'It's got an energy, an excitement and momentum': Francesca Kemp on three decades of screening the BBC Proms

'It's got an energy, an excitement and momentum': Francesca Kemp on three decades of screening the BBC Proms

Preparations are well under way for the BBC Proms 2018, the largest classical music festival in the world. The First Night Of The Proms kicks off the eight-week season on July 13 with a composition by Anna Meredith. As revealed in the latest issue of Music Week, the team are hard at work already as they hope to top the huge audience for the Proms last year. 

Here, Francesca Kemp, executive producer, BBC Proms On Television, gives Music Week her insight on the evolving Proms coverage based on her 30-plus years working on the screening of the concerts…

How long have you been working on the Proms?

I’ve actually been working on the proms in television for – would you believe? – 34 years. So I’ve seen a lot of change and evolution and things that stay the same.

How has the coverage changed?

When I started back in television, we’d do maybe 10 concerts a year. Now we do far more – sometimes four concerts a week – and we have a magazine show on a Saturday night [Proms Extra]. There’s an enormously wide diversity of really superb music making across the season. We have events that bring orchestral music to a very broad public, which is something we love to pick up on television. 

Have you been influenced by the classical world’s increasing use of live streaming and cinema screenings?

I’d like to think that quite a lot of what’s happening in cinema and streaming is actually following our approach. There have been some experiments with cinema broadcast – we broadcast the Last Night Of The Proms in cinemas in 3D, although it’s not something we’ve done again.

How has broadcast technology changed the Proms coverage?

We’re often exploring new ways of using new technology to deliver to our public service audience. For many years, we’ve been broadcasting in High Definition and 5.1 surround sound. We’ve experimented with things like 360 capture, we’re always looking at how emerging technology can support a really audience-facing offer. But we need to remember that relatively simple model of old-fashioned television, beautifully done by real experts who passionately care about what they’re doing is at the heart of what we do.


The Late Night Proms are now a massively essential part of what a Proms season is

Francesca Kemp, executive producer, BBC Proms On Television


How much of the Proms viewing is via the BBC iPlayer?

It’s very significant and growing. The television reach is still huge – it was over 16 million last year. For classical music, which is still thought of as a niche art form, that is a pretty healthy audience. Of that a very significant number of people are accessing through new media and that’s definitely a growing trend. 

Do the Late Night Proms bring something edgier to the BBC TV broadcast series?

They have a very different character, that’s a good example of how the Proms has evolved. The Late Night Proms are now a massively essential part of what a Proms season is and they translate incredibly well to television. We tend to place them in late-night slots so we keep that sense of a very particular character and focus, whether it’s András Schiff or Youssou N’Dour or the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, there’s a real intensity of experience. We love doing the Late Night Proms.

Do they bring a new audience to the Proms?

Totally. I think they’re a very good example of where you will find audiences who maybe wouldn’t tune in for Stravinsky’s Rite Of Spring but will tune in for an urban Prom or a David Bowie Prom. They are crucial for bringing in new audiences.

Are there challenges filming at the Albert Hall?

It was not designed for TV cameras but, my God, it was designed to look glorious. It is the most exciting, thrilling space, it looks fabulous. We’ve been working for years with the most genius lighting designer, Bernie Davis, who makes it look more and more glorious. It’s a challenging building to work in – it’s huge but there’s very little backstage space. Eight weeks is a long time, but it’s got an energy, an excitement and momentum. Everybody loves working on the Proms, it’s a wonderful crazy thing we buy into all summer and then we all emerge in September. It’s always the most exciting ride.

To read the full BBC Proms preview with execs from TV and radio pick up the latest issue of Music Week – or subscribers can click here. To subscribe and never miss a big industry story click here.

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