BBC Asian NetworkBBC Asian Network is a British radio station that is operated by the BBC. The station's target audience are people aged 15–35 of South Asian descent (Bangladeshi/Indian/Pakistani), and/or those with an interest in South Asian affairs. The music and news comes out of the main urban areas where there are significant communities with these backgrounds. The station has production centres in London (Broadcasting House) and Birmingham (The Mailbox).
In mid 2017, BBC Asian Network's management was merged with that of BBC Radio 1Xtra. Head of BBC Asian Network Mark Strippel was given joint control of both stations, creating a super-network for two of the UK's largest ethnic minority groups.
BBC Asian Network now broadcasts mainly in English, but has retained Sunday evening shows with language content covering regions in the Indian subcontinent: India (mainly Punjab and Gujarat), Sri Lanka, Pakistan, and Bangladesh.
The station's output consists largely of music and talk programmes, with a daily documentary series Asian Network Reports. Despite the name, BBC Asian Network only covers the Indian subcontinent, with countries from the rest of the continent – such as East and Southeast Asia – not catered for.
On Fridays at 4:00 p.m., the station broadcasts The Official Asian Music Chart. Previously called the Asian Download Chart, the chart is compiled by the Official Charts Company and ranks the UK's 40 biggest Asian songs of the week, based on sales and streams across a seven-day period.
OriginsBBC television had broadcast an Asian news programme, Nai Zindagi Naya Jeevan, since 1968 from its studios in Birmingham; this series followed a traditional news and current affairs format.
In 1977 BBC Radio Leicester, responding to the growth of the size of the South Asian population in Leicester, introduced a daily show aimed primarily at that community in the city. At one point the audience consisted of 67 per cent of the South Asian community in Leicester. In 1979, BBC WM, the BBC radio station for the Midlands, followed Leicester's lead and introduced a similar daily show.
On 30 October 1988 The Asian Network was launched on the MW transmitters of BBC WM and BBC Radio Leicester with a combined output of 70 hours per week, and was extended to 86 hours a week in 1995 and on 4 November 1996 the station became a full-time service, on air 18 hours a day, and was relaunched as BBC Asian Network.
BBC Asian Network goes national
In November 1999, as part of the addition of a suite of BBC and commercial radio services to the Sky Digital satellite television platform, BBC Asian Network was made available to Sky viewers alongside BBC Radio 1, BBC Radio 2, BBC Radio 3, BBC Radio 4, BBC Radio 5 Live, BBC World Service, BBC Radio Scotland, BBC Radio Wales and BBC Radio Ulster.
On Monday 28 October 2002 it was relaunched for the DAB Digital Radio system, now broadcasting nationwide.
In January 2006, the BBC announced that they were investing an extra £1m in the BBC Asian Network, and increasing the number of full-time staff by 30% in a bid to make British South Asian interests 'a mainstream part of the corporation's output' .
Branding and schedule changesIn April 2006 the first wave of schedule changes were introduced with further changes coming into effect on 14 May and 21 May with weekend changes occurring from 17 June. In August 2007, the Asian Network received a new logo as part of a general re-brand of all national BBC stations. In 2009, this was re-branded again to add prominence to the Asian aspect of the logo.
Drama outputOne of the most significant programmes in the Asian Network lineup was an ongoing Asian soap opera Silver Street which was first broadcast in 2004. Storylines focused on the lives of a British South Asian community in an English town of unspecified name and location, with themes that generally related to issues that affect the daily lives of British South Asians and their neighbours.
Following a cutting of episode lengths to five minutes per day and continued falling listenership, on 16 November 2009 the BBC announced they would be cancelling Silver Street. The last episode was broadcast in March 2010.
The cancellation grew out of many criticisms of the Asian Network in the BBC Trust's annual report. In July 2009 it was revealed that the Asian Network had lost over 20% of its listeners in a single year and, per listener, was the most costly and expensive BBC radio station to run.
Silver Street was replaced by monthly half-hour dramas and in August 2010, BBC Asian Network announced it would be launching a new drama season from 1 September 2010.
Possible closure and falling audiencesOn 26 February 2010 The Times reported that Mark Thompson, Director General of the BBC, proposed closing the station in a bid to scale back BBC operations and allow commercial rivals more room. The proposal of closure – along with BBC 6 Music – was later confirmed on 2 March. A letter was written to the BBC Trust and signed by various people – although the number of signatories was artificially boosted with a number of people signing their name at least more than once (as both a single name and as part of different collectives) with many AN listeners advocating keeping their station at the expense of the more popular 6 Music, although the BBC Trust later rejected plans to close 6 Music and rejected the plans to close AN. On 14 March 2011, the BBC announced it was reconsidering its plan to close the station in favour of reducing its budget in half.
In 2011, the BBC ruled there would be a 46% reduction in AN's budget and a declared target of 600,000 listeners a week; with actual audience numbers only reaching 507,000. In 2012, audience numbers fell even further; peaking at only 453,000. Even with the budget reductions, in 2013 AN had the largest budget of the BBC's digital-only radio stations at £13m; despite having the lowest audience figures by far. In 2016–17, AN continued to have the highest cost-per-user of all the BBC's radio stations at 3.4p per hour, the second highest budget of the BBC's digital-only radio stations at £7.5m and the lowest audience figures of all the BBC's stations.
RAJAR's figures in 2014 showed that AN had at last started to increase its ratings – Q2's average weekly audience was 552,000 listeners, peaking at 619,000 listeners in Q4, finally exceeding the target set in 2011. However, the station was noted as being the BBC's only station – across both television and radio – whose Appreciation Index measurably fell in 2014. By May 2015, AN had once again lost a substantial number of listeners, with the RAJAR reporting a peak of 562,000 listeners – a loss of 57,000 from the previous quarter.
In 2017/18, it was noted the station not only remained as having the highest cost-per-user of all the BBC radio output, but whose costs also increased – rising from 3.4p per hour the previous year to 3.7p per hour. The audience Appreciation Index figure did not increase, remaining at 80.3; and the average length of time spent on the channel dramatically fell from 06:11 to 05:19 – the biggest fall of all of the BBC's radio stations.
In 2018/19, AN's annual budget increased from £7m to £8m, but the station noted continued heavy losses compared to the previous year: in terms of population reach (down to 1.1%), time spent on the channel per week (down to 5:12) and an increase in cost per user per hour (up to 5p).