Posts about bbc

Media wars

I spent some time on the phone this morning with Ed Roussel, head of online for the Telegraph, as he was quite properly crowing about the paper-site’s scoop last night on the hiring of BBC Chairman Michael Grade by struggling ITV. It’s big and surprising news in the U.K. and Telegraph editor-at-large Jeff Randall, a former BBC business editor, got the story way ahead of the competition — which, as Roussel enumerated, includes the BBC, which lost its boss; Murdoch’s Sky, which just invested in ITV; and the Guardian, the Telegraph’s fiercest competitor, which emphasizes its media coverage. The Telegraph has been taking its lumps from that fierce competitor for its shakeups and layoffs but I’m sympathetic on that score; revolution is not painless.

But I was curious about how the Telegraph’s integration of online and print in its much-vaunted Star Wars was going. Roussel said the Grade story was a model for how it should work on a new platform that can cut across all media and tools: The story went online at 9:50 p.m. and in no time, they put up audio and video and more content, forcing those competitors listed above to attribute the news to the Telegraph. Roussel said there is no more debate about putting stories online first. He said they are gaining advantage by hiring people like Randall, who have TV experience, and also by sending all staff through a week’s multimedia training. And he argued that the Telegraph newsroom — which puts him next to his print counterparts and tries to break down the barriers among departments and media — “made a huge difference, and I’m not bullshitting you” in getting last night’s scoop out. I asked what the endpoint is and how far along they are toward it. Roussel said it is when journalists respond like Randall, telling the story in all appropriate media: “Here’s your tool kid; how are you going to use it?” He thinks they are two-thirds of the way there.

Interestingly, Roussel argues that not only the newsroom is changing but so is the public. He says that people are more likely now to join in collaborative. They are getting soldiers to video their experiences in Afghanistan and Iraq (some of it too gruesome to show, Roussel says). And when they asked their readers to show the impact of warming on their gardens (there will always be an England), more than 600 sent in photos. Networked journalism, that is.

Roussel emphasizes that that they are not getting it all right and that they have contractual issues with print and online staff, workflow issues primarily involving production, and technical issues (what newspaper doesn’t?). But he says that the full story of the Telegraph’s successes is not being told.

Because I’m a media wonk, I’m fond of the coverage of the industry in British papers — it may be a bit much for some but I wish we had more such coverage here. And I also wish we had more competition here, for that would improve this coverage. By this afternoon, the Guardian responded late, by necessity, but compensated with volume; I count 27 links to coverage, including even a special-edition podcast. The Independent had up just a few links, but the BBC had more than a dozen. Sadly, the Press Gazette folded this week, so it was silent. Overdose? Not for media porn junkies. And that is the real moral to this story: competition is good for it is spawning innovation.

(Disclosures: I write and have consulted for the Telegraph’s fierce competitor and I was also introducing Roussel to Daylife).

Not in sync

Chris Riley builds a neat little page that compares, side-by-side, what the BBC thinks we should care about vs. what we actually care about — that is, the BBC’s home-page placement against the most popular stories and subjects. Now I know that some will warn that we shouldn’t make news just a matter of ratings. I hear that all the time: Then the news would be overrun by tawdry celebrity gossip. Well, it is already. And note that the stop story over the last two weeks on both sides of the equation is Iraq, not Tomkat. That’s No. 2.

Exploding TV: The BBC responds

In a speech to the Royal Television Society (one wonders what could ever be royal about television), Peter Fincham, the controller — that is, chief programmer and boss — of BBC One, responded to a column I wrote about exploding TV for Media Guardian.

I suspect that Fincham and I disagree only by a matter of degree — though that may be like missing by five degrees when building a bridge from either end, meant to meet in the middle. He believes in the value of linear TV channels and seems to think that the internet is a nice complement. I believe that television has the opportunity to grow in untold new ways — in programming, distribution, choice, interaction — and that the old channels are becoming the complement to the new. Some of Fincham’s points and my responses, in turn:

YouTube’s great. Google’s great. It’s all great. But if the conclusion you draw – and some people love drawing it – is that television is over, I think you might just be wrong.

The one simply doesn’t follow from the other. I read an article in the media section of the Guardian a couple of weeks ago, by Jeff Jarvis. Not sure who Jeff Jarvis is, but he sounds like a man who keeps his nose to the ground.

The headline – so unremarkable as to hardly grab the eye – was ‘Television is dead’. This is what Jeff said: ‘All the old definitions of TV are in shambles. Television need not be broadcast. It needn’t be produced by studios and networks. It no longer depends on big numbers and blockbusters. It doesn’t have to fit 30 and 60 minute moulds. It isn’t scheduled. It isn’t mass. The limits of television – of distribution, of tools, of economics, of scarcity – are gone.’

What I’m saying is that rather than being ‘over,’ television has the opportunity to expand as never before. I just wrote an expansion of that Guardian column and some posts here for the magazine published by aforementioned Royal Television Society; I ended it this way: “All the limits that used to define television are gone. TV can now become whatever we want it to be.” I don’t look at the old, linear channels as the definition of TV; I look at them as the limitation on TV. Fincham continues:

Anyone here still got a job? Elsewhere in the article, Jeff says ‘My teen son and his friends are getting hooked on new series not via TV but through the web and iTunes.’

Ah, Jeff’s teen son and his friends – I feel we know them well. They have a great life – more media choice than ever before, gadgets we never dreamt of, chatrooms, websites, iPods. The only downside is having Jeff standing in the corner of the room trying to work out what they’re up to.

This sort of breathless over-enthusiasm for the overnight destruction of television is reminiscent in some ways of the dotcom boom of the late Nineties, when all conventional businesses were apparently heading for the scrapheap.

It also reminds me of the late Sixties – yes, I can just remember them – when a bloke I met in a youth hostel assured me that Western civilization was on its last knees and the future lay in self-sufficient collectives living in Wales.

Well, some companies are headed for the scrapheap. And I’d say this reminds me more of the advent of cars. Trains and horses are still around, but so what?

The trouble is, it’s missing the point. Conventional television – old media, linear, whatever you want to call it – and new media don’t exist in opposition to each other. In fact, they’re perfect partners.

We agree. Only I don’t think they are separate entities in partnership. I think the two merge and meld in wonderful ways, if only you’ll let them.

Jeff Jarvis assumes that where technology leads, our tastes will follow. He thinks that to embrace the new, it’s necessary to reject all that’s familiar. I think he’s wrong.

Any anthropologist will tell you that our ancestors, although they lived in caves, had exactly the same brains and bodies that we have. Evolution just doesn’t move that fast.

Actually, yes, we agree: I believe is that our tastes do not change rapidly. What is changing is our opportunity to express those tastes apart from the tastes of network programmers who tried to tell us what we should like.

Fincham goes on to praise a literary show the BBC had just carried and he asks:

Does Jeff Jarvis’ new world of television mean there’s no room for adaptations of Jane Eyre? And if so, is that something we’ve gained? Or something we’ve lost?

People like programmes. Seems like a pretty obvious thing to say, but in our noisy and novelty-driven world it can’t be said often enough.

They also like, in my view, an intelligently-balanced linear schedule. Yes, of course video on demand will enable us to create our own schedules and time-shift programmes at will. But we won’t want to do that all the time, will we?

I do so dislike it when executives say that “people like” what they make. We, those people, like lots of things. Sure, that includes programs. But it also includes much more. Do we like the programmers’ linear TV schedules? Not much. That’s why God invented the remote control, VCR, PVR, and cable/satellite box: to give us choice and control over our consumption of media. Now we also have the power to create media. And Fincham says about that:

User-generated content is a wonderful thing, but it won’t simply replace the professional stuff. There’s such a thing as a user-generated garden shed – you buy it from Homebase and put it together yourself.

Or there’s the other sort, which I must admit I prefer – you get somebody else to do it for you. The two markets don’t cancel each other out – they co-exist.

I did not say that they would cancel each other out, nor did I say — headline aside — that old TV would die. I argued that TV can be reinvented, reborn, reinvigorated, if only you’ll let it. I’ll also argue that TV has not been such a passive experience since the invention of the remote control 50 years ago. You program. We click. We began programming our own networks even then.

Fincham does acknowledge that distinctions will disappear:

When we’ve lost the distinction between terrestrial and digital, it will be replaced by a new distinction – between channels that originate, and channels that don’t.

And between channels that have range, and channels that are niche. . . .

When I was growing up – this isn’t an exact analogy, but it’s got some similarities – department stores were sorry places. The world seemed to be passing them by. You could have been forgiven for thinking they were in terminal decline. No, they weren’t.

They just needed refurbishing, refreshing, they needed to be made modern. Now look at them. Try getting into Selfridges on a Saturday morning – you’re trampled to death in the crush.

The equivalent of Selfridges on a Saturday morning, you might say, is a mainstream channel on a Saturday evening. Seventy per cent of the population have access to up to 400 channels, but for the last two Saturdays more than 15 million people have come to two of them as BBC ONE and ITV1 take position and fire arrows at each other.

Well, perhaps that’s another difference between over there and over here. I haven’t been to Macy’s for years. I buy my clothes and books and gadgets online. I’ll take Amazon over Bloomingdale’s. And I do believe we will value the producers of programming — which includes the BBC — over the networks that simply carry it.

Fincham concludes:

I’m a big advocate for linear viewing, for proper programmes, for television in the sense that we understand and have always understood it.

Riding both horses in tandem – that’s where the future lies.

But real television, 30 minute, 60 minute, 90 minute television in all its recognisable genres and forms, with challenging content and full production values, with the best talent and the most varied ideas – that sort of television is not just for Christmas, it’s for life.

If you’re as lucky as I am, to be running the BBC’s flagship television channel during this time of enormous upheaval, you’re not working in a backwater.

Quite the opposite. You’re on the frontier. There’s much, much more still to explore, and it’s a very exciting time to be exploring it.

“Proper” programs? “Real” television? Who’s to say what proper television is? With all respect, it’s not you, not anymore. Just because you run a channel does not mean that you run television anymore. We do. That’s just the point.

We out here do, indeed, like your proper programs and the good news is that, if you’re clever, we have so many more ways to find them now and you have so many more ways to find us. You also have the opportunity to broaden your definition of what makes TV — whether that comes in 3- or 30-minute increments — with new ideas and new talent. You have the historic chance to make TV more than a one-way, linear channel. So, yes, we agree: there is much, much more still to explore. So explore.

: See also Raymond Snoddy’s reaction to the speech in The Independent.

So much for impartiality

The Mail on Sunday carries leaks from an “impartiality summit” at the BBC that purports to reveal various biases:

It was the day that a host of BBC executives and star presenters admitted what critics have been telling them for years: the BBC is dominated by trendy, Left-leaning liberals who are biased against Christianity and in favour of multiculturalism. . . .

It reveals that executives would let the Bible be thrown into a dustbin on a TV comedy show, but not the Koran, and that they would broadcast an interview with Osama Bin Laden if given the opportunity. Further, it discloses that the BBC’s ‘diversity tsar’, wants Muslim women newsreaders to be allowed to wear veils when on air.

At the secret meeting in London last month, which was hosted by veteran broadcaster Sue Lawley, BBC executives admitted the corporation is dominated by homosexuals and people from ethnic minorities, deliberately promotes multiculturalism, is anti-American, anti-countryside and more sensitive to the feelings of Muslims than Christians.

I don’t get the “dominated by homosexuals” part.

: UPDATE: Don’t miss the response of the BBC on their editors’ blog. As pointed out in the comments, the “secret” meeting was webcast.

Exploding TV: The atomic bomb

At the Picnic in Amsterdam — which, sadly, I couldn’t attend because of various duties — Matt Locke, head of innovation at BBC Future Media and Technology, sings sweetly to this pew in the choir about the real structure of media. The Guardian’s Mark Sweney blogs it:

The good news is that the BBC turned out to be the most commonly referenced big brand [in blogs].

The bad news is that just 0.3% of the millions of blog posts analysed referred to the BBC.

What does this all mean? It means that what the BBC does, creating programmes, is just a tiny ‘atom’ in the new media world and how on earth can you grow that 0.3%?

The likes of YouTube and blogs equal cheap forms of production of content.

You can’t ‘own’ all the relationships audiences have in the web world so the best plan is to ‘atomise’ content, disintegrate, to ‘explode’ into places where they are.

Amen, brother. I said sometime ago that media is not about owning content or distribution. It is about relationships. And Locke is quite right: relationships are also not something to be owned. Sweney continues:

Here we go, he has four rules/lessons/options for large media companies, this ought to be interesting. Hmmm, I seem to have come out of it with 5 – perhaps one is an example.

1. The BBC is not making programmes it is making ‘atoms’, tiny elements going everywhere in the digital landscape. The controversial Creative Archive is an attempt to “unlock” elements, “atomise the archive”.

2. Decentralising production. BBC Backstage project. Not to get too techy but this seems to be where clever people are allowed to create applications. One chappy created a system that tailored the BBC news output into “moods” – good or bad – by scanning for key words such as ‘festival’. 90 have been built in the last year and some might get commissioned.

3. Host successful sites and communities and don’t try and re-invent the wheel by doing a “me too” MySpace or YouTube. They are already out there so provide content and engage with them. . . .

4. Be an aggregator. Like the MTV guy said yesterday TV channels can be aggregators. Example: Radio 1 site pulling in content that refers to the radio brand from the likes of Flickr and YouTube. . . .

5. Don’t panic. Linear TV is not disappearing. Broadcasters just need to take different strategies and roles in different media. Example: Creating a virtual festival complete with streaming video footage within Second Life of an event held in the real world.

I had coffee this week with Richard Sambrook, the BBC’s director of global news and world service, just to compare notes. I come away from encounters with the BBC impressed that even with its gargantuan size and leaden history, culture, and structure, it is still able to innovate and explode assumptions. Contrast this with the talk among American newspaper companies in a post I’ll put up shortly. You won’t hear them talking in such blunt terms about the fundamental change in media.

Exploding public media

Publicly supported media — the BBC, NPR, and the CBC — are all going through efforts to reexamine and reorganize how they work and what they are. Here‘s the BBC’s DG Mark Thompson shaking things up; here is an outline a process of change in National Public Radio (with interesting blogging by the consultant helping them through it); and here‘s a discussion about the proper role of the Canadian Broadcasting Company in a new media world.

Of course, the upheaval overtaking for-profit media is not going to exempt other media just because they get money from taxes or contributions, though such sure and steady sources of income can blind the bosses or delay the inevitable. (I say that’s the same problem with the blind faith some in the newspaper industry are giving to private vs. public ownership; the business realities and inevitabilities are no different even if the money’s dumber.)

So give credit to these publicly supported institutions for recognizing the necessity of change. And as we watch them, keep in mind that we may see the birth of more publicly supported media in this new world. Later this week, I’ll tell you about an exciting project a friend is working on to support journalism with the money and effort of the public. I think we’ll see many such efforts. As we grapple with new business models for news, I think that public support will not be a panacea (any more than private ownership) but will be one of many solutions to the puzzle of media in an open world. Now that we, the people, have more voice and control, I think we will be willing to take more responsibility to support media that matter.

National Public Radio faces both vexing challenges and great opportunities. NPR and its affiliated stations can now broadcast their good work to many more people, with NPR going international and stations going national. They can find new talent online (if it works for NBC…); when I spoke to the Public Broadcasting Program Directors’ confab last year, one visionary station exec said that she used to be able to try out new talent only at 11p on Sundays but now she can try them out on the web. This means they can discover and promote more talent and work with it in new ways — collaboratively, that is. And when you have a surplus of good stuff, the web means that you are not trapped in a 24-hour clock. They also don’t see their work die after it is broadcast; now I can listen to On the Media or Brian Lehrer anytime I want, which means I listen more often.

The greatest challenge, I think, is what to do with local affiliates. The large ones that make good programming, like WNYC, will be fine for all the reasons above. But the small ones that are really just channels for distribution out and contributions in are in trouble. I don’t know what the fate of a local affiliate — for commercial or public broadcast — will be when the internet is a better means of distribution. I’m tempted to give them the same advice I give newspapers: Go local. But some of these stations are tiny and don’t have the resources. It’s a hard problem.

Current, the paper about public broadcast in the U.S., reports on the changes coming to NPR. Amid the organizationspeak, I see these priorities:

* First, they want to work hard to strengthen local news. That is a smart solution — not the only one needed — to the local affiliate problem: Make them more valuable. As other radio news dies, fill the vacuum. They’re spending $600,000 on this.

* Next, they are working on the Newsroom of the Future. Well, who isn’t? The goal is the same: getting news online, involving online in planning, and better integrating local through international efforts. Bill Marimow, NPR’s VP for news, talks about that here. He says:

We still have a huge way to go, but there’s now a real collaboration between every nook and cranny of the digital division and of the news division. The goal in the long term is to make sure that everything we produce for broadcast has an online, podcast, cellular phone component to it.

Note that the BBC’s Thompson is combining broadcast and digital production. That’s the next step.

Asked whether NPR will end up competing with newspapers, Marimow said they’ll more likely be complementary, for NPR will have the foreign correspondents they don’t have. And, I’d argue, newspapers will have the local depth radio doesn’t have. They need to link to each other. As I said below, they don’t own networks; they’re in networks.

* They are working on a new digital distribution infrastructure. I’m not sure exactly what that means but it acknowledges that the internet will be the means of distribution for public radio. It already is.

* They want to create a ” ‘trusted space’ for listeners to visit and have a hand in creating.” Emphasis mine. I think that’s important and if they mean it, a powerful key to the future of public media.

They admit they’re not sure what it is. Their blueprint document says: “We have an opportunity to embrace, promote and encourage connections among the audience around shared civic goals based on our mission. To accomplish this, we will need to curate content and provide tools that enable individuals to engage in making the world a better place.” NPR exec Dana Davis Rehm confesses: “We don’t know all the characteristics of a trusted space. It’s more of an ideal we’re trying to achieve.”

I’d think of it this way: Dave Winer has complained that when he gives money to NPR, he loses any control over it, any voice in at least suggesting how it is used. I think that people willl not only want that voice and some measure of control but also will be willing to contribute their own creation to a “trusted space” network. If NPR can enable that to happen, it’s big.

And that is the real question at hand: What is the role of public media in an era of public control of media? How can the public be more involved in the network (and thus support it more)? And how can the network point to and support the good work of the public?

: Here, via PaidContent, is the NPR blueprint (PDF). And here is blogging consultant Robert Paterson on the process that led to this in NPR and here is his very good explanation of what NPR is, really, and the challenges it faces. Here is John Bracken of the MacArthur Foundation (a big supporter of NPR) talking about the needs of this network of the future. And here is a wiki for the Digital Distribution Consortium that is working on that new digital platform for NPR>

: Now see this story in the Toronto Star talking about the debate on what the CBC should become. Historically, part of the raison d’etre for the CBC was to give Canadians a voice when their voice was in danger of being drowned out by ours, down here. Content regulation in all Canadian media also addressed that. But now everyone’s voice can be heard. So what should Canada’s public media be? Michael Geist, a law professor specializing in the internet, writes (my emphases):

A plethora of proposals — including various recommendations that the CBC become a commercial-free zone, a pay-TV service, or that it leave sports programming to the private broadcasters — have emerged from the latest round of discussions. While most CBC debates tend to focus on the ideal broadcasting model, the future of the public broadcaster may actually lie in rethinking the meaning of “public”, rather than redefining the model of broadcaster. . . .

If the CBC can no longer claim to be a unique home to Canadian programming and perspectives, then perhaps its future lies in transforming itself from Canada’s public broadcaster to the broadcaster of the Canadian public, telling our stories and providing our news from the bottom up, rather than the top down. . . .

Indeed, public broadcasters in other countries are already reinventing themselves. The British Broadcasting Corp.’s Creative Archive allows users to download clips of BBC factual programming for non-commercial use, where they can be stored, manipulated and shared. Similarly, the BBC Backstage program provides data, resources, and support for users who want to build on BBC material.

The BBC also encourages civic journalism, inviting the public to contribute photos and first-person accounts of breaking stories. . . .

The Danish Broadcasting Corp., which already features hundreds of hours of archival material on its website, recently announced plans to provide content to the Wikipedia online project, thereby enabling users to build on its materials.

Later this month officials in the Netherlands intend to unveil plans to digitize 700,000 hours of feature films, documentaries, TV shows, and radio programs. This remarkable project will transfer an incredible array of historical materials to the public. . . .

[T]he CBC would do well to innovatively collaborate with Canadians to bring their creativity to a wider broadcast audience.

Yes, that’s a good definition: Public broadcasting is our broadcasting.

Forever thus

Mark Thompson, head of the BBC, has warned his staff: “We are going through a big process of change that will continue probably forever.” Kind of sad, really, that change forever wasn’t what news organizations should have assumed long since.

Remix me

The BBC just announced the winners of its competition to redesign the BBC home page. Here’s the winner and here are the runners-up.

The winner is called Malkovich because its’ about “seeing the BBC through someone else’s eyes, fascinating perspective.” The creataors recognize the important reality of the world now: that there is “a network of people that make up a layer over the top of the BBC architecture.” The page’s cool gadget lets you slide the view of content from you … to the BBC … to the world.

What’s more important than the winner, of course, is the openness of the competition itself. Now if this were just an exercise in openness — here, kids, you go play here — then it would be a cynical ruse. But what it really is, instead, is a way to tap the wisdom and imagination of the smart crowd gathered around the BBC. Not doing that is being deaf to the possibilities. The BBC has been trying to open-source itself. This is one good step in that direction.

By the way, one good line informing one of the runners-up: “I don’t want a portal, I want an information workspace.”

(I get in trouble sometimes when I link to things and don’t mention that I’m mentioned there. I think doing so is more egotistical. Others argue with that. So beware that I’m mentioned in the BBC team’s rational for their winning pick…. and I’m humbled to be there. No, really….)