The future's smart but it's also scary

2013 EPG How do you find BBC One or Channel 4 on this 2013 EPG?

There's one aspect of regulating public service content in a connected world that is of critical importance to audiences - and yet strangely still seems up for debate.

It's the issue of regulated prominence in a connected world and the fact that there is no prominence protection away from the linear channel list.

Content can be as high quality as you like, but if audiences can't find it then it is value-less.

We launched iPlayer on Christmas Day 2007 - at that time, 100% of its use was direct to audiences, over the open web.

Beg, borrow or steal

Start Quote

Four players control over 90% of the ISP market ... If they could, wouldn't they prefer the content on which they make money to be more prominent than public service content?”

End Quote Kieran Clifton Controller, FM&T Strategy

Here, in 2013, only 41% still is, and it's only going in one direction. We're now on 650 different devices. They are gate-kept by one platform operator or another device manufacturer. Rather than with the open internet, we need to beg, borrow or steal our prominence.

And who from? If we look at the simple route to audiences, we have both ISPs and manufacturers/platform operators between us and the audience.

Four players control over 90% of the ISP market: Sky, BT, Talk Talk and Virgin. And they all have content propositions that they would like, quite rightly, to promote. If they could, wouldn't they prefer the content on which they make money to be more prominent than public service content?

Manufacturers too. Apple, Sky, Virgin, Samsung, all of these have their own content propositions, and they would all prefer their content to be top billed.

A messy place

Is this scare-mongering? A couple of years ago, we did a bit of scare-mongering internally, so we came up with what we thought the EPG might look like in 2016. Here it is and it's a messy place.

mock epg

But 2013 is much worse [see top picture]. The challenge is how do you get to BBC One or Channel 4?

The viewer overwhelmingly wants to watch live TV. On-demand viewing is under 3%. Even the mighty PVR is stable. In 2008, in Sky+ homes, content was time-shifted 17%, mostly viewed on the same day. In 2012, it was 17%. That's over 80% live TV. But how can you find BBC One?

It's not even a matter of turning on the TV. Sometimes the portal comes on rather than TV, just like in a hotel. All you want to do is watch TV, and you've got to navigate their ads and pay channels.

Outside the UK, major manufacturers are producing remote controls with no guide button. When will that happen here?

So I don't think we are scare-mongering.

But the challenge comes back to us: you don't need regulation, just do a good deal. Compete with your content.

Hands tied

Well, in the case of the BBC, we do those deals with both hands tied behind our backs.

What do platforms want in return for prominence? Money or exclusivity, preferably both. We offer neither.

Quite rightly, we don't pay for prominence. I've never heard anyone say that we should use licence fee payer money to bid against Google for the prominence of iPlayer over YouTube.

Start Quote

What do platforms want in return for prominence? Money or exclusivity, preferably both. We offer neither.”

End Quote Kieran Clifton

And we don't offer exclusivity on our content. The public has paid for it and it should all be available conveniently and widely.

But without money or exclusivity, that's a hard deal to do, and one that is getting harder with the entry of the globally powerful and rich - Netflix, Facebook, YouTube (owned by Google), Lovefilm (owned by Amazon).

So why not have regulation to protect public service content? If you believe in it for the linear channel list, which is pretty easy to navigate, why not for the non-linear, which is harder to navigate? It's the same content, trying to do the same thing. But it's even more in need of protection.

Regulation required

Perhaps it's hard to write this regulation? But there are clever people out there. Just because it's hard, doesn't mean we shouldn't try and can't succeed.

The key is not to try to envisage every possible future route you can, it's to put audience value and expectation at the centre of some solid enduring principles that protect prominence for public service content.

Perhaps it's hard to enforce? Even with regulation, public service channels CBBC and CBeebies are on the third page on the Sky children's EPG. Then for the sake of our audiences, we need to do better.

The BBC's role is to bring the best of everything to everyone - in a connected world, just as for the last 90 years.

What we need is for government and regulators to support that enduring role, for the benefit of audiences.


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