Archives for March 2008

Phone Freaks

Dan Damon Dan Damon | 07:40 UK time, Thursday, 27 March 2008


Phones are addictive these days.

There are so many exciting designs and capabilities already (I highlight just a couple without prejudice - and I don't own either and don't owe anything to either of the companies involved).

And still I get the feeling that we're only at the beginning of the technological journey handheld devices are on. The next phase is probably in the hands of the company that's allowed innovation to work on the principle of openness, Google.

Here's a recent article and video about the Android software platform Google is developing for cellphones.

With parents being described in a British report today as 'technology immigrants' compared to their 'technology native' children who have grown up with computers in the home, how hard will it be in the future for parents to control what their children can access, with devices like these in their pockets?

Faith and Politics

Dan Damon Dan Damon | 07:34 UK time, Wednesday, 19 March 2008


One of our comments posteers questions my assertion that monks in Burma and Tibet are inspired by their faith - it's only politics, she says.

That's not what they tell us, and is there much of a distinction anyway? Is the inspiration to freedom nothing to do with values based on faith traditions?

Does soulless biology explain it?

Why Monks?

Dan Damon Dan Damon | 22:06 UK time, Sunday, 16 March 2008


As in Burma, so in Tibet - it is the monks whose anger bursts out of the monasteries and starts the uprising.

The reason, as we have investigated on the other programme I'm lucky enough to present, Reporting Religion, is not that monks are political animals but religious ones, and the tenets of their faith are offended by the authorities they rise up against.

In the case of the Burmese, the economic hardship and food shortages imposed by the military junta meant the people could not afford to give offerings to the monks - and those offerings are a form of prayer and a route to a better reincarnation. The monks rose up on behalf of the people whose faith was being denied.

In the case of the Tibetans, I heard from one of marchers trying to get from their exile HQ in northern India to Tibet that without freedom a Buddhist cannot achieve the greatest enlightenment that would ease the transition to a better life next time. So fighting for freedom is an act of faith too.

Incidentally, around half of the hard news items in World Update on Friday were linked to religion. Do you think we could be onto something?

BBC Arabic TV

Dan Damon Dan Damon | 12:46 UK time, Tuesday, 11 March 2008


The concerns that the BBC might be late with this project strengthen the case made in my previous post - this channel urgently needs big promotion; the image and brand will not be enough to make a big enough splash in a crowded market. It's not sure the BBC has the budget for that, instead relying on the name and a 70 year history in Arabic radio.


The editorial standards are bound to be high (full disclosure: a couple of years ago I helped train Arabic Service stringers in interview techniques.)

But other news channels are much more eyecatching and outrageous. So unless BBC Arabic do it standing on their heads, it'll be hard to catch the attention of an audience that can now choose from hundreds of channels.

End the Schedule Tyranny!

Dan Damon Dan Damon | 11:22 UK time, Monday, 10 March 2008


Are we heading for programmes with no start and end time, only user-selected unscheduled material? And if the big and expensive infrastructure involved in transmitting a TV or radio network is likely to be replaced and absorbed into Internet-based delivery of sound and pictures, as I speculated in the last post, then what are the implications for a global network like the BBC World Service?

The brand is strong - if we keep trying to do our job as well as possible. Despite the problems of the domestic BBC with dodgy phone-in quizzes and the name of the Blue Peter cat, most people still trust the BBC. Internationally, despite some concerns over our impartiality on certain issues, we are still lucky and privileged to have a worldwide reputation for objectivity and comprehensive coverage.

The question is, how to get the brand into the places where it will continue to grow and not just rest on ancient laurels.

Ambitious adoption of all available technology is the answer that's been chosen for the domestic market - including the sometimes risky strategy of using viewers' own pictures and reports without comprehensive checking. (My link is to a spoof, not one that caught us.)

In the UK, it's likely that enough people will be developing their access to new technologies at a similar rate to make this feasible. Broadband internet is on its way to being universal across the UK, either by wire or increasingly by indoor WiFi and, sooner rather than later, area-wide WiMax.

But for an international service like ours, with some listeners whose only real news comes from the BBC, the challenge is how to match the old with the new during a transition period that could take years, even decades. In the end, the Internet is so useful it will spread like electricity. But for the time being, the BBC's global services must continue to provide broadcast scheduled programmes while developing content that can be selected and downloaded for those with more modern equipment - mobile phones with Internet access, for example.

The key is in the content and its promotion. If we promote the access points strongly enough, and if the subjects are interesting enough, then people will come. If they can find out how to listen to broadcast frequencies or get onto a website or download site, they will try.

The BBC has not been very good at promoting itself in the past - there wasn't anything like the BBC World Service and we expected people to know that.

Now we can't be sure they know where to find us. So we have to do more to get the access information across.

Luckily, that and making good material is all we have to do - unlike the commercial broadcasters who have to find ways of making money out of these unpredictable changes.

Too Fast Technology

Dan Damon Dan Damon | 08:12 UK time, Wednesday, 5 March 2008


People who like radio were pleased when the innovative British commercial TV company Channel Four launched its plans for 4Radio, using the DAB digital radio system being built across the country. (In the US, this is called HD radio.)

Even people who work for the BBC, a competitor to Channel Four, were pleased that more radio was coming with big ambitions and high quality audio. The idea that new radio formats could be funded by advertising seemed encouraging.

But now comes the news that the board of Channel Four are split over the future of the project.

The problem seems to me to be the rapid development of online delivery systems for audio and video, which have the potential to marginalise conventional radio and TV altogether. Fixed schedules funded by advertising may become the unusual way to watch or listen - choosing audio and video from an illustrated list on a website could soon be the easiest and commonest way to get what you want.

We may broadcast World Update at 10GMT, but you will listen to it at a few minutes past that time, on something that looks a bit like a radio but is really a networked computer.

If that model catches on - and like many people I am already habitually connecting my laptop to my hifi to listen to radio programmes and streamed music - the expensive infrastructure for the DAB system is no longer justifiable.

This has big implications for the future of the BBC World Service with its global ambitions.

I'll write more about that in my next post.

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