Mark Thompson, BBC Director-General

Date: 11.05.2011     Last updated: 18.03.2014 at 18.16
Speech by Mark Thompson, BBC Director-General to the National Digital Conference, London on Wednesday 11 May 2011

Speech to the National Digital Conference, London
Wednesday 11 May 2011

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I'm delighted to be joining Martha, Paula and all of you today to celebrate the launch of the digital champions' network and the next phase of the BBC's First Click campaign.

At the BBC, we began trying to introduce the British public to the potential of digital technology back in the early Eighties with the BBC Micro.

We believed then that power of computing – for learning, for information, for new businesses, for entertainment – shouldn't be restricted to a minority but should be available to all and we thought that our reach across the population, the creativity of our programme-makers and the unique trust the public place in us meant that we could make a real difference.

And it worked: the BBC Micro and all the programmes that went with it took the mystery and fear out of personal computing for millions of people and helped kick–start the revolution that has changed so many aspects of our world.

And we believe we have the same opportunity today. We still reach 97% of the UK population every week and trust in the BBC has actually grown over the years.

That's why we launched our First Click campaign last year. First Click is based on a simple proposition: if we can persuade 86-year-old Peggy Woolley of the Archers to go online, then why not you? Many different parts of the BBC got behind First Click – not just the good folks of Ambridge, but Radio 2, The One Show, School Report, BBC Local Radio and many, many more. Thirty million adults saw or heard some of the campaign across TV and radio and we believe that more than 100,000 people went online for the first time as a result. And some of those First Clickers have gone on to help someone else get online too.

But we know that there's still a long way to go with some nine million people in the UK who have yet to take that first step. We're committed to playing a big and continuing role in trying to reach and convince those nine million people – yes, so that they can reach some of the BBC's own digital services, news and information from bbc.co.uk, say, or TV and radio programmes via the BBC iPlayer, but also because we believe that giving people the tools, skills and above all the inspiration to enter this new world is an incredibly important goal for the country which the BBC should get fully behind.

Taking the UK fully online would have so many benefits – a new generation of digital entrepreneurs to help feed national economic growth, new and more effective ways of delivering many private and public services, the goal of reconnecting millions of people who live on their own to their families and communities. One of the BBC's central missions is to support learning in all its forms. I don't believe there will be a more important part of the BBC's learning mission over the coming years than full-blooded support for the campaign to get the whole of Britain online.

We know that one particularly important group are those who are willing to help others get online and to build their confidence when they get there by showing them how to find and use the web, email and so on. That's why Martha and her team have worked so hard in building up this 100,000 strong network of digital champions over recent months.

And that's why we've created a new campaign – First Click Friends – specifically for anyone who does want to help. The First Click Friends website provides all you need to help a friend go online – including where to find beginner's courses and how to choose the right computer.

Where we don't have the answers we direct Friends to other partners. I know for example there are some superb tools on the new Help Pass IT On website – including a place to sign up as a digital champion.

For First Click Friends – as you'd expect – we've recruited a few familiar BBC faces to help. Here's a quick preview.

We launched the campaign on Breakfast News this morning and are talking about digital champions throughout our coverage today – on BBC local radio and Radio 2 culminating with The One Show on BBC One tonight.

First Click is the BBC's contribution to a powerful national campaign. We're happy to be part of Race Online's 1,000 plus partner network. We're very proud of the new collaborations which the partners are developing – like the Post Office distributing First Click leaflets and showing First Click videos during Get Online week last year. Thanks Paula (Vennells) and to all the Post Office champions here who helped us.

Next year is going to be an amazing year for digital in the UK. The year of the London Olympics which the BBC will be covering with the richest and most exciting set of digital services we have ever offered. It's the year where most of the UK completes digital television switchover – and the year of Youview, our project with partners to bring simple, easy-to-use IPTV to every household in the land, so that services like BBC iPlayer are available at the touch of a button on main TVs – another powerful reason for going online.

But let's also do everything we can to ensure that 2012 is a breakthrough year for Race Online and our shared ambition to make sure that NO ONE gets left behind in the digital story.