Interactive Cultures led the AHRC-BBC Pilot Knowledge Exchange Programme into Listener online engagement with BBC radio programming. We used the short name BBC Listeners online.
The research team aimed to:
- participate in a process of knowledge exchange between the BBC and academics through the design, interpretation and dissemination of useful research;
- relate the existing BBC philosophy, strategy and practice to findings on online activity through a dialogue between academics and practitioners;
- produce useful insights into radio listeners’ online fan activities for BBC staff;
- make a significant contemporary contribution to radio audience scholarship;
- explore the extent and variety of online activities undertaken by radio audiences, and the degree to which existing theories are useful in interpreting such activity.
This was achieved through a series of project objectives:
- to collate and interpret existing quantitative data on online activity around radio listening;
- to map the existing online environment of websites and internet applications created around BBC radio programmes;
- to undertake original field research through a series of case studies which will generate rich insights into online environments and fan activities;
- to interrogate the definition and nature of fandom, listenership, and online activities;
- to explore the range of roles, positions and activities undertaken by fans of specific BBC programmes;
- to explore BBC staff members’ concepts of radio audiences and online activities;
- to identify the skill sets developed by radio programme fans though online activity;
- present the research findings and interpretations to encourage a wider professional, civic and academic debate about the BBC’s public service mission.
The project was a knowledge exchange and collaborative research and development project, initiated by Tristan Ferne, Senior Development Producer (R&D) at BBC Audio & Music Interactive. It drew together academics from three universities with significant research experience, to explore, through a range of listener-controlled, commercial and BBC internet media, the creative fan culture that has been built around the BBC’s music, fiction and speech radio programming.
The research produced useful knowledge and insights for BBC staff to inform their online and interactive products, services, policies and strategies. It also contributed to scholarship on fan culture, radio audiences, and online environments and activity.
The project was led by Professor Tim Wall, Director of Interactive Cultures. He worked with his BCU colleagues Dr Bethany Klein and Andrew Dubber who contributed experience in studying radio and online culture. Dr Lyn Thomas from London Metropolitan University and Dr Matthew Hills from Cardiff University acted as the other two senior project members, contributing experience in fan and audience studies. David Hendy from the University of Westminster acted as a consultant to the project steering group, offering experience from radio studies.
This project aimed to directly inform and benefit BBC Audio & Music Interactive’s My BBC radio strategy, which set the goal of transforming the BBC’s relationship with their audiences from broadcasting to them to engaging with them. It therefore provided the opportunity to shape and influence BBC output. The project provided research for the ‘participation’ layer of the strategy on how audiences engage in activities around radio content, and it engaged with the ‘creation’ layer on facilitating the creative activities of fans.
The research involved:
- mapping the online environment built around listeners to BBC programmes and BBC’s music online presence;
- surveying and collating statistics on fan activity and the online environment;
- conducting semi-structured interviews with key BBC staff;
- analysing BBC policy and strategy documents;
- and exploring three developed qualitative case studies using semi-structured interviews, focus groups and textual analysis of fan activities.
The three original case studies were: the Archers (led by Dr Thomas); breakfast radio personality presenters Terry Wogan and Chris Moyles (led by Dr Hills); and music radio output and music websites (led by Prof Wall in collaboration with Dr Klein and Mr Dubber).
The team produced the results of the research, analyses and interpretation in a research report and staff seminar for the BBC and four peer reviewed conference papers or journal articles.
Our report from the project:
Wall, T. & Dubber, A. (2008) ‘Specialist music fans online: implications for public service broadcasting’ in BBC/AHRC Listener online engagement with BBC Radio programming pp.56-79