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BBC Studios appoints audio director as Audio UK repeats call for increased external competition

BBC Studios has appointed Richard Knight director of audio as it prepares to take over some factual, entertainment and drama audio content from the BBC’s in-house production team.

The planned move from in-house to BBC Studios, the broadcaster’s commercial arm, was initially proposed last year and expanded on in a detailed review of audio services in May.

The appropriate regulatory assessment has now been completed, meaning the transfer will happen on April 1, 2024.

The BBC says that the majority of BBC Radio’s in-house speech content, including news, will continue to be produced as it is now.

BBC Studios will become home to selected “timeless” network radio content, including factual, entertainment and conversation programmes and podcasts, while in-house teams will focus on radio and podcast output that is built around journalism, topicality and live broadcast.

Long-running audio soap The Archers will also stay in-house, while news and current affairs, music, sport and audio production teams in the Nations division are also not impacted.

Trade body AudioUK, however, has repeated its concerns over the plans, and called for all of BBC Radio and Audio’s non-news programme commissions, including BBC Sounds, to be open to competition for external producers, levelling the playing field with TV production, in the event of the move over to BBC Studios taking place.

There is currently 100% competition for BBC TV programmes, while in audio commissioning the BBC must currently open up 60% of ‘eligible hours’ in its network radio commissions to external competition by the end of this year. The lower target was based on the fact that much of the BBC’s radio and audio production remained in-house and it could not make programmes for other buyers.

Chloe Straw, managing director of AudioUK, said: “While we respect the BBC’s right to explore other opportunities, this does nevertheless have competition implications as it involves moving a production arm built with public funding into the wider commercial market to compete with creative SMEs, a market largely built over the last 20 years by the hard work and creativity of those SMEs. This aspect is not covered by Ofcom’s approval requirements and so has not been effectively scrutinised.”

“We are disappointed that the BBC has not taken our concerns on board and we will continue to push for review the wider market implications of these plans with the relevant governmental and regulatory authorities. In particular, as we have previously stated, we believe this move should be accompanied by creative SMEs all around the UK being given the opportunity to compete for 100% of BBC audio non-news output.”

The BBC said in a statement: “BBC Radio will continue to commission the best, most creative ideas from a wide range of suppliers, and as part of this plan, we are committed to opening up 100% of all new speech programming for network radio for competition. Given the areas identified to move, BBC’s in-house production team and BBC Studios will generally operate side-by-side as audio suppliers and not in competition with each other.”

Richard Knight will work closely with Louise La Grange, SVP audio distribution, to grow BBC Studios’ audio production and distribution business. Helen Pendlebury, director of digital and business development, will continue to lead the commercial strategy, deal-making and business development for audio production.

Knight joins BBC Studios from Amazon, where he led the Wondery content team in the UK. Prior to that he served as factual commissioning editor for BBC Radio 4. He will start in January 2024 and will report to Ralph Lee, CEO BBC Studios Productions.

Knight said: “I have loved getting to know the truly amazing and creative people at Wondery. But I am thrilled to have been given the opportunity by BBC Studios to lead so many talented producers into a new phase for public service audio. I’m confident we are going to do some great things – and have fun doing them.”

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