#CMS2010 – three big things, pt III

Finally, after part I & part II, we reach the final part of the Guardian Changing Media Summit thoughts…

Part III – The BBC of the past, present & future…  the all powerful Timelords

So, the BBC have been getting a regular kicking over the past year…

Back in August, James Murdoch’s MacTaggart lecture left no doubts about his thoughts on the BBC…



“The corporation is incapable of distinguishing between what is good for it, and what is good for the country… Funded by a hypothecated tax, the BBC feels empowered to offer something for everyone, even in areas well served by the market. The scope of its activities and ambitions is chilling.”

Then you had the cost-cutting review announced by Mark Thompson, which included the axing of 6music and the Asian Network. 

It was nothing but a self-mutilating act to try and head off the inevitable calls from what an incoming Conservative administration might demand of the BBC in terms of cuts & sell-offs… this poster from mydavidcameron nicely encapsulates Tory thoughts on the BBC…



So, under all this pressure, it was always going to be really interesting to see what Erik Huggers, BBC Digital Chief, would say about the BBC’s new, pared down service.

I thought what he gave us was a great vision for what BBC online should be; precise, focus, less sprawling, better value….



“The BBC’s online strategy has, for many years, been to play a supporting role to our broadcast output. Programme first, website later. This is not the best way to deliver our public purposes in a digital age. We are moving away from the disparate approach of the past, and to create a single coherent BBC Online which is greater than the sum of its parts.”

And summing up, my notes from the liveblog run as follows:

“The focus moving forward; the core five editorial areas, working as equals with the technology guys, to be the one ‘BBC’ that is the ‘past, present and future of the BBC’…”

(The full blog of his speech is here, btw)

What does all this add up to?

They’re cutting over 200 websites, being more focussed, leaving space for competition… which on the face of it is of course what the Murdochs and the Conservatives want…

(…though I’d like to echo David Mitchell’s sentiments from his Guardian column – “the BBC is the envy of the world. Why are we letting its competitors, and the politicians they have frightened or bought, tell us that we can’t keep it as it is?”)

But something struck me as Huggers outlined the vision…



The BBC has been forced into a corner.  Its tormentors are prodding and poking it…

…’yeah, be more focussed, yeah, take away the license fee, yeah, let’s see how you survive in the competitive landscape… ‘

If I was James or Rupert, I wouldn’t be quite so sure that this is a great idea.

(Given the announcement today that The Times will charge £1 a DAY for access to their website, I’m less and less convinced that they’re big on great ideas…)

Firstly, the focussed vision of the digital element showed just what happens when someone makes the BBC concentrate, think a bit more about what it’s delivering, how to make it lean, mean and effective.

It’ll be brilliant at it. 

I mean, it’s really good now, but not very joined up, a bit haphazard and bumbling… but given drive and focus the BBC will be terrifyingly good at the online offering bit, and joining it up with the TV & radio bits.

Which doesn’t exactly sound like great news for the Murdoch Empire.

Secondly, this whole ‘take away the license fee’ movement.  Think about the strength and depth of the content, public trust, ability, talent, experience all wrapped up in the BBC…

…and then saying to it ‘you’ve got to make all your money from commercial routes’…

…so like advertising, paid for games, apps, archive content, pay-TV platforms, news services… and on and on?

If the BBC is forced by its competitors into a place where it has to focus, react, become more commercial… it will simply eat those competitors alive.  Think about how good BBC Worldwide is at making money from around the world.

Fittingly, it all reminds me of a Doctor Who episode called The Family of Blood



The episode goes as follows… there’s a parasitical family of aliens chasing the Doctor, as they want to feed off his life force and live forever. 

The Doctor hides his mind away so he thinks he’s human and doesn’t know who he is, in order to prevent them from doing so.  But they keep chasing him, hunting him down, until they find him, and force him out into the open…

…but they don’t get exactly what they bargained for…

I guess the moral of the story is ‘be careful what you wish for…’