The final editions of Look East from Cambridge and South Today from Oxford were emotional affairs.
Make no mistake – nobody at the BBC really wanted these programmes to end. The decision was driven by financial necessity.
Yes, there is an important argument about the need to invest in online content. But in different circumstances it would not have meant scaling back significantly on the regional TV news.
The two services were relatively recent affairs, unlike some of the other regional news programmes.
The Oxford opt came about when the unwieldy “London and South East” region was split up just over 20 years ago. The Cambridge programme developed out of a sub-opt from Look East.
The changes were designed to improve regional news provision and make it more relevant to viewers.
The problem with many English regions is that they do not reflect natural communities or administrative regions – they essentially reflect transmitter service areas.
The extra services were designed to reduce this problem and bring the programmes closer to their viewers.
The collective ratings for the 6.30pm programmes across the UK are a reminder of just how important the service is. Often the collective ratings are the biggest of the day across any channel.
The challenge for Look East and South Today now is to try to produce programmes relevant to the whole of their areas. There will still be stories and reports from the areas covered by the Oxford and Cambridge programmes.
But rather than endless salami slicing and axing, is it time to have a bigger debate about what the BBC is for?
Nobody would dispute that news and current affairs is at the organisation’s centre or that people want and need reliable local news. Reaching younger audiences is hard too which is one reason online is so important.
But unless BBC funding grows in real terms again, more awful decisions which nobody wants are inevitable.
Here are some things to ponder.
Radio 1 and Radio 2 serve big audiences. Their playlists are very different to some commercial services. But are they distinctive enough from the market or merely ad free?
Radio 2, for example, has far less live and specialist music than it used to have. These programmes used to dominate the evenings and weekends.
Some of the digital radio services are distinctive but could also be considered niche.
On TV, are there too many programmes that fail to add sufficient value? It isn’t that, say, some morning TV programmes are bad or aren’t enjoyed. But do they drain resources away from more important output?
We have discussed before whether EastEnders still merits the resources it receives.
Nobody is arguing here that the BBC doesn’t need to do popular, mainstream programmes. From Strictly to SAS Rogue Heroes, the BBC can and does commission distinctive output of high quality which gets big ratings. This must always be part of the mix.
But it’s maybe time to have to accept that being all things to all people is impossible without more money.
The most important things about the BBC are the things which make it truly special.
Cutting the regional news service while highly paid DJs are keeping Radio 1 and Radio 2 going might not seem the best overall use of resources.
The Wheel is a highly entertaining and well-made quiz show. But is the prize money excessive for a publicly funded organisation? After all, part of the fun of Blankety Blank is its modest prizes. (Yes the money is a drop in the ocean but it all adds up.)
Nobody who cares for the BBC wants it to abandon any service or programme which is enjoyed or valued.
Any publicly funded organisation needs to keep on striving to be as efficient as possible to give the maximum value to those who foot the bill.
But it still needs proper funding to begin with. It’s time to pay up if you want the BBC which is the envy of the world.
PICTURED: BBC Broadcasting House, London. COPYRIGHT: BBC.