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Digital relationships beyond the BBC

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Brij Sharma Brij Sharma | 16:42 UK time, Wednesday, 14 April 2010

When I took on the role of Head of External Relationships in September last year, I was really keen to understand how the BBC was perceived by its online creative partners, and how we could use that insight to add value to our audience offerings and to the market as a whole. I knew we were on track in terms of delivering on our service licence requirements to externally source 25% of our eligible content and services, but I felt this was only half the story. I wanted to find a way to really turn the conversation around and highlight some of the real benefits the BBC's digital presence might have to offer.

So I asked Digital Public to carry out some market survey work, and to market test some ideas that we'd been working on in BBC Online, in collaboration with our online working group made up of industry representatives - the BBC Online Advisory Group. I also asked Digital Public to build a map of services across the UK, and to create a picture of the digital content and services market as a whole, so we could begin to fine tune our approach and engagement in this space. I wanted to know what digital agencies really thought about working with the BBC, and what we could do to build on and improve our creative relationships with them.

What came back was a rich tapestry of views from both agencies and our own commissioners, but with a number of common themes emerging loud and clear. One of those themes highlights a real desire for agencies to work with the BBC - recognition of our values, reputation and brand is a strong positive factor in this. But there's also a clear call for the BBC to stand shoulder to shoulder with its creative digital partners, and to facilitate new opportunities for collaboration outside BBC Online. This is an important insight that deserves some reflection. It's a recognition of the BBC's important but relatively mid-sized presence as a buyer in the digital economy, set apart from its much bigger role in the traditional broadcast media. I think it helps to form a more nuanced view that the BBC is by no means the most important partner of choice for creative agencies as a whole, both in financial terms and in the sometimes mysterious way in which the BBC is seen to engage creatively with the sector as a whole.

So what are we doing now to help digital indies go beyond their relationships with the BBC? One of the ways we're doing this is to provide showcasing opportunities for the wide range of talent we work with, helping them gain wider exposure both in the UK and internationally, whilst fairly crediting those whose efforts help us build one of the most respected and well loved websites in the world. In February, we hosted a showcasing event focusing on design, facilitating discussions with BBC teams and between the 30 digital indies that took part. Today, in Cannes, we're showcasing six of the best digital content producers at MIPTV, providing opportunities for content buyers and others to gain unique insights into both BBC and indie perspectives, as each commissioner and producer unravels the concept and innovation behind each of their projects. We hope to be able to share some of the showcase presentations with you here in the next week or so.

I think this is a great way the BBC can add value to the online marketplace above and beyond its financial contribution. We're working through analysing and addressing all of the feedback we've had from the research we've conducted so far, and we're hoping to implement some important changes over the next few months in collaboration with you (more on that in a future blog). In the meantime, I'd be happy to hear your ideas about how the BBC can do more to add value to its relationships in this space.

Brij Sharma is Head of External Relationships, BBC FM&T.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Frankly, that was really hard to read, it had so much management-speak in it.

    "online creative partners" - who are we talking about here? What are they partners in?
    "audience offerings" what 'offerings' are we talking about? Websites? Games?
    "25% of our eligible content and services" - eligible content and services? Eligible in what way?
    "find a way to really turn the conversation around" - what conversation? Who's talking to who and about what?
    "a map of services across the UK" - Still not sure what these services are - but surely being the internet, they're pretty much available everywhere in the UK? Or are these services not on the internet?
    "create a picture of the digital content and services market as a whole" - A list (presumably not literally a picture) of everyone who is producing stuff on the internet?
    - "a rich tapestry of views" - i.e. nothing very conclusive? Who are these 'agencies'? Who are 'commissioners'?

    You need to remember you're writing on a public blog with a presumably relatively lay audience. Maybe I'm just being thick, but this blog post isn't particularly interesting, and it took a fair amount of careful reading between the dense metaphors to see that.

  • Comment number 2.

    I love the Beeb, but.....

    This is a great example of what is killing the BBC! Let the programme makers get on with making programmes and stop wasting money on all this managment flimflam. (Quite why the BBC has to outsource 25% of its content and services is byond me anyway). With all the debate going on about ditching some pretty well respected radio brands within the beeb, websites and cutting abck in other 'front-line' I am suprised no one has sussed, that if you get rid of all the unnessecerly levels of managment and departments that exist only to keep the politicians happy, there would be plenty of money available to make amazing programming AND keep all the current brands.

    Vote Me and i'll rescue the Beeb! ;)

  • Comment number 3.

    Anyone got the contact details for the 'Plain English Society', they might care to offer a translation?! As Ed says, far to much management speek, most of which is just there as padding and jargon... :-(

  • Comment number 4.

    To cut through the flim-flam you have to concentrate on decisions and choices. Assuming no-one has made any yet, what are the proposed decisions and choices?

  • Comment number 5.

    How pompous, and how not to communicate. The text reminds me of an NHS manual on how to conduct surgery on a fractured eyelash.

  • Comment number 6.

    I have no idea what this post is about. Could someone please explain?

  • Comment number 7.

    Interesting that digital agencies want to see the BBC be more proactive in promoting their work. It's, of course, also in the BBC's interest to align itself with the best creative talent out there, and send the message that the BBC is an influential and collaborative partner in the creative process. Currently, that doesn't really come across. And I think this is one of the problems inherent in the culture of the BBC. There is so much to support about the BBC, so much the public can get behind. The BBC should be doing everything it possibly can to state its aims and ambitions more clearly. You need to be more transparent. There's risk associated with that, but people who work and play in the digital space gravitate to honesty and openness and that's where you need to be.

    I'd like to hear the BBC start talking about 'the greater good' and your work being placed in the wider context of paid for services online. You have News International charging, the biggest newspaper in Japan now charges - you can't even link or copy text from their articles. The likelihood is that The Guardian may have to charge. But what they are all missing is that they could remove services that are unpopular or duplicated elsewhere 'for the greater good' of being able to offer universal access. That's what you are doing - you are not dismantling the BBC, you are defending it and its Reithian remit from a pretty scary economic environment.

    If someone said from the BBC says, bluntly, 6 music or start charging for services, or increasing the license fee or scrapping the license fee, I'll think you'll find the public dialogue turning to identifying what should be cut, rather than objecting to cuts at all.

    Basically, you're doing a good job. In fact, you guys are heroes. The Real Saviours of the BBC. You just need to start communicating a little more effectively.


  • Comment number 8.

    Sorry if this came across as being vague - the main point was to highlight the showcasing opportunities for digital agencies we're currently working on. I'll be sharing more of the detail from the Digital Public research, and our response to it, soon. When I do, I'll make sure I put in a bit more background about my role, why it's important for the BBC to invest in web content and services from outside agencies, and try to set it all within the context of the other proposals that might affect BBC Online in the future (eg reducing the overall BBC Online service licence budget) currently being considered by the Trust.

  • Comment number 9.

    Brij, thanks for the follow up and the offer to blogging further on what is I'm sure a very interesting and valued relation with external suppliers, but when you do please remember that most who will be reading this public blog are neither work in the industry nor are management, this is the internet and not the BBC intranet, and thus trade / 'management speek' either just flies over the head of them or goes down like a lead balloon (if that is not mixing metaphors...).

    Also, another point, is there any analogue acquisition in the BBC and more, if there isn't, is there any point in all this talk about "creative digital partners", surely they are just external suppliers (or "partners" if you like), the internet is noting other than digital, it has never been anything else so why refer to IP content as being "Digital"?! Anyway, to many outside the industry it doesn't actually matter what was used to create the content, what matters to them is what the content is.

    Information yes, industry buzz-words no.

  • Comment number 10.

    Groan.... That was a painful read.

    Are my license fee payments really used to pay for people to come up with that kind of nebulous management talk?

    I remember the BBC mantra 'inform, entertain and educate' from a long time ago. It seems to have been replaced with "confuse, complicate and 'use insight to add value to our audience offerings"

  • Comment number 11.

    Nope, read it twice, still don't get it.
    I understand the individual words, it's just the way they're put together.

  • Comment number 12.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

 

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