Coverage is a divisive issue for festival organisers, with some craving the apparent prestige, and some preferring to remain hidden from the mass market.
“Whilst Glastonbury is certainly a great event for the BBC to support, it would be nice for them to look at some smaller festivals that offer a totally different experience, but something that many of their audience would also find interesting,” says Ali Watson, marketing director of Halo Group.
Chris Johnson, director of Shambala, however, sees little need for mass BBC exposure of his festival because it thrives on being niche. “As with any festival or brand, each will decide how it reaches its target audience and the BBC can be too mainstream for many independent festivals.”
Johnson has direct experience of the power that Auntie can yield: “In 2007 a famous BBC DJ gave Shambala a ‘shout out’ and the response was overwhelming. We had an unexpected mass walk up. We were a 5,000 capacity festival and 10,000 rocked up. There’s a valuable role for the BBC in supporting up-and-coming music and that occurs at festivals though, so I’m positive about that, but it must be balanced with maintaining a target audience.”
He adds that Bestival’s webcasting model for live coverage is positive as they are directly in control of the content and its target audience.
YouTube is another interesting coverage outlet, according to Peter Taylor, director at Cuffe and Taylor, promoters of Lytham Festival. “With YouTube increasingly moving into the festival and event space for streaming, and festivals’ bandwidths being wider and more stable than ever, streaming from these spaces will become far more commonplace in the future.
He adds: “As a smaller festival, based in the North of England, getting coverage nationally is always difficult. Whilst we work successfully with regional-based BBC radio stations, getting the larger BBC national stations or even TV interested in looking at what we do is impossible. We hold the largest outdoor ‘Proms’ concert outside of London as the finale to our festival so it would make sense for the BBC to take a look at what we do.”
Watson agrees that the YouTube factor poses interesting considerations for festivals. “The YouTube generation is often referred to as ‘Generation C’, the ‘C’ standing for connected, community, creation and curation. I believe this is rooted in several areas, none more so than the proliferation of mobile devices such as iPhones, Android and tablets along with 4G.
“Content can now be delivered to individuals anywhere, anytime and this is the key driver here. Couple this with the seismic shift in the way media and news is consumed in the digital age, where individuals find news via their friends by sharing on social networks rather than watching on TV, radio and traditional outlets and you have a powerful reason why Generation C prefers to consume video via platforms like YouTube. A short 30-minute promotional video for Glastonbury for example could easily go viral before the evening news even starts – if the feature even made the bulletin – so for this reason, YouTube is a powerful tool, especially when amplified via Twitter, Facebook and other media.”
He adds that there are other basic reasons why video has become the preferred format for the next generation. “I think of it like this. If you are a Lady Gaga fan, would you rather listen to an MP3 of her latest record or watch the same track on YouTube where you get the music video too? I believe a visual stimulus adds great weight to the enjoyment of the content. Extrapolate this to the festival world and it’s the same principle: a professionally produced clip will attract more interest than a radio announcement.”
Glastonbury coverage on the BBC has raised the profile of UK festivals over the years by bringing them into people’s living rooms, concludes Ben Robinson, director, Kendal Calling. He adds, however, that the change in the festival landscape towards a rich tapestry of smaller independent events that offer a diverse range of creative design and programming adds a new element to a culture that deserves recognition.
“Festivalgoers have voted with their feet, and this shift should most certainly be recognised, covered and supported by the BBC within its duty to inform, educate and entertain. It’s been a long time since UK festival culture has been dominated by a few large events with a formulaic approach, the creative content and character of the whole festival landscape is currently untapped by broadcasters in general.”
The conclusion? Watch this space. And whichever channel or internet platform you frequent.
BBC talks festival coverage
A BBC spokesperson spoke to Access All Areas about Glastonbury coverage, radio content from festivals, and local support
Is the BBC planning to escalate its already vast coverage of Glastonbury this year?
Nearly one in three of the UK population were reached by last year’s Glastonbury content on BBC TV and Red Button (18.8m/32.1%), with a record reach on BBC Four of 4.2m. Our aim is to give the millions of music lovers who can’t be at Glastonbury the opportunity to be there, whether they’re on the train watching it on their tablet, listening to interviews on 6 Music on their mobile phone or watching it live via Red Button from their sofa. The 2015 Glastonbury broadcasts are currently being planned and our ambition, once again, is to make the 2015 coverage of Glastonbury the best ever for BBC audiences, with more access to the bands and easier ways to watch and listen than ever before.
What influences which festivals you cover?
Radio networks are always looking to visit a range of festivals and events around the UK. We look at the year as a whole and see how we can provide coverage of a wide range of musical genres. In 2015 we’ll be at a wide variety of festivals, although we’re still finalising our festival programming for the whole year. Additionally, we also support the wider festival scene – from small to large events – with announcements and news coverage on BBC networks, and particularly on 6 Music and Radio 1 where music news reports are frequently supplemented by interviews with organisers and featured artists.
Does coverage of the BBC’s own music events occupy air time that could be used for alternative events? How is this balance struck?
Our audiences expect us to present a wide range of distinctive and diverse events and concerts throughout the year, which we produce ourselves. In addition to this, we also cover festivals that are already being produced, on both a small and large scale.
In the summer, the BBC puts on the world’s biggest classical music festival, the BBC Proms, which runs across two months each summer and features many of the world’s greatest artists and orchestras and every Prom is broadcast live on Radio 3, with selected performances on BBC Television. And during this time it also covers other events, amongst them Edinburgh Festival and WOMAD amongst others.
And, for example, February’s hugely successful 6 Music Festival in Newcastle and Gateshead celebrated a wide range of music, poetry, readings and comedy across 10 venues, from The Sage in Gateshead to The Ouseburn, The Cumberland Arms and O2 in Newcastle. Those in the local area, venue managers and punters alike were delighted that the BBC made such a huge cultural commitment to Tyneside. And we’ve had a really positive response from other regions when we take our events there, for example Radio 1’s Big Weekend in Glasgow (2014) and Derry-Londonderry (2013).