Posts about bbc

How to blog

The BBC in Manchester is holding a seminar in how to blog. OK, withhold your snark. Yes, blogging’s so easy you don’t need instruction; that’s why everyone is doing it. But you can bet that many are curious but intimidated and so this is a good idea and an important contribution: If you want to be part of the conversation, sometimes you have to help get that conversation going. I was talking with some newspaper folks last week and t old them they could be a catalyst: If they start linking to people’s blogged restaurant reviews, maybe more people will write them and then they’ll have more to link to. Blessed by the virtuous circle.

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.