Saving The BBC By Linking

October 10, 2008

It was nice of the Guardian to devote most of their media section on Monday to thoughts on how to save the BBC.

To me, it’s simple.

Anyone who wants to save the BBC should just write to the Culture Secretary and politely ask him not to top slice the licence fee.

For all the kind words in the Guardian though, I’m not sure if the arguments progressed any further and I found it hard to disentangle ideas (certainly new ones) from emotions.

For example the comments on the Guardian’s blog post are too familar:

“The BBC is great and we love your programmes and content” (Thank you very much)


“You’re just a lunch of lefties, and you should be closed down” (You’re entitled to your opinion, you’re wrong but thank you very much)


“It’s all the executives’ fault” (Well, it probably isn’t actually)

So far, so predictable.

A more interesting perspective was provided by a colleague of mine Tom Scott on his personal blog.

Entitled BBC public value in the online world what’s different about Tom’s thoughts is his attempt to see developments in digital media alongside the very heart of what the BBC does: its’ public purposes as outlined in the BBC’s Charter. Here’s a quote:

By joining BBC data, in this fashion, with the rest of the web the Network Effect is magnified yet further. That does benefit to the BBC, but it also benefits the web at large and that is important. The BBC has a role that transcends its business needs – it can help create public value around its content for others to benefit from (assuming, of course, there remains one, non-discriminatory, free and open internet).

Tom is on to something.

In the old world of television the “mixed schedule” was one of the ways the BBC delivered its public purposes. The thinking went (and I summarise crudely) “If we put Panorama next to Eastenders then some people might watch both”.

I don’t think the mixed schedule is dead. But in an on demand world where people can just watch Eastenders whenever or wherever they like it’s clear the BBC needs some new methods of bringing people wonderful things they didn’t know they liked or needed.

And on the internet the method is clearly the link.

How a linking journey that took you from Eastenders to other drama to Shakespeare?

Or that took you from watching Dr Who online on to buy a ticket to see David Tennant in Hamlet?

Or from BBC music content to Wikipedia music content? (Oh yes I forgot the BBC music beta does just that and that’s why it’s such a breakthrough for the BBC).

Let’s take a look at a couple of those public purposes again:

Sustaining citizenship and civil society

(How does citizenship get encouraged – surely by sharing? A citizen has a stake, a link to other citizens?)

Bringing the UK to the world and the world to the UK

(Sounds like linking to me)

And linking is a lot easier than other ideas like sharing assets, creative commons or ideas around open source as Jemima suggests and common platforms (as the BBC’s blogger in residence Steve Bowbrick suggests – disclaimer – Steve works for me). All these are complex and most bump up against the brutal political realities of the rights regieme and the rights holders’ understandable desire to hold on to their intellectual property.

But links don’t feel like intellectual property or at least they’re not valuable enough for any body to care (yet). And in order to link all the BBC has to do is change its’ culture, not change the law (difficult but easier than facing down the rights holders). And everybody agrees The BBC should link more.

Linking the country together sounds like a tall order.

It also sounds like a job for the BBC.


6 Responses to “Saving The BBC By Linking”

  1. Adrian Monck Says:

    “How does citizenship get sustained?” By partisan political conflict?

    And which country of the ‘home’ nations would you linking together?

    Tough business, politics.

  2. nickreynoldsatwork Says:

    As for conflict – on the internet your enemies are your friends.

    You link to them, you talk to them, you collaberate with them.

    You don’t have to agree with them to learn from them.

    The truth (although nobody likes to say so) is that the political parties in the UK are linked together in many, many ways and most of the time you only get to govern if you build a broad consensus.

    The partisan bit is mainly packaging and entertainment not principle. How do you build a consensus? Maybe by linking?

    All the countries and parts of the UK would be linked together. As indeed the BBC does right now in its TV and radio services.

  3. Adrian Monck Says:

    But Nick, we have an adversarial political and legal culture. What of the argument that the best way to promote participation in that culture is to participate in that conflict?

  4. nickreynoldsatwork Says:

    Sounds like an argument I would agree with – participation on the internet means linking (among many other things) – linking to people and content you don’t necessarily agree with.

    The BBC can’t be partisan – but participation doesn’t just mean agreeing or disagreeing in a simplistic, partisan way.

    For example the BBC should be linking to all perspectives online just as its should be reflecting all perspectives on air.

    I don’t agree with Biased BBC – but I link to them and sometimes (but not often these days) engage them in argument.

  5. When I was a kid I didn’t watch ITV. This was because my Mum & Dad were lefties of the old school and wouldn’t let me watch commercial TV (I used to sneak the odd look at Magpie but essentially commercial TV before about 1980 is a blank for me). Other kids I knew weren’t allowed to watch ITV either – not because their parents were lefties but because they were Conservatives of the old school and didn’t like the trashy American imports. This is the kind of weird consensus the Beeb has been able to hook together over the decades, holding together often contradictory positions. I find it fascinating to wonder how such a fragile settlement could arise in the networked era.

  6. […] co-worker Nick Reynolds takes it a bit further and spurs a debate on the BBCs six goals, when he aligns them with the power of the (semantic) […]

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