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Monday, 2 July 2012

Is the Cambridge folk festival a victim of BBC capriciousness?

It looks as if the Cambridge folk festival will be taking place without a headline sponsor
this time around, which is a shame. Its association with the Co-op came to an end last year with professions of admiration all roundthere are media sponsors and a handful of grants. But I guess the recession's taking its toll.

I've been curious for a while about Cambridge's change from the BBC to Sky Arts for its TV coverage since someone pointed out some Co-op banners to me and commented that the BBC would effectively be advertising the Co-op if it happened to include any banners in its TV coverage - though its charter theoretically prevented that.

Elaine Midgley, the arts and events manager at Cambridge City Council, told me: "The festival used to have headline sponsorship from BBC Radio Two. But they changed their policy recently and don't pay cash money for the branding of events any more, though they do still provide services in kind. So they switched in 2008 from being a sponsor to being a media partner.

"Sky is a sponsor and a media partner, in the sense that they are covering the event and paying for the branding benefits that its association brings. The BBC will be doing highlights programmes and live coverage but Sky has got exclusive rights to TV, whereas the BBC's will be on national radio.

"Sky started two years ago - in 2010 - and I think they're pleased with the results. Apparently Cambridge was the third most watched event of their festival programming last year.

"The BBC has strict guidelines about the terms of what it can and can't cover: the BBC will never be our sponsor again."

I wonder whether the BBC's decision to swap from sponsor to media partner was really provoked by adherence to its own guidelines, or whether it was about saving money? After all, I can think of at least one other part of the BBC's involvement with folk music where the rules have gone out of the window.

The BBC Radio Two Folk Awards has around 170 un-named judges, many of whom have close ties to a relatively small number of bands on the folk scene - and this despite crystal clear BBC guidelines about transparency for awards. It strikes me that the Cambridge folk festival may simply have been unlucky: a victim of capriciousness on the part of a large, powerful organisation with poor internal regulation. The BBC seems to pick and choose when it sticks to its own rules, depending on what suits it at the time.

Midgley said: "Not having a headline sponsor has knocked a big hole in the festival's finances and we'll have to rectify it by finding sponsorship soon. The festival's run on a not-for-profit basis and this makes it hard to invest. We hope that the budget shortfall won't be evident at the front end of the festival - most of the cuts have been behind the scenes, in personnel."

An article in Metro last week suggested that folk festivals are bucking the downward trend in ticket sales. Wouldn't it be great if a new sponsor for Cambridge could be found before this year's event?

* See this year's line-up and buy tickets for Cambridge here. It was 92 per cent sold out when I spoke to Elaine last week. And here's a page about why you might like to sponsor the Cambridge folk fest.

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  1. The Sky coverage has been very good, and they've produced a nice DVD of highlights the last 2 years. Only problem not everyone gets it.

  2. worth noting that bbc coverage of sporting events is in no way limited by pressense of banners from commercial sponsors. Its a shame camberidge's media partner with sky but thats not a new story! slightly convused by your attempt to tie this into the bbc folk awards controversy - yes it needs more transparency but bringing it up at every opportunity starts to look rather like you have an axe to grind.

  3. I do have an axe to grind, Steve. I'd like to see the folk awards run transparently in the interests of the industry rather than secretively in the interests of god knows what. Btw this is the first post here about the folk awards since February. Have you perhaps been reading about it elsewhere?


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