The death of the Duke of Edinburgh meant significant, instant changes, to the output of hundreds of radio stations and websites. With consumers used to choice and their favourites, many were surprised to be left without them on Friday afternoon.
‘Obit’ - the obituary policy - tends to get activated by most UK stations on the death of a category one royal (the Queen, Prince Charles, Prince William and the Duke of Edinburgh) or that of the Prime Minister. The plan tends to be to cancel or regular programming and replace it with content suitable for the mood of the nation.
Much of this is steeped in history - and for the days when there was only a handful of TV and radio stations, what all good citizens were glued to.
It went hand in hand with the monopoly driven analogue media world. The stations reflected the mood of the nation, that they themselves had probably created.
Today’s Obit genuflecting is perhaps more driven by a fear of what the Daily Mail will say, rather than what it should be, which is reflecting the tastes of listeners or viewers.
Watching the reaction to the Duke’s death, many services seemed to follow their standard ‘category one’ royal plans - irrelevant of which of them had died.
Global seemed to have been practiced and prepared, with a combination of centrally delivered news bulletins, changes to the output of all of the stations as well as black versions of their social media logos and even pulling of their websites - all within minutes. Their spin-off services quickly started simulcasting their mother ships. Efficient undoubtedly but Dev emoting how he’ll miss the Duke on Heart seemed a little odd.
The BBC somewhat abruptly pushed all of its stations into simulcasting a special Radio 4 programme for much of the afternoon. Radio 1’s later return to controlling its own output included instrumental versions of softer pop songs and Newsbeat. Much to the annoyance of many of their followers on Twitter.
On the telly the BBC’s channels went mostly all news, whilst BBC Four brought back a (sombre) test card. Apparently it generated 30k viewers.
Listening to Radio 2 on Sunday it perhaps wasn’t a surprise to hear Michael Ball speak softly whilst playing the old Radio 2 playlist and reading out emails of that time listeners met the Duke. Yes they’re the audience who feel closest to the Royal Family, though I’m not sure how it really fits in with their ‘mood Mums’ strategy.
Networking shared grief isn’t something that only happens with mass media either. We went along to a local church service, as a family member was reading the homily about the Duke of Edinburgh, but on chatting afterwards the service was one that had been prepared by the Church of England and distributed to all churches - with points for local elements and opt outs!
Whilst broadcast network output I’m sure provided comfort to many, the TV ratings do show a different story. BBC One where the nation generally turns to for such things, was down 6% on the previous Friday night. BBC Two simulcasting the News Channel (something available to all TV homes anyway) lost 65% of its viewers and ITV was down a similar 60%. Channel 4 kept some of its schedule amongst a few specials, saw a 8.5% decline whilst Channel 5 which kept mainly to its regular schedule was rewarded with a 2% bump.
The BBC’s 6 O’Clock News was the highest rated programme of the night with 4.6m viewers (though it was simulcast on BBC One, Two and the News Channel). The second highest was Gogglebox on Channel 4 with 4.2m. Perhaps telling a truer story of the nation’s interest.
I think there really is a question about whether we’re still reflecting the mood of the nation if most choose to watch (or listen) to something else.
Whilst being respectful about someone important to the country and to many of its citizens is `generally a good thing, I’m not sure that blanket coverage and doing it on stations with consumers who have much less of an interest, is really doing a good job for audiences.
God save the Queen. Please don’t send me to the Tower.
(I have read your article).
I remember stepping into a newsroom office in the mid-eighties and being confronted with well-thumbed sheets pinned to a cork noticeboard entitled “Obit Procedures” and realising I was entering a world of deference, already being eroded by my generation.
Britain must stand for some kind of continuation of values, be they in terms of Britishness or decorum and respect.
Amid the horrible social media era, here is an opportunity for even the most disengaged Briton to stop and contemplate an act of mourning and loss, even if they have to synthesise it.
How ironic that The Duke of Edinburgh, the most Establishment of personalities prompt a counter-cultural debate on such matters.
Totally on point Matt. The obit protocols are dated, out of step and mainly irrelevant. For R1 and 6Music to be mooted for three days is ridiculous. Listening to Greg James on Breakfast this morning was frustrating. That team have just carried a nation through a year of lockdown. A 99 year old man expectantly died and we have to cut everything back? Nonsensical. As my kids asked today, who was he?