Posts about bbc

Open-source BBC

The other day, I wrote about the idea that the BBC should go open-source and that, as a public trust, it should support rather than compete with media companies, giving them traffic when appropriate and the fruits of their experimentation. Ashley Highfield, director of new media and technology at the BBC, just gave a speech outlining some pieces of its relationship with other companies and more….

I welcomed Graf’s recommendation that we should implement a more systematic and comprehensive approach to linking from to external sites for example.

The power of taking audiences from a programme on BBC ONE to a site on and then out into cyberspace is huge – but I think we could go so much further. And we are trying: 9.5m users in March used BBC content syndicated to third party sites such as AOL and MSN; 23% of those users did not visit at all in March.

So far from being a 800 pound gorilla crushing the green shoots of plucky cyber-sowers, I believe we have the potential to have a significant and positive market impact….

But can we really deliver a genuine win-win-win for audiences, the BBC, and the commercial sector? And if so, how?

Firstly, we at the BBC must recognise that the internet is changing. It is becoming more translucent and porous – less silo’d. It’s becoming less centrally controlled – if it ever was.

Peer to peer and other technologies are shifting the power from the centre to the nodes at the edge of the network: you and me. This is a tough culture shift for an organisation used the certainties of the broadcast world.

Used to the idea of almost total control over what and how you watch, listen and consume, we must now learn to “loosen up and let go” as the Buddhist lama Surya Das puts it….

But we also believe our audience want much more as well. To find our content where they want it, whether within their favourite portal like MSN, their community like YouTube, or their environment like the Second Life virtual world website.

They want to contribute their content – this we know – but not necessarily always on our site, so we absolutely don’t want to become a MySpace or a Flickr or a Friends Reunited, we want to work with these players, to partner our relevant offerings with theirs.

In short we want to shift from being a gateway, to being a conduit, a channel for conveying content, and frequently neither the start nor the end of the journey….

I believe that how we deliver our programmes, the context, will be every bit as important as the content. Success in the web 2.0 world for all of us will come down to ‘discoverability’….

The ultimate aspiration is to bring all of these new initiatives together into a comprehensive re-think of what the BBC’s public service offering on the web should look like….

Not through expansionism but partnership – partnership with commercial companies and with our audience, achieving a balance between the need for some central control and coordination, and ‘letting go’.

By George, they’re getting it.

BBC: the open-source network

This week’s Media Guardian column is an open letter to Mark Thompson, head of the BCC, arguing that the beeb shouldn’t think as a competitor to big media but as a laboratory for innovation. (Here it is without registration required.) Excerpt:

The BBC can become the grand laboratory of media. For because of those licence fees, you are in a better position than any organisation anywhere to think generously, to share knowledge and audience – and thus revenue and support – with your media confreres. More important, you can afford to make mistakes. You can try to figure out how to let the people pass around your shows, how to distribute information and entertainment to new devices, and how to gather and share content from the public in new ways, and you can stumble along the way without risking shareholder revolts. The problem is, of course, that you are now facing a revolt of media moguls, instead. So you need to demonstrate that Auntie comes in peace, that you will involve them in your Creative Future, understanding their needs and sharing your answers. For the truth is that the news and media industries desperately need reinvention, they need to benefit from your experimentation and innovation, so long as you are open with your lessons.

Right after that went up, a BBC friend pointed me to wonderful thinking from Azeem Azhar two years ago proposing details of how to manage an open-source BBC with a BBC Public License (see his own site as well). Excerpt:

The internet, then, is where re-invention of the public service principle can begin.

Under the BPL, the BBC’s internet content, for example, would be available for third parties to access and syndicate. A non-commercial user, such as a charity Web site, could put up a BBC news feed free.

Under the BPL, the BBC’s software code would be freely available. Development for certain types of projects would be done publicly, using an open source framework.

BBC 2.1

More on the BBC’s bold plans in today’s Media Guardian. Owen Gibson hears BBC head of journalism Mark Byford talk the talk:

The shift in distribution should be accompanied by a shift in tone, he argues. “They [the audience] like its accuracy, its authority, its authenticity. They want it to be a bit more modern, a bit more accessible, a bit more courageous and we’ve got to adapt to that as well.” And that shift in mindset should apply to the way in which complaints are treated too, he says. “In the past, people thought that if they admitted a mistake it would make them less authoritative. In fact, the audience feel it makes you more so,” he says, perhaps alluding to Hutton and bringing to mind his unhappy spell as stand-in director general following the departure of Greg Dyke. “You’ve got to understand that over time that’s got to change. Trust is about reliability but it’s also about responsiveness,” he adds.

Below that on the page, Anthony Lilley says, properly, that if they mean it about going 2.0, they have to stop talking about audiences.

At least once in his speech, the DG referred to changing “audience behaviour”. And therein lies a clue to the fundamental problem. The biggest change in audience behaviour is that for much of the time, the folk out there have stopped being an “audience” at all. They are, increasingly, members of various communities and some of the time they listen and talk to the BBC.

The BBC clearly understands this idea. It’s shot through Thompson’s speech. But acting on it goes further than putting new media on an equal level to radio and TV. This is the BBC’s main problem. Once a broadcaster, always a broadcaster. We don’t need the BBC’s permission to talk among ourselves and we don’t need to do it on the BBC’s (virtual) premises.

f there’s one thing that really differentiates so-called “new media” folk from our brethren in “established” media, it’s our version of the idea of control. Google knows that you don’t need to control everything. You provide, in its case, the best search service and use it as a platform to become a key player online. From the rhetoric, the BBC gets this. It just doesn’t seem to be able to resist going too far.

It appears determined to keep “audiences” within the confines of the BBC. But to do this, it plans to expand its means of delivery into every new area of media, and without questioning whether this is a) desirable or b) what the BBC is for. So we have the BBC developing search software. Is there a market failure in search engines?

See also Emily Bell.

The BCC as a new network

In followup discussions and interviews about the BBC’s bold plans to reinvent itself, the one question I keep getting asked that I didn’t address in my post is:

What is the proper role for the BBC as a tax-supported public trust? Should it compete with commercial ventures online? That is what Rupert Murdoch has been asking (read: complaining about). I have two answers:

First, I think it would be foolhardy for the industry to try to throttle development and innovation at the BBC. Because of its position and generous tax funding, it’s true that the BBC can afford to do what other companies cannot. But that is also a reason to let them, to see what they develop and to copy the successes and avoid the failures. It is open-source product development for media — and media need it. I’d say that’s one way to put tax dollars pounds stirling to work for you. And trying to kill the BBC by stopping it from experimenting and growing is a horrid waste of those tax monies.

Second, I think the BBC should have a different relationship with the media outlets formerly known as its competitors: The BBC should be linking to and promoting the best not just from the BCC and now from citizens’ media but also from other media. Why shouldn’t the BBC, as a public trust, point to and thus send traffic to and help support and encourage the best from Sky or the Guardian or Washington Post? That, I believe, will be the role of the new network. More on that later.

: BTW, I should add that I don’t support the notion of tax-supported and thus government-certified news. I think it’s quite dangerous. But given the BBC’s position, I’d say if it really wants to reinvent itself, it should reinvent its role in media and its notion of the network.