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Planning for a year like no other

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Roger Mosey | 11:46 UK time, Wednesday, 9 June 2010

I'm in Cambridge today for the Technology Ventures Conference - which you can read more about here. Given the title of the event, you won't be surprised to know that my speech is mainly about technology - though what I've tried to do is pull together all our activity across the year 2012 to update it from where we were at the time of last year's IBC in Amsterdam.

It's long for a blog, but I'm publishing it here in full so we can share the big picture - and I'll then post briefer notes on developments as they happen in the coming months.

I'm going to start today with some statements of the obvious. There will be nothing in the first few minutes that particularly surprises you as a declaration - and, I hope, equally little to disagree with. But by putting a few facts together, I want to give an idea of the scale of challenge posed by London 2012 to our capital city, to this country and to the wider world.

That emphatically includes anyone anywhere with an interest in technology. And then I'm going to talk about what the BBC is doing to respond to some of this challenge, and how we want to work in partnership to achieve success. But the BBC's aim is straightforward - to bring the whole nation together in 2012 in a way that combines the best of British values with all the opportunities of digital.

The first statement of the obvious is that 2012 is going to be a year like no other in the United Kingdom. It's not just about sport. It's also about the first Diamond Jubilee since 1897, which will be a truly extraordinary event culminating in a double Bank Holiday celebration in June - now less than two years away.

There will be one of the biggest ever series of cultural events in Festival 2012 - a chance to showcase our arts and our creativity. Our news media will have one of their busiest periods as the preparations reach a climax and world leaders converge upon London; and for BBC News we'll be maximising our ability to operate globally, nationally and locally - on tv, on radio and online. And then on 27 July there will be the Opening Ceremony of the biggest event in the UK in our lifetimes - the Games of the 30th Olympiad.

The Olympic Games are now, alongside the World Cup which begins tomorrow, one of the two events that bring pretty much the whole world together. Many events claim erroneously to be watched by a billion people or more, but these two really are - and it's estimated that around four billion people, about three-quarters of the world's population, watched the Games in 2008 in Beijing.

So these are events that define their host cities and their times, as the Chinese showed two years ago - and as we remember Athens, Sydney, Atlanta, Barcelona and all the rest. Visiting Barcelona now you're conscious of its place in Olympic history, and anyone who watched those Games will have had images of modern Spain - and a confident Catalan culture - that still shape their thinking today. London shares that opportunity, with the extra factor of being a city that's home to diversity on a truly global scale.

The Queen
2012 will see the Queen celebrate the first Diamond Jubilee since 1897

But where the world has moved on is in the ability of technology to make all our experiences richer, more intense, more immediate and more personal. There will always be a battle for the title of 'the first digital Games' but London has a powerful claim. These will be the first Games for many countries since analogue started being switched off, and they're happening at a time of surging demand for digital media and social networking. Again, it's a statement of the obvious - but digital delivery will be at record levels.

This again, then, will be a showcase - for better or worse - for Britain and for technology in general. There are glitches at all Games, but previously organisation was complex while broadcasting was relatively simple. Just bung out loads of sport on your main terrestrial channel, leaving the journalists to complain about the hotel rooms or the queues for accreditation. In London people will expect media whenever and wherever they want it in one of the most connected cities on the planet - and if the on-demand service doesn't work, it's there alongside the press buses getting lost as a sign of not being serious enough about delivery.

And the jury for this will be an intimidating one, especially for the pinnacle moments during the 17 days of sporting action. I remember in Beijing going along to one of the swimming finals to find that a few seats along in the crowd was the President of the United States with the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party and then a couple of rows behind was the another powerful man - and certainly a richer one - Bill Gates. So it's those guys plus a few billion more who will sit in judgement on London.

So let me turn in more detail now to the BBC and what we're doing to try to respond to this challenge. The Olympic Games are in their nature a multi-partner operation: there's the International Olympic Committee in tandem with the London organisers at LOCOG, with whom we're working closely. The pictures are broadcast to the world by the host broadcasters at OBS, again through a collaboration with people like ourselves; and after being crafted by our production teams BBC content is delivered to the UK thanks to co-operation with companies across the digital and creative industries. In a similar way, we're working with organisations across Britain and beyond to create some of the great cultural moments of the year and to build up what you might call 'the national narrative' - the story we want to tell to the world throughout 2012.

That is how it should be because we see ourselves not just as a content creator and a broadcaster but as enablers too. We know that our funding through the licence fee gives us a unique privilege, so we want every pound to work for our audiences and to support the wider creative sector. It's been estimated by PWC that the BBC adds £6.5billion to UK plc - nearly twice the value of the licence fee; and of that, fully £5bn is of benefit to the creative economy. We try to amplify that by our relationship with bodies trying to maximise the impact of 2012 across the world - for instance, with UKTI [UK Trade & Investment] and with other bodies seeking inward investment like Think London.

So what we want to do in the highest profile showcase in 2012 is to support not just quality and range of output within this country and on our global services but to focus relentlessly on innovation. To take a phrase from the booklet for this conference, it's about extending the boundaries of human ability - not just on the field of play but in the arts and sciences, and certainly technology, too.

We're not talking about one single amazing breakthrough, but progress on multiple fronts; and we recognise that mass consumer take-up is a lengthy process. That means for millions of people HD will be a major revelation of 2012 as it moves from a niche proposition in Beijing to the real mainstream for London. For lots of others, iPlayer will increasingly be transferring from small screens to the big television set in your living room. But we have much more we hope will be genuinely new.

Super High Vision is one example - that's offering 16 times the resolution of HD. The technology, developed by our colleagues at NHK in Japan, has already been trialled. Indeed, BBC Research and Development played a part in the first live broadcast in Super High Vision which took place at IBC in Amsterdam in 2007. The Super High Vision screen in your home is many years away. But BBC R&D will be carrying out tests this September with a view to showing SHV footage during the Games at one or two cinema-style locations.

We've also said we want to move forward with 3D. Again, there won't be a BBC 3D channel by 2012 - but we'd like to offer with partners more opportunities than before for audiences to see some Olympic content in 3D. That may be at a special viewing pavilion run by sponsors or at a big screen or in a cinema - or, at the very least, we can just make sure it's captured for the archive. It would be negligent not to have 3D images of the Stratford Stadium at full capacity. But this is again an area where we can support the rest of the industry; developing production expertise, as well as boosting audience interest in what could be a significant revenue stream for the commercial sector including gaming platforms.

BBC cameras at the 1948 Olympics in London
The BBC will have come a long way since the last time London hosted the Olympic Games in 1948

Next I want to talk about choice - and this is the area of one of our biggest pledges. We can sometimes forget how far we've come in a very short space of time, and in Sydney in the year 2000 there were 4,000 hours of host broadcast content available from those Games - of which we offered the British public a mere 300 hours. That was because we were limited to a couple of terrestrial TV channels.

By the time of Athens we had one interactive/red button stream and were able to offer about a quarter of the host content; and it was only as recently as Beijing that we gave our audience the ability to be able to see over half of the sporting action - about 2,700 hours from the 5,000 produced. For London, our promise is simple: every hour of every sport will be available - which we calculate as being around 5,800 hours. So if you want to spend all day watching the water polo, you'll be able to. Equally, we'll offer the customary service on BBC One that takes viewers to all the key moments from different sports. The choice will be yours not ours. It's worth saying too that this is about better value for money; consumers will get about 20 times the amount of content compared with ten years ago from a licence fee that is currently rising at less than the rate of inflation.

To do this, we'll need a suite of digital media services. The BBC's red button has served us well in recent years and it's still well received by audiences, but it's BBC Online that gives us the big opportunity to deliver even more choice. Most people today think of BBC Online as a service accessed via computers but the growth of web-enabled smartphones, and the emerging market for connected TV, means this will be accessed easily both on the move and from the comfort of your living room sofa. Then for places of work we're looking at how we can liaise with partners to see how multicasting will help offset some of the internet demand in the UK across the biggest events - which means allowing multiple users to get service from one IP connection. This will be particularly useful for easing the pressure on company networks.

There's a similar need to manage demand on mobile, which has grown at an incredible rate as people use data-rich services - whether that's streamed video or updating Facebook. Our initial aim was that this would be a Games where we would offer 'unprecedented richness' of content for mobile. I've also spoken of the current frustration of even basic mobile at major events where you can't get a signal for a voice call or texts, and said that was something the UK should try to eradicate by the time of London 2012.

We don't want to abandon the ambitions yet but it's clearly tougher than we thought because of the limits of the current mobile infrastructure, and it seems the networks will still struggle with the steepest spikes of demand. We're working with the mobile industry to address this, and there are obvious options to explore: for instance, how much 3G traffic can transfer to wifi. But as of today I wouldn't be confident of getting a signal for everything you might want to do with your mobile in the Olympic Park, and this is an area where we need the goodwill of all involved - and some bright ideas. The key goal, of course, is to have a basic level of service that is robust.

But where we are making strong progress is with our project Canvas. Subject to approval by the BBC Trust, Canvas is a partnership between the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Five, BT, Talk Talk and Arqiva to create a subscription-free, open-connected TV platform. The vision is to bring the power of web-connectivity to Freeview and Freesat; and we believe that connection with the internet is the future of television.

When you add this all together, what I believe we're doing is two things which sound contradictory - but actually fit together extremely well. Through the events of 2012 we will offer our audiences unprecedented choice and personalisation: they will be able to customise what they see and hear in a way that would have been unthinkable less than a decade ago. But we will also be bringing the UK together to share these massive national moments, so there will be tens of millions together for the Opening Ceremony of the Olympics or the 100 metres final or watching the Diamond Jubilee - and the opportunities of how, where and when to enjoy the output will form part of a common experience.

This is exciting because it suggests the gloomier predictions about the digital age are wrong. There are still things that can unite, and audiences are not destined to fragment in a multitude of different ways. The BBC can provide the national meeting place; and seizing the potential of digital allows us to bring together people from the beaches of Bournemouth to the headlands of Orkney - enabling them to watch and communicate and share and feel part of the same experience. We can also take Britain to the world on our global services and provide the platforms that celebrate the world coming here.

There's a lot to do to make this happen. It's only just over 18 months to the New Year's Eve fireworks that will usher in 2012, and as of today there are 778 days to go before the Olympic Opening Ceremony. But amid all the complexity, what we're trying to do should be quite simple: stage a set of wonderful events, captured for the largest number of people. At the BBC we're delighted to be at the heart of that, and the pleasure will be greatest if it's shared by as close as possible to 100% of the UK population. It's what you might call a stretching target - but we're determined to do just that.


  • Comment number 1.

    Sod the extras - just get the basics right and get that extra interactive stream back on Freeview.

    Indeed, back in 2012 when the games were announced I expected due to it coinciding with the digital switchover every effort would be made to offer Freeview viewers a service comparable to Sky/Cable - even if just for the games - but those ambitions are long gone.

    It's not just the BBC who are guilty of this but I'm fed up with broadcasters going from one fad to the next, before they've even mastered the last. What is the point in anyone investing in HD when 3D and Super HD are on the horizon - and something else to line the pockets of manufacturers after that I'm sure.

    So forget people watching on mobiles, and even on PCs - it's a "TV" Licence we pay - so get it right on TV first!

    Rant over!

  • Comment number 2.

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

  • Comment number 3.

    The obvious question is if the BBC won't have a 3D channel by 2012, then why don't they simply co-operate with BSkyB who will?
    By then, Sky 3D will have been running for two years, so I doubt they will need your offer to "support the rest of the industry; developing production expertise, as well as boosting audience interest", rather I would think it will be the other way round...

    Likewise, you could have done so this summer with the World Cup - available in 3D in many countries, but not the UK...

    Time that these 'protected events' were allowed to be covered by other broadcasters if the PBS cannot provide the technologies they are available in such as 3D, or should be...

  • Comment number 4.

    As you know there was the reduction of one of the red button options for freeview not all that long ago.
    As a result there is now only one additional option in terms of BBC Interactive on freeview whereas those using a sky box seemingly still have access to a large array of BBC interactive options.
    Bearing in mind everyone will be using digital by the time of the 2012 Olympics but not everyone will be able to use sky or any other viewing option apart from freeview.
    What will you do to make sure there is the maximum amount of coverage possible shown on freeview and that it is not completely overshadowed by the capabilities with a sky box.

  • Comment number 5.

    I can't help but agree with parts of Brekkies rant. I particularly join Brekkie in taking up issue with the reduction in capacity available on freeview TV. There is no gap in technology, unlike with analogue, where this additional content can't be made available.

    I see therefore no good reason why we should then have to pay out to another provider just to access the full content for which their fee has been paid. I am at the moment between Sky boxes (Cheers Sky!) and have reverted to a freeview setup for the time being, when I left there was significant and excellent additional content on the red button and yet I returned to find a red button with all the flair of teletext. Have we not moved past this?

    I may or may not be alone in thinking this but, whilst I encourage the BBC to continue its progress and research the latest technologies, I would prefer the BBC to not dip it's toes so carelessly into emerging technologies at the detrement of the majority of it's customers to whom freeview is their only reasonable option.

    I say bring back some of the range available on other services to freeview and stop making us decide if to get the most out of our fees we have to pay a not inconsiderable sum for the privilage to someone else. If you need more money to bring it to everyone I would prefer to pay it to you then them.

  • Comment number 6.

    Thanks for the comment so far.

    On the Freeview issue: we shouldn't lose sight of the fact that Freeview has been an enormous success - which is, I know, why people feel strongly about it. But different platforms have different numbers of channels and varying capacities - and as an example of that, my cable system offers me the BBC iPlayer on my TV in the way that my old satellite system didn't.

    The main reason for the recent limitations on red button capacity on Freeview is that the platform can now accommodate HD - for around 50% of the population at this stage. All the evidence is that many people really want HD on Freeview and this is a classic case of trying to make the best choice for the greatest number.

    Worth saying that all the Olympic content should be available online - and I know Brekkie has previously made very fair points about broadband speeds in some parts of the country, but this is being looked at by government:

    And to repeat a previous pledge, we have some ideas for maximising Freeview capacity during Games time to make sure there's a good choice for all viewers.

    Finally for now on 3D in reply to citizenloz in #3: we doubt that there will currently be enough live 3D content from the world feeds to satisfy the demands of even one channel - at most it would only be a tiny fraction of the total hours of host broadcasting - which is why our preferred route is as I've set it out in my blog.

  • Comment number 7.

    @6 Roger Mosey wrote:
    Finally for now on 3D in reply to citizenloz in #3: we doubt that there will currently be enough live 3D content from the world feeds to satisfy the demands of even one channel - at most it would only be a tiny fraction of the total hours of host broadcasting - which is why our preferred route is as I've set it out in my blog.

    You seem to be totally missing my point - but I guess the reasons why are obvious...

    For the very reason you state - lack of content to justify a channel, isn't that even more a reason to hand over broadcasting of 3D Olympic coverage to BSkyB, who by that time will have been running a 3D channel week in week out for 2 years.

    But no, rather than partner with another broadcaster who has the capability, you would rather deny the UK public access to 3D other than in a handful of cinemas and sponsors pavilion, when by that time tens of thousands of pubs the length and breadth of the country, and likely hundreds of thousands of individuals will have 3D sets.

    I thought this was meant to be the UK's Olypics, not the BBCs.

    Shameful attitude.

  • Comment number 8.

    Citizenloz - let me try to explain more. The Olympics are a massively more complex broadcasting operation than even a World Cup. In a World Cup, the maximum is 2 events happening simultaneously; whereas in an Olympics it's more than 10 times that.

    The priority for the host broadcaster is therefore to deliver all that as brilliant HD coverage in 2D; and there simply isn't demand from world broadcasters for 3D with the massive extra strain that would put on all resources. That's why, at best, there will be *very* limited content in 3D.

    The point on the pubs is this: the overwhelming majority of sports and venues and big medal moments that people want to watch will not be in 3D. For instance, and I'm sure someone will put me right if I've somehow missed this, I've never seen competitive swimming ever demonstrated in 3D - and the priority for that sport (which will dominate peak time viewing in week 1) and for others is the fantastic style of 2D/HD coverage that proved popular in Beijing.

  • Comment number 9.

    Another moan but why on earth have the BBC bought the Diamond League rights only to hide them on the red button - I think every event so far I've only found out afterwards it was on, and no reason why last nights event couldn't have been on BBC3, as some will be.

    The BBC could at least put the highlights programme out at the weekend on BBC1/2. It's not even made available on the ever so wonderful iPlayer!

    (And sorry Roger you get all the flack, but the Sport Editors blog is a shadow of it's former self!)

  • Comment number 10.

    And how ironic I actually find tonight's New York meeting in the schedules before it's on - only to discover it's not on Freeview!

    Never mind, the BBC have bought the rights to Argentina v Scotland, so I'll watch that. No, that's not on either!

    Looks like I might have to watch that comedy on ITV tonight in which the English believe they have a chance in hell of winning the World Cup! I shouldn't complain though - I'm always laughing my head off when it reaches it's natural conclusion! :)

  • Comment number 11.

    I agree Brekkie last night was very frustrating for Freeview viewers not being able to watch the athletics or the rugby union (well done to Scotland on an impressvie victory).

    Is there any scope for non-line re-runs of events like this which would have been likely to have been shown when Freeview had two streams? Overnight broadcasts could be recorded now the schedules are usually shown. It would be better than nothing.

  • Comment number 12.


    I'm sure in your worshipping of his Holiness Pope Rupert that you would agree that Sky should be banned from the media in this country for 10 years if they spend their time bugging PCs of members of the public without their permission for commercial gain?

    That's nothing to do with technology, it's to do with basic criminality.

    And if you think such actions are OK, then I think your comments/rants are not worthy of an answer.


  • Comment number 13.

    It doesn't take a lot to confuse me, but that's me well and truly stumped!

  • Comment number 14.


    This probably isn't your area but why did the BBC on six different occasions today run down and disparage the New Zealand v Slovakia match they are showing tomorrow, even to the extent that Hansen said he didn't want to analyse it?

    If you aren't interested, give it to ITV. Their coverage is better anyway.

  • Comment number 15.

    Just to say when comments like #9/10/11/14 come in, I make sure they're seen by my colleagues in BBC Sport. And we're making progress on some of the issues that will allow us to offer as much choice as possible on all platforms for 2012.

  • Comment number 16.

    Quality and volume on BBC HD is low, half of the programmes are clearly NOT HD and the fact that the channel closes down for around half a day is somewhat of joke in 2010.
    Whilst I can understand your comments about there not being enough 3D to warrant its' own channel, why is HD still so neglected, didn't the BBC help to get the platform off the ground and if you did, why is the channel still so poor, you're now lagging well behind other operators?
    As Britain has been one of the worlds leaders in technological advances and the BBC has helped to lead the way in broadcasting, the 2012 Olympics SHOULD have easily the best ever coverage, if it fails in any way, do we have insurances that heads will roll, or will the top brass on their astronomical wages get away with any ineptitude that occurs?

    RE: hank-kingsley, "If you aren't interested, give it to ITV. Their coverage is better anyway."
    Having watched years of live sport I can honestly say that ITV sports coverage is poor at best when compared to the BBC or Sky, their botched HD coverage of England v USA (I missed the Gerrard goal due to their ineptitude) and the Liverpool v Everton cup game last year (again I missed the goal) is something that I cannot remember EVER having occured whilst watching live sports on the BBC or Sky.
    The quality of their broadcasts leaves so much to be desired that I don't think that they should ever be allowed to cover live sports again, I certainly hope that Ofcom (and anyone else that has power) will investigate thoroughly and take action.
    If you wish to complain about them, do so here:

  • Comment number 17.

    @8 Roger Mosey - BBC Director, London 2012 wrote:

    The Olympics are a massively more complex broadcasting operation than even a World Cup. In a World Cup, the maximum is 2 events happening simultaneously; whereas in an Olympics it's more than 10 times that.

    What does it matter whether there are 2 events or 10 events? The fact is, you're not going to let those with 3D TVs or viewers in thousands of pubs see any of it...

    No one expects every event in every sport in 3D. But what would be nice would be if our national broadcaster at least made the limited coverage it will have in 3D available to everyone with access to a 3D TV at home or in their local pub, rather than a select few.

  • Comment number 18.

    If you're so interested in watching it in 3D, why don't you register for tickets and go down in person!

  • Comment number 19.

    @18 Brekkie wrote:

    If you're so interested in watching it in 3D, why don't you register for tickets and go down in person!

    I have. As someone who lives reasonable close to London, and only a few miles from one of the event locations, I am intending to take the whole of the olympic period off as holiday and go to as many events as a I possibly can, given it is for most of us a "once in a lifetime" occasion.

    My dispare with the BBC however over 3D, is for the rest of the country who are not so fortunate to be close enough, or unable enough to go the events in person, but due to the apparent reluctance or intrangigence of the BBC will not be able to see it in 3D despite the fact they they may have a 3D TV or the pub down the road will likely have one.


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