N.B. My personal views. Not my employers.
I was interested to read Emily Bell’s column about the BBC in Media Guardian on Monday.
There is an irony of course in saying “we need to start a new conversation about the BBC” in the dead format of a newspaper column. It’s not a blog so there’s no opportunity to comment. So there’s no chance of a “new conversation” actually happening.
But since Emily wants a conversation I’ll try and start one.
It’s also ironic that Emily’s column appears on the same day as Steve Hewlett’s which casts doubt on Channel 4’s plea that it’s in terrible trouble (a point also made in Media Guardian’s podcast last week).
Personally I think to blame the BBC for C4’s predicament is odd. As Maggie Brown (another Guardian writer) says in this week’s Ariel, C4’s troubles are in part of its own making (I quote: “C4 needs help… but not dollops of cash to splosh around”).
Is the BBC really to blame for the rise of Google?
For the recession? For the downturn in advertising revenue (inside the UK the BBC doesn’t have any impact on advertising revenue)?
Can all the troubles of the traditional broadcasters and the newspapers be laid at the BBC’s door?
I appreciate that from the outside the BBC can seem like a huge death star crushing all before it (when you’re on the inside it can seem like a cross between Kafka and the Keystone Cops – the Borg it certainly isn’t!). But it’s an absurd overreaction to say:
“But the ecology of some parts of the UK media is now so uncertain and fragile that it can be depleted by a single blow from the end of the BBC’s tail as it rolls over in its sleep.”
This is just not true. When the BBC wants to launch a new service it now has to go through all the regulation the rest of the industry has always wanted precisely to prevent this happening.
I also disagree with Emily about newspapers. Newspapers (like the Guardian itself) seem to me to actually understand what’s going on better than the traditional broadcasters. I predict they will thrive and give the BBC some healthy competition.
At least Emily has the grace to admit that the BBC has done all that everyone has asked of it. I happen to think that the BBC Trust is doing a good job (and can hardly be accused of being a management poodle after it closed BBC Jam). But there are people inside the BBC who think the BBC’s creativity, ability to innovate and public service remit is being stifled by over regulation and constant sniping from the rest of the industry.
Emily’s suggestions deserve examination.
“Maybe the iPlayer should have everything?”
Errm… well that wouldn’t exactly help the commercial sector as it wouldn’t be able to have adverts on or raise revenue. Project Kangaroo is a much better bet. Essentially this is a collaberative, commercial version of the iPlayer: the BBC helping commercial broadcasters make money. Perhaps if the Guardian wants to make money out of video they could be a partner in Kangaroo. I’m sure they’d be welcome.
“…shouldn’t BBC radio pages on bbc.co.uk carry buttons and players for all commercial rivals in those regions or market segments?”
It’s true the BBC needs to link out to other sites and providers more. And I suspect in the coming year we will see a lot more of this. But this is a cultural problem which will be solved as more and more people in all media companies (not just the BBC) realise the importance of linking. Heavy handed attempts to force the BBC to link will just result in a lousy user experience.
It’s also true that the BBC should be more open and help the rest of the industry with sharing ideas etc. Mark Thompson has said he wants this. Anyone who reads my blogs will know this is something I believe in. And I like to think that in a small way the Internet Blog that I edit and more importantly things like BBC Backstage are steps in this direction. But again this is a cultural problem which won’t be solved overnight.
It’s unusual (and a strange kind of conversation) to attack someone and in the same breath ask for their help.
Perhaps Emily could make some more suggestions about the ways the BBC and the rest of the UK media sector could work together.