BBC Trust: 5 Live has too much football coverage

Service review praises BBC Radio 5 Live, but asks for more minority sports and greater focus on news

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BBC Radio 5 Live is “performing well” and is “greatly valued by listeners”, according to a service review by the BBC Trust – but the Trust said the talk station should reduce its focus on football, attract more female listeners, and strive to be associated more with news than sport.

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The Trust’s service review, which takes place every five years, found that audiences “rate 5 Live’s sports programming extremely highly and feel it sets the standard for sports radio.” But Radio 5 Live’s status as the nation’s favourite place to debate and analyse football could be undermined by the Trust’s recommendations.

“While we recognise that the volume of live coverage and discussion of football is in line with audience interest in the sport,” the review stated, “we believe that the BBC is uniquely able to provide coverage of a range of sports, including those of minority interest, and that it could do more to reflect these in its output… there is scope for 5 Live to provide more coverage of other sports and sometimes focus less on football in its discussion programming and sports news.”

Citing the high cost of sports rights and programming, the review also indicated that 5 Live’s focus on sport in general should be reined in: “We expect the balance of spending to shift more towards news in coming years,” it said.

Of 5 Live’s news output, the Trust said: “There is no other BBC radio station with such a strong commitment to news running through the spine of its schedule… 5 Live’s role in providing a unique form of high-quality journalism will remain its fundamental purpose over the coming years, and we support its ambition to provide news of the highest quality to a broad range of listeners.”

But 5 Live is better known for sport than news, although “the majority of 5 Live output is news, not sport”, the Trust said, recommending that 5 Live “build audience awareness of its news provision” while ensuring that “all of its news programmes demonstrate a clear sense of journalistic ambition and originality”. 

Scott Taunton, managing director of UTV Media, which operates 5 Live’s rival station TalkSport, said: “We welcome the BBC Trust’s findings, and in particular its decisions to strengthen 5 Live’s commitment to 75% news, and to ensure coverage of minority sports. The BBC Trust’s report also sets out some surprising figures for programme expenditure at 5 Live. This includes the revelation that 5 Live spends more money on sports programming than on news, despite news accounting for over three times more airtime. We welcome the Trust’s recommendation that expenditure should be rebalanced towards news.”

The Trust also raised a concern that 5 Live “is strongly skewed towards male listeners, as men make up around 72 per cent of the station’s audience.”

5 Live should, the Trust said, “regularly consider whether the presentation and subject matter of its output has the potential to appeal to female listeners”.

The Trust also ruled that 5 Live’s existing remit to attract a younger and more diverse audience than other BBC news outlets was “at odds with the remit of the station to appeal to a broad range of listeners.” 5 Live’s service licence is to be amended to reflect this rethink.

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5 Live’s digital sister station, 5 Live Sport Extra, was given a free pass by the Trust. The review said Sports Extra “should continue to offer sports coverage that cannot be accommodated on other BBC radio stations.” Proposals to expand 5 Live Sports Extra to include repeats from 5 Live and other BBC stations had been rejected, the Trust said.