U2 Buy The BBC?

So, U2=BBC. A brilliant marketing coup for a record label and band. Or a misuse of a publicly funded broadcasting organisation’s airwaves and webspace?

Image (C) BBC
Image (C) BBC

Let’s get one thing clear. I’m a massive U2 fan – and thought the whole concept was fantastic. And it worked on so many levels. From the Culture Show to Radio 1 to Radio 4’s “Front Row” to the rooftop gig. I’m not complaining – I got a text from a friend around 6pm and managed to get to near the front – an almost perfect start to a weekend.

U2 on the rooftop (they're where the bright lights are..:-) )
U2 on the rooftop (they're where the bright lights are..:-) )

But predictably, there were many people not so pleased with it including Tory MP Nigel Evans who complained (to the Daily Mail under a headline of “The Bono Broadcasting Corporation”) about why licence fee payers should pick up the cost of publicity of the new U2 album. For the BBC, this will have been about delivering something exceptional for the audience (not all, but a wide part of it) and it was able to tick many boxes. It was a subject that had a broad fanbase which enabled the project to be spread across 2 music networks and the speech network. It allowed some innovative online ideas from Red Button coverage to online microsites. And quite probably will have bought audiences into programmes that they might not necessarily have sampled before (such as The Culture Show and Front Row). Added to that – it created a couple of one off musical events that people can say “only the BBC can do that” – all things that should keep the BBC Trust happy.

As a licence fee payer, I’m more than happy for this to have happened – as part of what the BBC’s remit is to me. I don’t want to watch or listen or read about everything that they broadcast or publish. I have no real interest in Antiques or horesracing but I don’t have a problem with the BBC covering either of those subjects. And I can add it to the list of shared musical experiences where I can say “I was there”.

Of course, the BBC’s commercial competitiors (and I used to work for one) constantly bemoan the fact that this is the sort of thing they’d like to have done if they had the resources or the budget or similar. But quite often it’s the case that they quite simply don’t have the ingenuity to think of it. As I’m now coming to expect, Absolute Radio did a sound job of covering the U2 album too (with far fewer resources and no less quality). As a fan, I’ve downloaded the podcast and will devour their video special when it’s online too (made on a far smaller budget no doubt).

So did the BBC give over their airwaves to publicise a record. Not really. They were presented with a unique opportunity to create a wide range of content with one of the most popular bands in the world. To have turned it down would have failed me as  a licence fee payer.

I just hope the album is worth the wait…

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