Elderly lady looks at a website

Listeners to the BBC’s long running radio serial The Archers are unhappy that its official online community hub, hosted by the beeb, is being axed due to ‘falling membership’.

The Archers has been at the centre of controversy several times, most famously the very fact it remained on air when a more popular radio saga was axed. Yes back in 1980 it was Radio 2’s controversial, ‘with-it’, soap opera Waggoners’ Walk that had the best ratings of all the corporations drama output on radio. Despite this the more urban serial, which launched in 1969, bit the dust it was said due to budget cuts as the BBC introduced economy cutbacks. To groans and bemusement The Archers remained over the more popular radio rival.

The modern young bosses at aunty however these days appear to be tiring of the ‘older generation’. No doubt they’d love to have the ‘with-it’ Waggoners on air over the Radio 4 rural Archers which launched in 1950. TV and radio chase the youth like they’re the golden ticket to Wonka land. This despite the fact BBC One appeals to a lot of older types. These over 40s, over 50s and over a lot-more-too also have more available cash to spend. But appealing to oldies isn’t fashionable is it? Nor is it ‘cool’.

It also is allegedly ‘more trouble that its worth’ as regular modernisation of the programme, including more contemporary storylines see many of the audience let their feelings be known – often not in the positive. While the corporation say The Archers is losing its online social forum due to ‘falling membership’ those who do post on the message boards are suggesting their opinions and criticism of the show is the real reason behind the plug being pulled.

The forum attracts around 10,000 visitors but only 1000 regular users, while The Archers programme reaches five million in its ratings, which would be good viewing figures for most main telly channel’s these days. The small online active figure isn’t good enough apparently for bosses and, in another round of cost cutting at the beeb, apparently too expensive to maintain for such a small number of patrons. Many forums have spectator readers however, with less contributing with posts.

Listeners to the drama suggest thats a polite fob-off and the real reason the message board is being axed is simply because the BBC don’t like what the fans are posting and by removing the central meeting point the listeners won’t be able to publically criticise the production anymore. Simply an exercise in “How to get rid of the pesky, wrong sort of listener!” one member of the forum said, adding they must be “too critical, too old and too much trouble”.

“The Archers is extremely popular on digital platforms.” said Nigel Smith the Interactive Editor of Radio 4 in his beeb blog, adding “More than 120,000 users regularly visit the website every week, the podcast is three times more popular now than it was in 2008 with downloads in the millions – and more and more listeners are talking about the programme on social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. Amid that growth, traffic to the message board has reduced greatly. While there are around 10,000 regular visitors to the message board, the number of people who contribute actively has dropped below a thousand.”

“The Archers community has been a rich, witty and fun space for fans over the last decade and we acknowledge the strength of the community. We hope that you continue to contribute to Archers discussions elsewhere online.” he added.

Fans have called on Maria Miller MP, Department of Culture, Media, to investigate the closure, with a petition launched – currently with over 900 signatures – to save the forum.

The Archers is currently the UK’s longest running soap, notching up 63 years. Its message boards will shut down on February 25th at noon.

[Written by Neil Lang]

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