The Olivier Awards: the winner isn’t BBC Radio 2

Olivier Awards. Photo: Joel Devlin
Olivier Awards. Photo: Joel Devlin
Matt is news editor for The Stage, having started as the newspaper’s broadcast reporter. He covers all areas of the industry in his role, but has a particular interest in musical theatre. Matt studied acting at Bretton Hall and presents a monthly theatre news round up on BBC London Radio.
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So, here we are, just two months from theatreland’s biggest night of the year, and BBC Radio 2 has dropped a bombshell: it will not this year be airing the Olivier Awards live as it has done since 2010.

This isn’t just bad and disappointing news for the Society of London Theatre, which organises the awards – it’s bad news for listeners to Radio 2 and fans of theatre.

Because, now that the BBC has decided to end its live output, coverage of the ceremony will comprise a highlights package on ITV – shown after the awards themselves – and a highlights package on Radio 2, broadcast a week after the ceremony.

[pullquote]The Olivier Awards is UK-based and features homegrown talent. It deserves to be seen and heard live[/pullquote]

Okay, there will be a live relay of the ceremony in Covent Garden, should fans be keen to sit al fresco and watch the winners revealed. But no public service broadcaster will be bringing the awards to viewers or listeners live, as the ceremony happens.

According to Radio 2, a two-hour highlights package – hosted by Claudia Winkleman – will allow it to “capitalise on the great achievements in British theatre across the last year with the people who made it happen”. I am not sure how a highlights show does that better than a live broadcast, but there you go.

The two-hour show follows the format Radio 2 recently used for the Country Music Awards, with Radio 2 stating that this programme was “exceptionally well received by our listeners”.

That may be so, but the CMA’s are American, and a highlights package probably suits a ceremony that does not come from the UK itself. The Olivier Awards, on the other hand, is UK-based and features homegrown talent. It deserves to be seen and heard live.

Quite why the BBC thinks audiences will want to tune in to hear a highlights show on the radio one week after the event itself – when ITV will have already by then broadcast its own highlights show, and Twitter will have been awash with news of the winners as the ceremony happens – is difficult to get your head round. Still, there’s always the chance that Radio 2’s highlights package will be discovered by people who wouldn’t necessarily have tuned in live, so that’s a bonus.

But I feel for SOLT, I really do. Because last year it looked like the show had made huge progress with its ITV deal and its live coverage on Radio 2 (though the idea of both broadcasting content did sit a bit uncomfortably).

I can’t help thinking the BBC’s TV arm should have snapped up the rights to show the ceremony on TV, and run this alongside its own radio coverage. Perhaps when this didn’t happen, and the BBC found out that ITV was broadcasting the awards too, it felt somewhat bruised. Maybe this has something to do with it withdrawing its live coverage? Perhaps the BBC is feeling a tad bitter?

Whatever the reason for the BBC’s down-scaling, it remains clear that there is a huge appetite for theatre – with SOLT’s own figures this week revealing attendances in 2013 were 14,587,276, up 4% on the year before. That proves that people love the theatre, and that there is most likely an appetite for an awards ceremony that honours the people who work in it.

So now, without Radio 2’s live coverage, we live in hope that ITV will eventually switch to a live broadcast. Fingers crossed.

2 Comments

  1. This is a terrible shame. A shame and rather baffling as it seems that TV and radio seem to be unaware of the huge popularity of theatre in this country, a popularity demonstrated by this week’s attendance figures. A highlights package a week after the event feels a bit feeble and comparison with the Country Music Awards doesn’t bear scrutiny; one would have to stay up all night to hear those live, so a highlights package is the obvious answer. I found last year’s ITV coverage it bit lacklustre to be honest — too many important bits left out — so one can only hope they’ve learnt lessons from their failings or we’ll be left with a “well, it’s better than nothing” feeling rather than enjoying the sort of coverage this event deserves. Being really cynical, I wonder if Radio 2 will hold up poor figures for a week-old highlights package as a reason for dropping the ceremony altogether. It all becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

  2. Why not try Sky Arts? or try a live broadcast via the internet for free or even try a cinema broadcast which seems to be the modern way for today’s theatregoers who can’t attend or have the option to try to attend Covent Garden, like the numerous NT Live broadcasts that prove there is a market out there. OK an awards show is slightly different and maybe this is the year to try this as a unique experiment to see if it gains an acceptable level of audience interest, but if it does it could provide an unexpected income stream to support SOLT’s promotion of the arts, and finally remove the need for SOLT to need either of the main broadcasters.

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