Marc Canter: “Right Things” – Wrong Information

September 16, 2008

I noticed Marc Canter’s blog post “Getting the BBC to focus on the right things” on Saturday.

Marc seems a bit misinformed about the BBC.

Let’s take some of his statements in order:

“…if the BBC can get rid of Flash, let alone Silverlight and Quicktime…

I don’t think Erik Hugger’s original blog post said that the BBC was going to “get rid” of Flash. It simply said that the BBC was going to adopt some open standards like H.264 for its video and audio content on the web. 

“No one cares if YouTube uses Silverlight, Ogg or Flash.”

Well I may not care, and Marc may see this as an argument from 15 years ago but the BBC backstage mailing list still rages with this kind of argument regularly. Some people, perhaps a small number, care very much. My colleague at the BBC James Cridland has views on this.

As I am a layman not a technologist, I tend to agree with Marc.

Licence fee payers in general don’t care much about the technology that powers what they watch and listen. They just want it to work.

And this is a practical argument, not a moral one (my thanks to Simon Hopkins who first alerted my mind to this confusion around “moral” matters).

If all licence fee payers used closed systems then that’s what the BBC should use to deliver its content. If they all used open ones then that’s what the BBC should do. The actual situation is somewhere in the middle. It’s about tactics, not principle.

“what about OpenID, oAuth, OpenSocial and Portable Contacts? … perhaps this post will get you supporting OpenID…”

Marc seems unaware that the BBC joined the OpenID Foundation in April of this year. See this blog post from my boss the redoutable Jem Stone.

“The BBC is a government unit who have been charged with opening up – by law.  As government policy, and as one of the world’s leading media entities, it is your DUTY to open up,”

The BBC is not a “government unit”.

Editorially, strategically and in the way it’s regulated, the BBC is independent from the British government, and certainly doesn’t do things just because they are “government policy”.

As for “by law”, I’d be interested to know what law Marc is talking about. I’m unaware of any legislation that compells the BBC to be open with its’ data or its’ content.

And as for “duty”, see my point about morality above.

The BBC does want to be open. The BBC’s current director general Mark Thompson has said he wants the BBC to be more open in all aspects of what it does.

I like openness myself.

Some of the things that Marc wants are being looked at at the BBC by the teams in the Future Media & Technology department (he should read the BBC Radio Labs blog).

But life (and more to the point British media) is, I’m afraid, a little more complicated than perhaps everyone would like.

And as I’ve blogged before, it’s easy to talk about being open and a lot harder to actually do it.

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3 Responses to “Marc Canter: “Right Things” – Wrong Information”


  1. […] I wrote a post on a Eric Huggers post on open standards – and sure ‘nuf – a BBC blogger named Nick Reynolds replied in detail to my post. […]

  2. Shefaly Says:

    I think a fundamental issue here is how the BBC is funded. The licence fee thing puts many restrictions on how much content can be made available openly. There are also regulatory restrictions on the rights that the BBC (and C4) have on materials they source from independent producers, important because much of what they show comes from indies.

    Technology can be a tool for doing strategic things provided the strategic entanglement can be sorted before hand. Values drive technology adoption, not the other way round.

  3. nickreynoldsatwork Says:

    “The licence fee thing puts many restrictions onhow much content can be made available openly”.

    Does it? I don’t think it does.

    Can you give some examples?

    I don’t think the licence fee has got anything to do with it.


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