservative MP Peter Duncan, and the writer Darren McGarvey, also there to plug his new BBC Scotland documentary.
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Do interviews about interviews amount to genuine analysis, or was this just a way of filling time with opinions?
It is an important question, one that goes to the heart of what The Sunday Show is about, where it fits in the current media landscape, and whether the BBC should even be in this corner of the broadcasting market.
The first thing the programme is about is saving money. BBC Scotland, like the rest of the corporation, has to cut costs. Some £125 million in savings must be found by next month, with £6.2 million of that coming from Scotland.
Hence the TV-radio hybrid. Simulcasting is hardly new (see the Proms). Nor is it unheard of for a presenter to go from TV to radio in a space of a few hours. Jeremy Vine does it almost every day. But it is hard to imagine Andrew Marr switching to radio half way through his television show.
For most broadcasters, TV and radio are contrasting beasts and it is best if the twain do not meet. TV is loud and in your face, radio is more intimate. It is the difference between talking to someone who is on the other side of the room, or sitting next to them having a chat.
Live TV and radio are tough enough to do well, particularly with fewer staff, without adding to the task by combining them. Geissler’s dash (which Stalker said she could do in 12 seconds and took him a minute) seemed a gimmicky way to link the programmes, particularly since he left 15 minutes into the radio show.
More of a problem with the two shows for one approach is that it can make it harder to keep to Ofcom rules on impartiality and fairness. In a half hour television show, where the interviewer is able to put the other side of an argument, maintaining balance is straightforward enough.
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But on radio, over 90 minutes, with so many guests? Good luck with that when an election nears.
In being home to so many opinions, The Sunday Show finds itself, by accident or design, part of a broadcasting trend in the UK. Suddenly everyone wants to be LBC. Opinions are where it is at, opinions pull in viewers and listeners.
Broadcasters of all stripes are keeping an eye on GB News, a channel launching in the Spring. Chaired by former Sunday Times editor and BBC presenter Andrew Neil, GB News is out to fill what it sees as a gap in the market for opinion-led content, and ruffle a few feathers as it does so. Comparisons, not all favourable, have already been drawn to Fox News in the US.
Neil took to the pages of the Sunday Express yesterday to publicise the new channel. It was 32 years, he said, since Rupert Murdoch had asked him to launch Sky News, and since then there had been no major channel going up against the BBC, ITN and Channel 4.
Criticising news debate in the UK as “increasingly woke and out of touch with the majority of its people”, he said GB News was aimed at the 80% of people who live outside Greater London, those who felt “left out and unheard”.
The Sunday Show would surely want a piece of any new audience as well. What media outlet would not? But is it wise for the BBC to go further down the road of opinion-led broadcasting? Can it do so without attracting more complaints about alleged bias? Stay tuned.