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 bbc.co.uk 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.