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Showcasing British short films

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Gerard O'Malley Gerard O'Malley | 12:15 UK time, Thursday, 27 January 2011

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On Tuesday we heard that one of the short films from our most recent film scheme has been nominated for an Oscar. This follows a BAFTA nomination for one of the other films on the same scheme, which is run by BBC Film Network. This is a huge testimony to the creativity of the filmmakers involved and just reward, but it also serves to shine a light on the work that the BBC does through projects like BBC Film Network in support of new talent.

BBC Film Network showcases the best British short films on offer. We invite submissions, we work with other organisations in the UK to secure films and we also, through the film schemes we run, commission and help develop new short films. We really are the only place online that does this. It’s a vital role that the BBC can play in support of the grassroots film industry.

But it’s not only the film industry that benefits. For the budding young filmmaker or writer both Film and TV offer routes to an audience, a chance to tell their stories. The Oscar Nominated short, Wish 143, is a great example of this. The writer, Tom Bidwell, is a graduate of the BBC Writers Academy, run by BBC Drama and the film is directed by Ian Barnes, who directs on Casualty. In many ways this is a typical story. The BBC and the film industry often work with same talent – there is a mutual interest in supporting them!

The other key thing about Film Network is that it invites partnerships. Again, this film scheme is a case in point. Internally, we partnered with BBC Writersroom and externally we worked with Lighthouse Arts and Training.

On a personal level I feel privileged and inspired by being able to work in this way. Collaborating with talented people inside and outside the BBC, people and organisations who are excited by the prospect of working with us.

You should check out all the films and the many other films on the site.

Gerard O'Malley is Executive Producer for Drama Multiplatform

The biggest TV moments of 2010

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David Bunker David Bunker | 15:15 UK time, Wednesday, 26 January 2011

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The top 10 most watched programmes of 2010 don’t only showcase the year’s biggest TV moments, but also shed some light on deeper trends in TV watching. Here’s the list.

Top 10 watched programmes in 2010   

Title

Date

Channel

Viewers

The X Factor Final Results

12 December

ITV1

17.7m

EastEnders

19 February

BBC1

16.4m

Coronation Street

6 December

ITV1

14.7m

Strictly Come Dancing

18 December

BBC1

14.3m

Britain's Got Talent

5 June

ITV1

13.5m

I'm A Celebrity

4 December

ITV1

13.5m

Come Fly with Me

25 December

BBC1

12.4m

Doctor Who

1 January

BBC1

12.3m

The Royle Family

25 December

BBC1

11.3m

Downton Abbey

7 November

ITV1

10.8m

 (Highest episode of each programme title only. Does not include any online viewing. Excludes sporting events as table would be dominated by World Cup matches – England v Germany had 17.5m viewers alone.) 

What this list shows is that, despite claims to the contrary, scheduled TV is very much alive and well - we still love the mass shared experience and ‘water cooler’ conversation is still important. For example, this year’s X Factor Final coincided with a Strictly semi final and produced the highest Sunday night TV audience for maybe a generation. Reality entertainment programmes continue to be a leading part of the rhythm of the TV year, and the associated media excitement hugely adds to their rising crescendos.

Big soaps had a good year too. Those in the top 10 are the live EastEnders episode, where Bradley met an unfortunate end, and the night of the Coronation Street tram crash - both watched by many more people than an average episode. Creating a massive event and an element of risk around a familiar programme is something viewers clearly love and respond to.
 
Another theme that emerges from the list is the strength of Christmas TV – Christmas Day viewing was at its highest for at least a decade with an average of over 26m watching in peaktime. Despite big developments in technology, Christmas proved that we don't do things that differently from the past - we still want to take part in big shared experiences. BBC1’s Come Fly with Me did carry off a difficult trick however - bringing a big audience to an untested programme (although with known talent) on a day when people often choose to fall back on the familiar.

The two dramas in the list span the range of this genre’s appeal - from the family-friendly sci-fi of Doctor Who (the one here is where Matt Smith becomes the new doctor) to ITV1’s period drama Downton Abbey, which attracted an overwhelmingly female and older audience. Apart from being a great watch, Downton Abbey also illustrated the strength of scheduling – it benefited from a huge inheritance audience by following on from The X Factor each week.

Finally, what nearly all the top 10 programmes have in common is that they were on in winter when audiences are at their highest - this year’s unseasonably cold weather meant even more of us stayed in glued to our sets. The only thing that competes with these viewing numbers in summer are big live sport events such as 2010’s football World Cup. Looking to 2012, we are expecting a bumper year with the Olympics, the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and Euro 2012 to look forward to.

Top programme lists don't tell the whole story - the quality and distinctiveness of our programmes are just as important as viewing figures. But the list does serve as a quick guide to the TV that’s being enjoyed in big numbers. Will the same programmes dominate the top of the 2011 list or does the next year hold something to knock them off their perch?

What were your favourite TV moments of 2010?

 

David Bunker is the Head of Research for BBC Vision

 

Painful day for BBC World Service

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Bridget Middleton Bridget Middleton | 14:50 UK time, Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Peter Horrocks has just posted on The Editors.

"It's been a painful day for the BBC World Service and the 180 million audiences around the world. This morning I announced a fundamental restructure to the BBC World Service in order to meet the 16% savings target required by the UK government's Spending Review last October.

Sign for BBC Bush House

 

At the moment BBC WS is funded by Grant-in-Aid provided by the government.

BBC WS will be funded by the licence fee from April 2014.

Over the next three years, we will have to make to an annual saving of £46m by April 2014".

You can read Peter's blog in full and comment on The Editors.

 

Bridget Middleton is the Editor of About the BBC

The Great British Class Survey

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Clive Edwards Clive Edwards | 09:00 UK time, Wednesday, 26 January 2011

The Great British Class Survey

 

I was surprised to see in a recent survey that well over half of the British public would categorise themselves as ‘working class’.

It’s a rather high proportion, and it includes a vast range of people: anyone from a building worker to a cabinet minister can it seems describe themselves as working class. There’s an enormous variation in income, power and influence in that group.

How much does the division of British society into working, middle, and upper classes still reflect today’s Britain? Does our society really work like that? Does class even matter at all in 2011?

Today we are launching The Great British Class Survey, a nationwide interactive study, to look for answers to these questions and many more. The survey will examine what class really means, and whether it still matters, in 21st century Britain.

British society has gone through profound social and economic changes since the Second World War. Once, the vast majority of people laboured in factories and fields that were owned by an aristocratic ruling class but managed by a clerical and professional middle class. That society has disappeared. Several major studies suggest that the 19th century division of society into working, middle and upper classes is no longer relevant in post-industrial Britain.

Despite this, our national fascination with class carries on regardless; you only have to look at the huge popularity of programmes like Downton Abbey for evidence of that. On the other hand, some people would argue that class simply doesn’t matter anymore. It seems the nature of Britain’s class system today is very much open to debate.

When it comes to making policy decisions, or having a proper debate about the class system, we need much more than stereotypes and received wisdom. We need a proper fact-based assessment of what ‘class’ really is, based on the data. That’s exactly what we intend this survey to produce.

To do this we have worked with Mike Savage of York University and Fiona Devine of the University of Manchester, leading experts on class, and the BBC’s own LabUK, which conducts mass participation research studies online. The Great British Class Survey has been thoroughly designed to uncover the complexity and subtlety of class.

The survey approaches class from a new angle, as a function of three factors: wealth, social connections and cultural range. Until now, most major studies focused on economic factors such as income and occupation. Social factors, such as networks of personal contacts, are also beginning to be studied as important components to determine class.

But there is increasing evidence to suggest that what we know and do - our culture, as expressed in our interests, activities and hobbies – also influences our life chances. For the first time, this study will investigate all three factors together and see how they inter-relate. With the help of your participation, we’ll be able to discover how wealth, social networks and culture interact to generate social advantage or disadvantage.

You can do the survey on LabUK’s website now – it’ll take around 20 minutes.

As part of our class theme, around the launch of the survey we are also showing two films on BBC Two examining what it takes to get on the career ladder in today’s Britain, and who has access to the best jobs, including that of the Prime Minister.

In Posh & Posher: Why Public School Boys Run Britain (BBC Two, Wednesday 26th January 9pm) Andrew Neil hits the road to find out what’s happening to the background of our leaders and if British politics is dominated by posh people.

In Who Gets The Best Jobs? (BBC Two, Wednesday 2nd February 9pm) Richard Bilton explores to what level people’s backgrounds still dictate the opportunities open to them in leading professions. 

We’ll be publishing the results of the survey this summer on our website – thanks for taking part!

 Clive Edwards, Executive Editor of Current Affairs

The books in my life

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Mark Bell Mark Bell | 09:15 UK time, Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Pile of books

 

Books have accompanied me round a lot of the turns my life has taken.

When I look back over the literary landmarks of my life as a reader I see a crowd of characters – James Bond, Humbert Humbert, Mr Micawber, Macon ‘Milkman’ Dead, Philip Marlowe, Nostromo, Becky Sharp, Jude the Obscure and Fernando Ariza. They stay in my memory as characters I have known, as vivid as real people and much more vividly than the plots or places they inhabit. Sebastian Faulks takes this as the central idea in his new BBC Two series, Faulks on Fiction , in which he looks at the way four character types - heroes, villains, lovers and snobs – evolve as the British novel develops. It is a simple idea, and a fresh and original insight into why novels work. Graham Greene meant a lot to me as a teenager – from Travels With My Aunt I moved on to the thrillers (Gun for Sale, Stamboul Train) before tackling A Burnt Out Case and The End of The Affair – Maurice Bendrix features in the series as a dreadful warning against self-absorption and jealousy. Alongside Humbert Humbert he is one of the great anti-lovers in 20th Century fiction.

My first real job was in a bookshop, selling bibles and history books in Piccadilly. The shop assistants were actively encouraged to borrow books from the shop floor (providing we wrapped the covers in paper to stop them getting scuffed on the bus) so as to be knowledgeable when it came to advising to the dauntingly grand and well-heeled customers. I confess that a lot of my borrowing was from the new fiction section, but noone seemed to mind. It was a stepping stone to a job in publishing, first as receptionist and reader of the ‘slush pile’ of unsolicited manuscripts in a literary agency then as a junior editor at Chatto & Windus. I was proud to be working at the place that published Mark Twain, Aldous Huxley and Proust, as well as A S Byatt and Toni Morrison (her books including Song of Solomon and Beloved had a profound effect on me) and I was there when Angela Carter published Wise Children, a hymn to South London and rackety lives. Later on I was privileged to help her put together her final collections of prose (she called me her amanuensis) during her last illness.

I got in to television because of books, as a publisher-turned-researcher on a teatime show called The Bookworm – in which Griff Rhys Jones went exploring Hardy’s Wessex and Jemima Puddleduck’s Lake District. I then went on to develop a series on BBC Two called An Awfully Big Adventure about the century of children’s writers stretching from E Nesbit and Kenneth Grahame to Roald Dahl and Dr Seuss.

I am lucky enough to work around books – but they still provide the quickest place of escape. The first book to transport me and my imagination was Ferdinand - the life-affirming story of a peace-loving bull who as a result of an accident with a bumblebee ends up in the bullring in Madrid. Decades later I went on holiday to Spain and had a jolt when I recognised Ronda's gorge and bridge from  the illustrations – I was actually in Ferdinand’s hometown! I worked my way through Watership Down and the writings of Gerald Durrell and James Herriot, then James Bond, Daphne du Maurier and John Buchan. I was voracious and fairly undiscrimating reader and would find an author I liked and read everything of theirs that I could get hold of, be it PG Wodehouse, Damon Runyon, John le Carre or Wilbur Smith. 

A great novel is like a present from a novelist to the reader’s imagination – and the gift of a carefully-chosen book is something to be treasured which is why I am thrilled the BBC is partnering with World Book Night for the first ever event on March 5th. The BBC is the biggest producer of books programming across radio and television and  this year I have been lucky enough to have been able to continue this tradition by adding to it with some exciting new commissions. Last night we launched a season Free your Imagination - Books on the BBC in a room in Bloomsbury which is suitably named after Virginia Woolf. For me this special year of Books on the BBC feels timely, amidst the debate about the rise of the e-book and the future of the book as physical object. It is really about what is in them. I really hope Books on the BBC will encourage everyone to enjoy books in all their forms; through adaptations, radio plays, documentaries, discussion, debate, recommendation and reading.

Books enrich my mind, load my luggage, and furnish my rooms, stairs and most available surfaces...

Mark Bell is Commissioning Editor, Arts

Modern Writers: interviews with remarkable authors - BBC Archive collection

Reshaping BBC Online

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Erik Huggers Erik Huggers | 11:00 UK time, Monday, 24 January 2011

The BBC has always created and embraced emerging technologies to remain relevant. Text based journalism, through Ceefax, didn’t really feature in the BBC until the late 1970s, which later evolved into BBC Red Button and the BBC News website, the backbone of BBC Online. Today, BBC Online gives us a foothold in the connected digital age, and with 26 million users each week, it’s a broadly adopted and very popular service.

So what role should BBC Online play as we plan for the BBC’s future in a complex, changing global media landscape? The principles and purposes that served us for the last 80 years remain unchanged; as a public service broadcaster, the BBC’s appeal needs to be broad. The internet age has not changed what we’re for, but has changed the way we do it. Without the natural limitations of broadcasting spectrum it’s easy to lose focus. Couple this with the lack of a single unified, online strategy, you get sprawl - which amounts to patchy quality and a loss of identity.

This underpins our approach to BBC Online in Putting Quality First, a wide-ranging review of the BBC’s strategy, announced last March. It was approved by the BBC Trust in December. Today, the Trust have announced their approval of our plans for BBC Online, and we’ve been talking to staff about what this is going to mean for them, as well as explaining to the press what this means for the public.

A New Approach
This is about reducing the scale and scope of BBC Online, to focus the site on our five editorial priorities - halving the number of top-level directories and delivering a 25% reduction in budget by 2013. The relationship with the wider industry is also important. Focus creates clarity on what BBC Online will and won’t do - and we’ll be taking a more open approach on what we are doing, engaging with industry twice a year about our plans. Plus, we’ll double the number of referrals we send to third-party websites.

Doing Fewer Things, Better
When I last blogged about our plans in the Summer, I outlined how we intend to move from building one-off websites to managing products and some were unsure as to what I meant by a product.

Products are the common currency in many businesses - it’s how they package what they do to make them distinctive, competitive and attractive to customers. But it’s not the common currency at the BBC and the commercial connotations are at odds with the clear public purposes enshrined in programmes, the BBC’s currency.

BBC News and BBC iPlayer are two of our most popular websites, and it’s no coincidence that they are run as products already. Each has a clear sense of purpose and identity, each has a clear sense of what its audience wants from it and meets that audience need. Each combine our distinctive editorial voice with great technology and design. It’s this partnership and focus that makes them successful, so we want to capture this in everything we do.

Products also explain how we’ll be reorganising BBC Online. They become the reference point for budgets, targets and objectives, and lines of accountability. Each will have a converged technology and editorial team working in partnership at a product level.

Product is is not a word that we expect audiences to start using, but it does explain how we applied boundaries to the service as a whole, created a single, united strategy for the first time, and reorganised how we operate to make it a better service for audiences.

Maximising Distinctivenes Maximising distinctiveness

In order to decide where to focus, we looked at every website we have and applied three tests to each. First, do we really need this website to meet our public purposes? Second, to what degree does it help meet our five editorial priorities? And third, how does it differ from what else is out there in the market; is it distinctive?, and if not - should we be doing it all? Working these tests through iteratively, merging some websites, and looking objectively at how much each costs and how much it’s used and valued by the public - we ended up with ten products.

Fewer, Better Products

Doing fewer things better
News, Sport and Weather remain broadly the same technically, but with significant editorial changes (outlined below).News already combines technology, design and editorial to great effect and we’ll aim to replicate its success across the service. These three products continue to be the backbone of BBC Online.
 
CBeebies will consolidate its position as the best-loved and most trusted site for pre-school children and their parents.

Games will feature prominently; complementing the digital channel’s focus on learning through play. CBBC too is a place children, parents and schools can trust to provide a safe online experience.

BBC Knowledge has produced great factual programming for many years and websies like Bitesize have pioneered BBC online learning. But the current online knowledge websites are hard to navigate. The same is true of learning websites; fragmented and in parts lacking distinctiveness. Both can use the power of the web better to satisfy the curiosity of audiences wanting to discover and engage in new ways. Our plan is to merge all these sites into one cohesive product.
Fewer, better products

 
But perhaps the most significant changes are in how we approach TV and Radio online. We will continue to innovate and create great content built for the medium. But we are going to significantly consolidate the standalone, bespoke websites we have that surround our linear output to create just two new products; TV & iPlayer, and Radio & Music.

The BBC iPlayer has been through three major evolutions since its launch in 2007. The next will bring together the current drama, entertainment, comedy, TV, /programmes, /archive and /iPlayer websites in one product. This centres on the audiences’ primary needs of TV on the web: quick access to the programmes and programme information, but building more on the editorial power of our TV brands so it feels even more simple, intuitive and engaging for the audience.

While BBC iPlayer has been a good home for online radio, the way audiences want to interact with radio and music online is different to TV. Radio and music will come out of BBC iPlayer, and we’ll develop a new stand-alone product. All radio station sites, music events, podcasts and programme pages will be integrated to focus on highly interactive live radio, quick and seamless access to programming, support for new music and personalisation - on whatever internet-connected device you happen to have.
 
Homepage and Search bind all the products together. Both have an important functional role, guiding audiences around the service; but they perform important editorial roles as well. As the discovery engine for the BBC, the homepage is one of our most-used products and will be re-designed to reflect the new products, deliver nations “editions” and make all the products simple to use. Search has evolved from being a bolt-on technology to a BBC-built product delivering greatly improved targeted search results. As the service evolves, this too will become even more important in helping people find what they are looking for.
 
Editorial Focus
These plans outline a BBC Online that will get better, not just smaller. Within that, there are key things we want to focus upon:

  • High quality news focused on up-to-the-minute news updates backed up by rich multimedia content from correspondents across the UK and the world
  • BBC News Entertainment and Arts section will have more culture and arts coverage
  • Dynamic  ‘editions’ of BBC Online for each Nation
  • Clearer focus of local sites on news, sport, weather and travel
  • Sport will focus on fast, reliable and in-depth news and dynamic coverage of the best live events that bring the nation together
  • Safe, creative spaces for children 
  • A single merged offer in Knowledge & Learning, making the most of BBC content, from science to literacy, arts to maths – for adults pursuing a passion or brushing up a basic skill, and for children learning at home and school
  • Radio will focus on live output, and the discovery of new music as played and recommended by BBC DJs and iconic musicians
  • BBC iPlayer will be re-shaped into a unified television offer, bringing together TV channels, programme information and live and on-demand content
  • Selected archive content will be featured in TV & iPlayer and Radio & Music


Closures and Reductions
As a result there are some editorial areas we’ll be pulling back from, and some websites we’ll be closing completely.

  • The closure of half of the 400 Top Level Domains (with 180 closing ahead of schedule later this year)
  • The replacement of the majority of programme websites with automated content
  • The automation of bespoke digital radio sites 1Xtra, 5 live sports extra, 6 Music and Radio 7
  • The closure of RAW, Blast, Switch, Video Nation and the disposal of h2g2
  • The removal of non-News features content from Local sites
  • A substantial reduction in showbusiness news on the News website
  • Fewer News blogs, with more focus on the updates from leading editors and correspondents
  • A reduction in the overall amount of Sports news and live sport
  • Standalone forums, communities,  message-boards and blogs to be reduced and replaced with integrated social tools
  • The closure of the 606 community site and the closure of the BBC iPlayer message board


Where BBC Online will not go
Equally, there are areas which we will not cover, and have no intention of going into. BBC Online will not:

  • Launch its own social network
  • Offer specialist news content for specialist audiences
  • Publish local listings
  • Develop encyclopaedic propositions in Knowledge
  • Provide continuing professional development materials for teachers or a managed learning environment for schools
  • Become  a video-on-demand aggregator in BBC iPlayer, although it will link to other on-demand providers
  • Produce online-only music sessions Offer track-by-track music streaming
  • Invest in exclusive online sports rights


Common Functionality
As I outlined in the summer, common technical functionality means that products are supported by the same infrastructure, delivering operational efficiencies and a consistent experience throughout the service. It creates the means to login and personalise the site and links your login to social networks. It also allows the site to be repurposed for different devices, provides the templates for programme automation and hosts the BBC’s archive material.

Changes for Staff
This is a big change for the BBC and the staff working on BBC Online. In addition to the operational change of working to a product management culture, there will be a substantial number of post closures.

Subject to consultation with the Unions, we are proposing the closure of up to 360 posts, phased over the next two years.

They won’t fall equally across each BBC division. We estimate that 120 posts will close in Future Media & Technology, 70 posts in Journalism (News and Nations non-News), 85-90 in Vision, 35-39 in Audio & Music, 17 in Children’s and 24 in Sport. Though we aim to mitigate the redundancies by redeploying staff, this will be a difficult time for the staff affected – these cuts will be painful, but we believe they are necessary.

Looking Ahead
This is the first time that BBC Online - as a whole - will have a single, unified strategy and I am confident that the new focus it will give will deliver much more for much less and enable the BBC to become as highly regarded in the internet age as it became in the broadcasting age – with six of the ten products to be based in Salford, which will become a digital hub for the BBC.

As in the early days of TV, when we simply filmed radio programmes, we are only just beginning to understand the huge potential of the internet, not just as a platform, but its creative potential. If any digital media organisation has the talent in its ranks and the imagination to harness that potential, it's the BBC.

While the BBC's first-class editorial output is what makes it so appreciated by the public, its innovation culture and engineering expertise has allowed it to keep pace with their changing expectations, a legacy that can be traced right back to Lord Reith himself. Putting online at the heart of the BBC’s future means this legacy continues in the connected digital age.

 

Erik Huggers is the Director of Future Media & Technology

Countdown to BBC News School Report News Day

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Helen Shreeve Helen Shreeve | 16:10 UK time, Friday, 21 January 2011

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It’s just nine weeks to go until Thursday March 24 BBC News School Report’s ‘News Day’ when schools across the UK turn their classrooms into newsrooms and thousands of 11 to 14-year-olds become BBC School Reporters, producing real news for a real audience. 

We’re in our fifth year and we’ve worked with over 1000 schools, placing BBC mentors in many of them, supporting and encouraging students to engage with news. 

Yesterday was a ‘Practice News Day’  for the schools taking part and we gathered stories and updated a live feed on the School Report website. School Reporters covered a wide variety of stories including the dangers of texting while walking, how teenagers are stereotyped by some shop assistants and the new changes to education. 

I spoke to Daniel, 15 from Bolton School Boys Division during the day to get an update from his school.  He's a pupil mentor on the project, "It was chaos at first because of network issues, we had people fixing software all around us but in the end it did get fixed... I like the rush to get it all finished in time and think through the consequences if something doesn't work." As well as the challenge of finding the facts on a story, that's exactly why researchers say School Report works so well  it's authentic. On News Day every school taking part publishes their news on their website and we link to them all from an interactive map.

School Report helps the BBC fulfil its public purpose to “sustain citizenship and civil society”. It does this in three ways: by engaging young people with news, by bringing their voices and stories to a wider audience and by sharing some of the BBC’s public service values such as fairness, accuracy and impartiality since so many young people are distributing their own content now.  

Yesterday Education Secretary Michael Gove announced  that he would review England's national curriculum. School Report has been designed to work with any level of ability, any group size, and with any of the curricula in the 4 nations of the UK so I’m confident we’ll stay relevant whatever the review finds. 

Registration for this year’s News Day is closed but sign up for next year or try out our teaching resources. On our website you can find out more about what we do and see the content produced at last year’s News Day.

Let me know what you think by commenting below.

 

Helen Shreeve is Editor of BBC News School Report

Read a previous blog from Helen Shreeve

Follow us on Twitter: BBCSchoolReport


BBC staff volunteering in West London

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Alec McGivan Alec McGivan | 10:30 UK time, Friday, 21 January 2011

 

BBC staff member reading with a child in West London

 

On Monday night this week BBC Outreach hosted an event to celebrate and encourage our connections with the community in West London especially those in and around White City, the home of the BBC's largest working site. The idea of the get together was to give local partners, organisations, residents and staff a great opportunity to talk to each other. It also gave the BBC the chance to highlight some of the work we are already doing in the local community through our staff volunteering to support a range of different projects.
 
One of the schemes we referred to was the school reading scheme we manage with the Hammersmith and Fulham Education Business Partnership. A considerable number of our staff give up their lunchtimes once a week to visit local schools and spend time reading with the pupils. Some are struggling with reading in the classroom and they really benefit from the one-to-one attention they receive. One of these volunteers, Simon Broad, spoke about his experiences and the value he himself gets from taking part in the scheme. It is clearly a two-way process of benefit to both participants. The children gain in self confidence. The reader gains a huge amount of satisfaction in seeing the child's abilities grow.

The event also gave us the opportunity to refer to several other projects including BBC lawyers volunteering to go into local schools to discuss legal issues of interest to the students; our long-standing support for the Lyric Theatre in Hammersmith and the work they do with many young people; our tours of Television Centre for local residents and our free screenings for local children notably the Doctor Who Christmas special in December. One of our newest projects is with Fulham Football Club, giving some of our staff the chance to volunteer to teach soccer skills to young people. To be fair to the loyalties of local residents I think we'll be starting a similar scheme with QPR shortly!

Our very latest project is particularly exciting as it involves young people in West London getting to know young people in Salford where new BBC offices will open in May. It is called 'Take Two' and will be asking our staff to volunteer as mentors to help young people improve their communication skills. We are very much looking forward to running lots of twinning activities with the students in both places. Indeed it was off to Salford I went the morning after our West London event. It won't be long now before staff start to arrive in our new offices there in Media City. BBC Outreach will be doing all it can to make sure we have a very active presence in the local Salford community.

Alec McGivan is Head of BBC Outreach

BBC expenses and senior manager salary disclosure

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Caroline Thomson Caroline Thomson | 12:40 UK time, Thursday, 20 January 2011

Today we have published the latest detailed quarterly expenses of our 110 most senior executives at the Corporation, covering the period July-September 2010. This is part of our continuing programme of transparency, and is the sixth time that we have published quarterly expenses. The headline is that total expense claims are down 35% year-on-year.

We’re also publishing more detail on Senior Manager pay than ever before, with information about the salary levels of the remaining 462 permanent Licence Fee-funded Senior Managers at the BBC. We know that Licence Fee payers want more information about how we spend their money, and this disclosure demonstrates that the BBC is continuing to lead the way in being open and transparent.

Finally, a quick update on our progress in reducing the number of Senior Managers and the amount we pay them at the BBC. Up to the end of December, we had cut the Senior Manager paybill by 13.6% and the number of senior managers by 8.5% from their August 2009 levels. By the end of the year we will make further reductions in order to deliver a 25% reduction in the pay bill and 20% reduction in headcount.

You can read more about our approach to reducing executives and talent pay here.

Caroline Thomson is the BBC's Chief Operating Officer

Erik Huggers to leave the BBC

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Bridget Middleton Bridget Middleton | 17:41 UK time, Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Mark Thompson has just sent an email to staff announcing that Erik Huggers is leaving. This is what he said:

Dear All,

After nearly four years with BBC Future Media & Technology, Erik Huggers is to leave the BBC at the end of February to become Corporate Vice President and General Manager of Intel’s Digital Home Group, based at its Silicon Valley headquarters in California. 

Since he became Director in August 2008, Future Media & Technology has helped to re-establish the BBC’s strength in technology, and as a result changed perceptions of the BBC as an innovator and strengthened our relationship with the public.  During his tenure, BBC Online, BBC Red Button and BBC Mobile have seen exceptional growth, while BBC iPlayer delivered a record 145 million TV and Radio programme views across some 60 devices during December.  

Erik is the key architect for a radical refocusing of BBC Online as part of our proposals for Delivering Quality First, which we will be announcing in due course. He also presided over significant technology projects such as W1, BBC North and Fabric and has chaired the YouView consortia to the point where it was incorporated as a joint venture. He has been a dynamic and inspiring colleague and I wish him all the best with his new role at Intel.

Following Erik's departure we have decided, in part following conversations within the division, to reorganise the Future Media & Technology area into two more distinct areas – the development of our digital services to the public such as BBC iPlayer (Future Media) and the core, underlying technology which powers the BBC (Technology). And so rather than replacing Erik with a new Director of FM&T, I have asked two of Erik's direct reports to step up.

 As Chief Technology Officer (CTO), John Linwood will head up a new Technology division which will be responsible for delivering the BBC's digital needs in terms of production, broadcast, connectivity and enterprise support. He will continue to be responsible for Information & Archives. The division will be part of the Operations Group under the overall leadership of the Chief Operating Officer, Caroline Thomson.  As CTO, John will sit on the BBC Direction Group (BDG). 

 John has done an outstanding job over the past 18 months in leading the Broadcast and Enterprise Technology Group at the BBC and driving projects like W1, BBC North and Fabric to successful implementation. I believe that giving John leadership of a separate Technology division and a seat on BDG will help him take the digital transformation of the BBC to the next level.

 I am also appointing Ralph Rivera as Director of Future Media, a division which will focus on developing and delivering digital products and services. The Future Media side of FM&T also has many recent successes to its name, including BBC iPlayer. It too faces immense challenges as the pace of digital change quickens, and we strive to meet our audiences’ changing needs. For that reason, Ralph will be a member of the Executive Board where we can continue the critical conversations with both executive and non-executive directors about how the BBC meets the consumer challenges we face in a converged, fully digital world. BBC Research & Development, led by Matthew Postgate, will report in to Ralph's division though it will continue to partner with the broader BBC and industry.

These changes are effective from March 1, 2011. Please join me in congratulating John and Ralph on their new roles, and thanking Erik for everything he has done for the BBC over the past few years.

All the best,

Mark Thompson, Director-General

Read our statement on the Press Office website

Bridget Middleton is the Editor of About the BBC

 

 

Northern Ireland's big freeze and bigger thaw

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Peter Johnston Peter Johnston | 17:14 UK time, Friday, 14 January 2011

Northern Ireland snow coverage, December 2010, courtesy of Dundee Satellite Rceiving Station 

Northern Ireland with its normally mild climate is a beautiful green place thanks, in part, to an abundant supply of water but as we recently experienced this natural asset can bring with it severe weather related challenges. In the run up to Christmas, Northern Ireland was gripped by a blast of unrelenting ice and snow. Dramatic satellite pictures capture the scale of the 'white out'. On December 23, 2010 in heart of the frozen north, a small village in Co Tyrone Castlederg, dubbed 'Castleicederg' by local press hit an all time low temperature of -18.7°C.

Earlier in the year BBC Northern Ireland had appointed a new team of district journalists based in communities across NI and at a local level when the going got tough they really came in to their own. Stories emerged including a viewer's Super 8mm archive footage of past winters and a mobile phone video captured an emergency rescue on a frozen lake in Lurgan, Co Armagh. One snowbound reporter, Conor McCauley improvised by sending his report back to base in Belfast using his cameraman Eamonn Doyle's home broadband connection.

With mass disruption to services in general - hundreds of schools were to close during this period. It wasn't an option to read long lists of those affected on air so a comprehensive online service kicked in to keep parents informed to the joy of pupils eager to take advantage. Snowboarding isn't a regular sport seen in this part of the world!

The big freeze continued through to Boxing Day causing travel chaos for thousands of people on their way to or from home for Christmas. On our airwaves we featured many harrowing stories of people stranded in airports all around the world. One anxious mother called the Stephen Nolan Show on BBC Radio Ulster to recount the story of her daughter stranded in Canada facing the prospect of Christmas on the airport floor. It wasn't long before another caller rang in to offer the young girl a place to stay at her sister's house. Generosity of spirit is one of our finest community values. Later in the programme news came through she had boarded the plane…and the show was there to record the emotional reunion.  

We often glibly say our services are there during times of crisis and of people turning to the BBC for news and information, but BBC Radio Ulster and BBC Radio Foyle truly does have that relationship ; a deep connection with its audience stretching back to the bad old days of the Troubles. Programmes like Good Morning Ulster, Nolan, Talkback and Evening Extra had significantly more contacts from the audience, and during a holiday period. Our audience need for up to date local news was also clear in the figures for BBC Newsline at 6.30pm on BBC One throughout the weeks of the freeze, the thaw, the burst pipes and the big water crisis. The 30% average share in December was up a quarter on the previous year.

Queing for water in Northern Ireland / Getty Images

Our weather team, Angie Phillips, Cecilia Daly and Barra Best, forecast the thaw would arrive on Boxing Day. It did and we were ready although the same can't be said for our underinvested water system. Some 40,000 homes went without and some for weeks on end. Our teams brought pictures to local screens and across the UK of people queuing for water. As water supplies ran short - so did the Dunkirk spirit. By December 28 our radio shows were bombarded by texts and calls from angry listeners. 

Sensing the scale of the crisis - BBC Northern Ireland journalists, correspondents and teams on Christmas leave commendably made their way back to work without being asked. In times of crisis our role is clear - to provide timely, accurate information to our audience. But it wasn't that simple. It quickly became clear that the public body responsible did not have accurate  information and their communication systems, most notably their website, were creaking at the seams. We faced a difficult editorial task but did our best in the ensuing days to balance vital information via the web, Ceefax and radio - airing listeners' views and questions; analysing what had gone wrong and what would happen next. 

From personal experience - I can safely say that if you are without water for any period of time the next commodity you need is accurate information on when it might be on again and  if not where to source it. The BBC NI News website provided that service with around two million page impressions across the first two days. Our audiences have made known their appreciation. 

I want to thank all BBC Northern Ireland teams involved for their response and professionalism in providing a vital service to the community under difficult circumstances. Our BBC buildings across three sites stood up well to the water crisis with only one burst pipe - right above my office!

 

Peter Johnston is the Director of BBC Northern Ireland

Delivering quality first - staff consultation

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Bridget Middleton Bridget Middleton | 13:05 UK time, Thursday, 13 January 2011

This morning Mark Thompson launched a consultation with staff on how the BBC can deliver the highest quality programmes and content to audiences to the end of the Charter in 2017.

He said: 

“The BBC is being realistic taking prompt action to make sure it meets future funding limits, while continuing to aim to devote 90 per cent of spending on content and getting it to the public.

“Rather than imposing these efficiency savings and reductions in a top down manner we are asking people who work at the front line to say how these can best be achieved.

“The tough but realistic settlement we achieved gives us certainty of funding for six years. However, the BBC is not immune to the economic climate and it will require tough decisions to achieve these savings.”

You can read more about delivering quality first here.

Bridget Middleton is the Editor of About the BBC

New home page for BBC blogs

Bridget Middleton Bridget Middleton | 10:15 UK time, Thursday, 13 January 2011

BBC Blogs homepage pull quote

 

Jessica Shiel, Product Manager for Blogs, User Services, Programmes and On-Demand wants to know what you think about the Beta version of our newly designed blogs homepage.

You can read her blog and to take part in the survey, on the Internt Blog.

 Bridget Middleton is the Editor of About the BBC

Open University - 'the embodiment of innovation'

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Robert Seatter Robert Seatter | 18:00 UK time, Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Robert Green, Professor of Psychology, with a model of the human brain, 1972 

 

So said Prime Minister Harold Wilson an unbelievable 40 years ago on the launch of the OU. He was contradicted very peremptorily by the then Conservative Chancellor, Iain Macleod, who labelled the enterprise ‘blithering nonsense’. Divided opinions quickly disappeared, however, and the Open University went on to boldly transform the lives of millions of people in the UK.

It began its life as the vision of Harold Wilson, who – when giving a lecture at Chicago University - was so impressed with its innovative use of closed circuit TV and radio that he pushed for the launch of a ‘university of the air’ proposition. This happened  at the Labour Party Conference of 1963, when Wilson detailed how broadcast media would be used to create genuinely accessible degree level courses.

And the first programme broadcast on 3 January 1971?  It was a rather dry (to contemporary eyes) introduction to a Maths Foundation Course. And by pure chance, one of the very first TV maths lecturers was a certain Robin Wilson, son of the Prime Minister himself. Early BBC producers are on record as saying ‘what fun’, ‘how chaotic’, ‘how engrossing’  was the process of collaborating with academics: a mutual learning process on both sides of working out how to put across very complex content, how to work with non-broadcast presenters, and how best to sustain the long-term interest of students. Especially when those students were watching or listening at the very corners of the broadcast schedule – at the crack of dawn or late at night.

Of course we loved to laugh at it. The kipper ties, funky beards and long hair of its presenters; the complicated props, diagrams and models on set. Ronnie Barker, Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie all had a huge guffaw at its expense, but in a way, they also asserted its very impact. It had become a very recognisable part of the British broadcast landscape.

And its impact on generations of ‘Ritas’ was undeniable. Just look at the stats. In its first year alone, it enrolled 25,000 students, compared to the intake of 130,000 across the whole traditional university sector. It was a revolution (and not just intellectually), and countless men and women said so…’Once you start working independently, intellectually, you also start to revise all your opinions about relationships, your role at home, everything. It’s explosive!…’ (quote from early female OU student).

An innovation indeed. 

Robert Seatter is Head of BBC History

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