Blasted Broadcasting Corp.

In a case of any-enemy-of-yours-must-be-a-friend-of-mine, the Guardian PDA blog invites sworn enemy Edward Roussel, head of Telegraph digital, to comment on their mutual bete noir, the BBC, and a report of tremendous overspending on its digital efforts. Emily Bell, head of digital at the Guardian, and Jemima Kiss, doyenne of tech and media bloggers there, weigh in. So did I:

I know this is naive (and American) of me but I wonder about turning the discussion around and asking what the BBC can do as a platform to support diverse voices not controlled there, including those of the Telegraph, Guardian, Times, et al, not to mention bloggers and media and information entrepreneurs.

For example, shouldn’t you all be demanding access to the iPlayer?

Shouldn’t you demand access to any and all code created with license fees?

Shouldn’t the BBC make it part of its mission to support diverse and quality voices throughout media — again, commercial newspapers, blogs, podcasts, anything — with promotion, traffic, technology innovation, open-source invention (and even, as I suggested at the Online Publishers Association panel I moderated with the Guardian, the BBC, and Reuters, the BBC taking on ad sales of UK sites’ international traffic as it begins to sell ads internationally).

What if the BBC became an open network? What if you could build upon it the way many have built businesses atop Google?

I know that Ofcom (with Tom Loosemore) have been grappling with the question of what public-service publishing/broadcasting/internetting means. But how about this:

What if the BBC were to become the public-service platform?

  • It would surely run into EU state-aid issues…

  • The Guardian has done great stuff with its own website over the last few years, but I’m totally fed up with their constant whining about the BBC in general, and its website in particular. The Beeb spends part of the licence fee on producing a fantastic website: the Guardian needs to get over it.

    Your suggestion that the Guardian and co. should demand access to code created with licence fees is interesting, but where would you draw the line? Remove all copyright from BBC content? But selling content to abroad is a nice little earner for the Beeb, and helps keep down the licence fee.

    I think using BBC resources to help ordinary citizens have a voice is an excellent idea, but why should my licence fee contribution help subsidise the likes of the Daily Telegraph?

  • More than 25% of the budget of BBC Online (like the rest of the BBC) is, by law, commissioned out. That means, if you take Roussel’s “pulled out of his behind” figure of a £500 million BBC online budget seriously, £125 million already goes to the private sector – possibly the biggest effective government subsidy for any online industry in the world. Of course, what Roussel and Bell mean when they talk about how the BBC is bad for the private sector, they conveniently forget this.

    That is, of course, far more than The Guardian and The Telegraph spend supporting smaller web companies in the UK put together – again, somethig that neither of them mention.

  • Oh, and I forgot to mention: The BBC already did a public service community site, called Action Network, aimed at encouraging greater engagement with local campaigning. It shut, partly because the traffic wasn’t there, but also because there was a lot of questioning over whether the BBC should be doing it at all.

  • Now there is a very very interesting idea. The public has already paid for the BBC’s technology and content. Why shouldn’t they own it. But it does not occur to them. Just as we own all the photos and films from NASA, but who thinks to ask.

  • @Ian Betteridge:

    It’s great that the BBC commissions out 25 percent of their budget but nevertheless would it not be better if we could feel confident that this spending was managed responsibly? I suppose the private sector would benefit most from wanton and profligate spending, but those who pay the licence fee might prefer some accountability.

    Kind regards,
    Evan Rudowski

  • Interesting you should make this point Jeff. I made the very same one a couple of days ago (so it’s not ‘being American’!) on the Broadstuff blog:

    “for me, it’s fairly simple. The BBC needs to become a donkey. (oh I’m sorry, is the new media “politically correct” term for it a “platform”?)

    Go into the world and do the reporting – and open up total access to all your data, your newswire, your stock photos, whatever. Do the dirty stuff that startups can mashup up, pull in, incorporate clips into their own web shows, remix, etc. Be as forthcoming with data and metadata – i.e. information age raw materials – as possible. Be the only ones with field offices in every country in the world, let our beleaguered broadsheets close theirs and call up the local BBC office anywhere in the world, do the ‘value added’ stuff – the synthesis, the meta-level journalism.

    Meanwhile, spend the new media budget incubating startups and spinning them off – like a university – and providing them with ‘cloud’ services to support their scaling, training, etc.

    The BBC should be a broadcaster of resources – not a broadcaster of finished content.”

  • Bob Anon

    Interesting idea, but what would the public and the BBC get in return? Would commercial newspapers be willing to throw open access to their content – all of it, not just selected cherry-picked bits of it? Would they be willing to play by the BBC’s strict non-commercial rules and elaborate producer guidelines regarding fairness, balance, editorial independence and dozens of other issues? Believe or not there is a case to be made for a special case public broadcaster owning its own content. Which is not to say that there shouldn’t be a robust debate … but on the other hand it shouldn’t be dictated by the vested interests of the Guardian and the Telegraph.

  • Ricky

    @ Evan Rudowski

    “It’s great that the BBC commissions out 25 percent of their budget but nevertheless would it not be better if we could feel confident that this spending was managed responsibly?”

    This 25% spend is scrutinised extremely carefully at the BBC. If it wasn’t, it wouldn’t just be the Guardian and Telegraph on the BBC’s back, it would be every independent production company out there.

    Don’t make the mistake of assuming that all BBC bugdeting is mismanaged just because one statistic from one BBC Trust report has been blown out of proportion by the Grauniad.

    @ Jeff J

    Yes to your point about the BBC being an open forum for debate amongst diverse voices. To be honest, I don’t think anyone at the BBC would be against this. In fact, there are myriad BBC blogs where journalist for the Guardian et al are more than free to comment, but they don’t. I really think you’d find more relucantance amongst the broadsheets.

    Absolutely no to your point about the BBC giving up its code base freely to all concerned. What a ludicrous idea. What, so the Guardian could sack all of its designers and developers and just borrow the hard work done at the BBC, which the public paid for, and then stick adverts around it to make a healthy profit? No thank you.

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