Memorandum from BBC World Service
This memorandum, outlining the reasons behind
BBC World Service's decision to cease direct short wave broadcasts
to the USA, has been produced in response to a request from the
Foreign Affairs Select Committee. The FAC has asked the World
Service to focus its response in the following areas:
2. Number of short wave listeners in North
3. Reasons for the short wave cuts in North
4. Alternative access to the BBC World Service
5. Listening figures, before and after the
withdrawal of the short wave service
6. How the World Service is reaching communities
within the USA from other countries
7. The future of the World Service operation
in North America
The document focuses on figures and background
about the World Service performance in the USA, following advice
from the Clerk to the Committee.
1. The strategic decision to cease direct
short wave broadcasts to North America was made after careful
consideration and detailed study of the profound changes in listening
habits in one of the world's most affluent and mature broadcasting
markets. The decision to cut short wave broadcasts in the most
developed areas of the world was highlighted in the Three Year
Plan 2001-04 approved and supported by the Foreign and Commonwealth
Office. In accordance with the plan, the savings made from the
short wave reductions have been re-invested in improving medium
wave transmissions to South West Asia including Afghanistan and
in specific FM developments for critical urban audiences in the
world's capital cities. Expanding FM presence across the world
has helped the World Service achieve a record audience of 153
million weekly listeners in 2001.
2. Whilst our plan to cut short wave in
North America upset some listeners there, our decision went with
the grain of emerging listener habits in the USA. Latest audience
figures in fact show increases amongst our target audiences in
the key American cities of Washington, New York and Boston.
3. We have had evidence that some short
wave listeners have migrated to frequencies, which whilst not
directly targeted on the USA, can still be heard there. In addition,
we have secured a growing number of FM outlets and other means
of distribution in the USA in the period since 11 September.
4. In many other parts of the world, especially
Africa and the Middle and Far East, short wave transmissions will
continue to be the main means of delivery for the World Service
in the foreseeable future. We are currently investing over £50
million in upgrading facilities in Oman, Singapore and Cyprus.
We have no plans at this stage to make further short wave cuts.
5. The total audience in the USA is 2.6
6. The large majority, 2.3 million, listen
via our growing number of FM rebroadcasters, and we expect this
figure to have grown since September 11th as more and more stations
broadcast our key news and current affairs programmes.
7. Before the direct short wave transmissions
ceased in July 2001, the World Service estimated that it had 1.2
million short wave listeners in the USA. However, of those, at
least 80 per cent also listened to us by means other than short
wave; accessing us via a local public radio station on FM being
the main alternative means. It is likely that the vast majority
of these listeners are also connected to the internet, where they
can hear our programmes 24 hours a day on demand and streamed
live. The number who listened exclusively on short wave
was just 260,000, about 10 per cent of the overall estimated World
Service audience in the USA.
8. The World Service has to make hard choices
in developing the right means of transmission for its diverse
audiences around the world. In many areas, particularly in the
least developed and developing world, this means investing more
in upgrading short wave transmitters. However, in the most developed
areas, FM and the internet will be the primary means of delivery
to our target audience of opinion-formers and decision-makers
(cosmopolitans) with other new means of digital distribution also
becoming available to listeners.
9. North America falls firmly in this latter
camp. There are clear trends in listening habits which underpin
The growth in the number of FM stations,
and radio listening to them.
The impact of the internet, making
the USA the most wired society in the world.
The imminent arrival of digital audio
distribution via satellite to individual consumers.
The potential for distribution by
10. Our regular audience research, and the
advice of our partners on the ground, indicates these trends are
becoming more widespread and in particular, amongst key opinion-formers
(our target audience) in major urban centres. The evidence (see
Section 5) is that this strategy is increasing the number of our
listeners in these target groups in key US cities.
BBC WORLD SERVICE
11. There are many alternative means of
access available to listeners in the USA.
The BBC World Service is broadcast
on many FM public radio stations across the USA. We have re-broadcasting
agreements with 283 USA radio stations. 257 stations are taking
long form programming and 26 are taking newscasts. These are mainly
public radio stations taking programmes from the World Service
English news stream, with a significant number also taking The
World, our Boston-based news and current affairs co-production
with PRI and WGBH.
Since 11 September, BBC World Service
coverage has been extended across America by securing new partnerships
with notable stations, including KXJZ in Sacramento, California
(the state capital), WUNC in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, KUT
in Austin, Texas (another state capital and home to George Bush),
KUNR in Reno, NV and WPBX in Southampton, New York. We have also
expanded in Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, Michigan, Pennsylvania
You can hear BBC World Service 24
hours a day at www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice. There are two offerings
in English - news, current affairs and analysis 24 hours a day
plus the 24-hour mixed schedule. The majority of Americans, over
160 million people, are now connected to the internet. Our site
provides high quality audio both on demand and live. It was recently
judged the best radio website in the world at the prestigious
Webby Awards. Over half of our internet traffic comes from the
USA, and we expect this has risen significantly since 11 September
as overall traffic levels have doubled after the recent events
in the USA.
We are investing in new means of
digital delivery. Over 270 million Americans are now being offered
our 24 hour service in English by XM radio. Our news services
in Spanish and English will also be carried via Sirius digital
radio from February 2002.
High quality audio feeds of the World
Service are available to cable operators across the USA, and we
intend to encourage more of them to carry our services in the
Some short wave listening is continuing
on frequencies not directly targeted at the USA. Twelve individual
frequencies have been mentioned in correspondence with us and
these have been publicised by listener groups in the USA. We have
also contacted individual listeners with these details and we
provide information on our World Service online site.
12. It is too early to measure the impact
upon our overall audience figures in the USA, but the growth in
FM outlets and internet usage augurs well for the future.
13. What is known as a result of surveys
carried out this autumn after the decision was implemented is
that the BBC World Service audience has grown year on year among
Cosmopolitans in the three key cities of Boston, New York and
96 per cent of Cosmopolitans are
aware of the BBC World Service. The next highest international
broadcaster is Radio Canada with 23 per cent awareness.
In 2000, 20 per cent of Cosmopolitans
in the three cities had listened in the last week to the BBC World
Service. In 2001 this has increased to 24 per cent.
Importantly, 97 per cent of the listening
to the World Service is via local FM, while 11 per cent use short
wave (some people do both). These proportions are much the same
as in 2000.
Those listening more frequently to
the BBC World Service following the events of 11 September gave
a variety of reasons for the increase in their listening, including
the fact that the BBC provided a different perspective from other
sources, that it provided in-depth analysis, accuracy, objectivity
and that it was trustworthy.
14. All 43 language services are now available
as audio services on our internet site which has achieved a huge
growth in traffic in the past year. There is evidence that many
of those accessing our Arabic, Spanish, Chinese and English sites
come from the USA, following our recent investment in round the
clock news presence in these key languages. We are building up
the depth and the range of the site. The African pages in English
are particularly popular in the USA.
BBC WORLD SERVICE
15. The depth and quality of our news coverage,
especially in relation to world events since 11 September, is
making us particularly attractive as a partner for many radio
and online operators in the USA. We intend to reinforce our audibility
Increasing the number of FM partners
and the depth and extent of our presence on their airwaves.
Making access to our programmes easier
on the internet by nurturing local online partnerships. We already
have a relationship with Yahoo in the USA which enables them to
transmit our radio programmes, and we have now secured the rights
to extend this type of relationship with other portals and internet
Promoting our presence on new digital
audio platforms, and alongside BBC TV channels such as BBC America,
our entertainment TV channel for the US market.
Publicising the indirect short wave
frequencies still audible in the USA.
16. We are adapting our delivery methods
in response to rapidly changing audience usage.
17. We have worked for the past six years
to build our FM audience and online presence in the USA and we
took the decision with care and consideration. The vast majority
of our target audience group in America - opinion-formers and
decision-makers - access us through FM rebroadcasting and the
internet. We are utilising the savings from the short wave reductions
to enhance audibility to Afghanistan and the surrounding region.
We are not cutting back on the number of countries to which the
World Service has been transmitting. In many areas short wave
will continue to be the most appropriate means of broadcasting
the World Service and our investment in short wave facilities
will grow in the years ahead. We have no plans at this stage to
make further specific reductions in short wave transmissions for
our audiences around the world.
BBC World Service