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24 September 2014
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Jana Bennett


Jana Bennett

Director of Television

Red Button Revolution - Power to the People

Cannes, Tuesday 30 March 2004
Printable version

Speech given to MIPTV & Milia

Not checked against delivery

For the benefit of those of you at the back or whose eyes are failing from watching too many showreels, I'd just like to point out that I'm not Greg Dyke.

Greg was due to speak here today. His departure from the BBC at the end of January was a big loss. We lost an enormously popular Director-General but also a great ambassador for the BBC and powerful advocate of public service broadcasting.

As you can probably imagine, the circumstances of Greg's departure left little time for handovers so I can't be sure what kind of speech he had in mind.

One thing I do know is that he wouldn't have spent a lot of time on the technical side of broadcasting. He may have been a great programme maker and leader of the BBC, but he was the first to admit that he didn't know that much about how television actually worked.

Here at least I can offer some continuity – I too don't want to talk much about the technical side of things – not because they don't matter – clearly they do. But rather because the sum of my knowledge of what goes on behind a television screen would fit on a very micro chip.

But, like Greg, I love television, I love what public service broadcasting is and what it's there for, now and in the future.

Instead I'd like to consider three things:

- The revolution television has been undergoing;

- Where the revolution goes in the future;

- And the role of public service broadcasters like the BBC in that future.

I have a few clips to show, but perhaps unusually the clips show what's happening beyond the programmes, outside the box as we explore the public value we can create as we harness digital.

I must start by saying how pleased I am to be addressing both MIPTV and Milia audiences under the same roof for the first time. Ladies and gentlemen, we have convergence!

Back at the BBC we've recently undergone a similar joining of two worlds. We are the first major broadcaster in the UK to bring our enhanced television operation within the main TV team.

Interactivity is now fully embedded into our approach to making and commissioning television from the Olympics biggest ever interactive coverage to classical music.

I know an integrated approach to commissioning eTV will ultimately result in greater audience connection and engagement.

This is good news for our audiences in the UK but in our overseas markets where we are seeing increasing demand for both our programmes and our interactive content.

I'm equally sure that bringing together of these two conferences is good news for delegates, who can now get the complete picture of how television and interactivity are coming together, fast.

Of course this is not the first revolution for television. Seventy or so years ago television felt every bit as radical as it does today.

This new medium reached into people's homes and into their lives. It was a liberating force. It created new forms of entertainment, new sources of information and new opportunities to learn.

Its near universal take-up, combined with the power of pictures, gave it more impact than any other medium. These were exciting times when anything seemed possible.

Looking back, it's easy now to see the limitations of the analogue era. So many things we take for granted today simply weren't possible.

Analogue television may have been a force for liberation in its day but it was also bound by some pretty rigid technology.

Television during much of the last century was a pretty monolithic affair. Many households only had one. It was big, square and sat in the corner. We fitted our lives around it, thankfully receiving the handful of programmes and limited choice handed down by the powers that be.

We all tended to watch the same things at the same time whether it suited us or not. TV called the shots.

Today, television is shrugging off those technical limitations. The technical revolution of the last decade has put power in the hands of audiences.

PVRs and multi channel platforms are giving people the freedom to watch what they want, when they want.

And like the transistor radio of the 1960s, we're now getting our hands on portable devices like this (show PDA), which will allow us to watch television where we want.

Let me show you something that the BBC is developing at the moment and will soon go into technical trial - I can use this to watch my favourite shows – in this case, The Office, at the time and place of my choosing.

What's also striking about the digital revolution is at the start, it was driven by the commercial sector. It focused on maximising the commercial value of television. It used particular kinds of content to drive reach and revenues.

In the UK, football and films in particular – and of course Sky - have played a crucial part in establishing digital and interactive.

Along with 24-hour news and an endless menu of niche channels, modern viewers can consume more television in more ways.

You could say we've gone from the limited menu and rigid hours of a traditional restaurant to a 24-hour, all-you-can-eat diner. Out go the restricted choice and measured portions. In come the opportunity to indulge in unlimited quantities of programmes and services.

You can feast exclusively on your favourite or spend your time grazing your way down a never ending menu.

The question we as an industry must now consider is whether this is enough. Where does the revolution go next? Is the all-you-can-eat approach going to provide consumers with the freedom to enjoy everything television has to offer in the 21st century?

I believe one of the biggest challenges ahead will be creative rather than technical. I see consumers becoming just as concerned with the quality of the experience as the quantity.

The freedom to eat all you can doesn't feel like freedom if you don't like the kind of food on offer. Equally, the novelty soon wears off if the menu never changes.

Audiences want something fresh and exciting brought to the table. If we're honest, while we've found ingenious new ways of serving up television, the content itself can be pretty familiar fodder.

How and where we can watch comedy, drama and entertainment have undergone a revolution. The programmes themselves have not.

So what's needed now is a creative revolution every bit as ambitious as the technical one we've seen.

We must apply the same vision and determination that made this (PDA) possible to the process of programme-making.

But who's going to lead this next stage of the revolution? I see the publicly funded broadcasters like the BBC as having the potential to play a crucial role.

This is not because the commercial sector lacks creativity or for that matter that publicly funded broadcasters lack technical expertise. Some of the most successful breakthrough shows of recent years have come from UK commercial broadcasters and our wonderfully creative independent sector.

Similarly, the BBC throughout much of its history has been a technical pioneer. Two years ago, it was BBC engineers who cracked the technical problems that had plagued the digital terrestrial platform in the UK. Freeview is now the fastest growing platform in the country.

But I see a special place for publicly funded broadcasters to be the creative engine room for television.

The freedom from commercial pressures is a privilege – and one we mustn't be afraid to capitalise on.

In the UK, you can see the impact the BBC is having on the digital revolution in two ways in particular. The first is doing something which has always been part of the BBC's purpose and that's boosting demand for new kinds of broadcasting.

It's been an incredibly exciting year for digital in the UK, not least because we've passed that crucial 50% tipping point. Digital homes are now in the majority – just.

Technology has played its part – the success of Freeview as a subscription free option on digital terrestrial has brought millions of homes into the digital world.

Creatively also, a new world of possibilities has opened up. The digital revolution has enabled the BBC to experiment with new dishes – and not just satellite dishes - to create stimulating new menus and to sometimes challenge the palates of digital diners.

It's enabled us to create new channels alongside BBC's ONE and TWO:

- BBC THREE with a completely original mixed schedule for young adults;

- BBC FOUR where arts and culture rub shoulders with documentary and the deliciously wicked humour of the drama The Alan Clark Diaries;

- And our two children's channels – Cbeebies and CBBC – which are now the number one and number three channels for kids in the UK (and providing a valuable alternative to the diet of imported animation on many other children's channels).

These services are providing additional choice and value for existing digital audiences. And the channels are using digital technology across television and the web as this short film shows. [Clip]

By working the potential of ideas across the portfolio, we're seeing opportunities to build a greater variety of flavours into the television experience.

For example, telling the story of Mozart was an opportunity to really use the power of digital in new ways. We could cast the experience wider and take the audience deeper thanks to what digital television makes possible.

That meant a two-part drama documentary on BBC TWO (which got one of our biggest audiences ever for a programme devoted to classical music);

a complementary series on BBC FOUR allowing viewers to immerse themselves in pieces of music;

and a unique interactive application offering the chance to analyse how Mozart constructed his scores.

Some of the biggest takers for this have been late adopters to digital, the older classical music lovers – like my mum and my in-laws, who all told me they had pushed their red buttons to devour what was on offer.

A year ago they would have thought of digital as the face of their alarm clock.

Here's a flavour of the Mozart season. [Clip]

It's this kind of approach which is adding value to the television experience and creating a digital dividend.

- It's awakening an appetite among analogue audiences.

- It's adding value and choice for digital audiences.

- It's deepening the experience and raising expectations about what television can do.

But I don't want to see a willingness to take this approach to be limited to classical music. I want the BBC to be a pioneer of original programming.

Of course new ideas tend to be risky ideas. But as a publicly funded broadcaster, we can afford to take more risks. Our secure funding is a licence to experiment. In doing so, we can pave the way for other programme-makers to be braver.

I see the BBC as getting better at taking risks in pursuit of new ideas and doing it across the genres:

• In science, with the major investment required for ideas like Space Odyssey which takes viewers on a breathtaking tour of the solar system, fusing science history and drama

• In comedy, one of the riskiest genres in television, we are setting the pace, often taking chances with new talent and writing as was the case with The Office – which recently picked up not one but two Golden Globes.

Little Britain was a similar brave commission which now looks to prove equally successful.

• In current affairs, we've been discovering the power of mixing documentary and drama to achieve a big impact with different audiences.

• In the arts, we've committed to fresh thinking such as End of Story, a new approach to creative writing which gives members of the public a chance to complete the second half of a set of short stories from best selling authors, such as Ian Rankin, and to have their joint work published.

• And our latest big idea is something we're provisionally calling Home Movie. Our aim is to find 100 first-time film makers – from the gofer to the gaffer, from the leading lady to the make-up artist - and give them the training and resources to make a film for television.

I can't tell you yet what the film will be about but I can promise you, it'll be a major event across our services and online.

- It'll create opportunities for creativity that otherwise wouldn't exist.

- It'll change people's ideas about who can make films and how you do it.

- And it could open up worlds of possibility for a group of people and an audience who hadn't even dared to dream.

All these programmes are examples of creative risk-taking. All required channel commissioners, producers and talent to make bold decisions. And all could have been made in the same old way we've done things before.

But there's more we can do if we are prepared to combine original ideas and risk taking with a willingness to think big about the possibilities for audience involvement and participation.

In the digital age, that means more than slapping a vote on as an afterthought. As I said at the beginning of this speech, it's about building interactivity in from the start and giving viewers freedom to play with our ideas in ways we no longer control.

The result is television which really does break out of the box. So a programme exploring the potential to restore some of Britain's historic buildings didn't have to be low impact show relegated to the margins of the schedule.

Instead, the series we called Restoration became a major interactive event, reaching some 20 million viewers – that's just over a third of the UK population.

Interactivity was at the heart of the programme. It generated unprecedented levels of public interest in a show devoted to historic buildings, with millions (2.3 million) of viewers voting via phone or the red button for the building they wanted to see saved.

Eight out of ten adults were aware of the series. Viewers were not just interactive but physically active too. They got out of their armchairs and started getting to know the history and architecture of their town.

Some 83 per cent of viewers said that watching the series had encouraged them to get out and about, discovering more about the history of their local area. And almost half (46 per cent) said they wanted to go even further and get actively involved in preserving the local heritage.

The winner – some Victorian public baths in Manchester - was expecting about 500 visitors in the week of the final programme. In the end it was more like 10,000.

And this was not an experience confined to the winner. All over the country, buildings featured in the programme and many others besides became the focus of public interest and concern.

Restoration was the catalyst for a national debate.

We brought the same approach to literature through a series called The Big Read. Again, interactivity was at the heart of the idea of finding Britain's favourite book and again it took an old idea into a new dimension.

- Nearly 20 million people watched the series with hundreds of thousands participating via the web and interactive TV.

- The top 21 titles saw an average increase in sales of 575%.

- Sales of The Catcher in the Rye rose by 833% in the week it was featured and Joseph Heller's Catch 22 saw a ten-fold increase in sales - from 500 a week to more than 5,000.

But the impact was felt far beyond the nation's bookshops.

Thanks to our partnerships with schools, colleges and libraries you didn't have to watch the programme to feel its influence.

Nearly nine out of ten people surveyed said they were aware of the series and more than half of schools got involved.

This kind of approach need not be confined to genres such as the arts and history. I believe by looking beyond the commercial returns of interactivity we can create extra value for the public in every genre.

Talent shows may be as old as television itself but interactivity has reinvented the genre for a new generation.

In the UK, the commercial channels led the way with interactive voting for would-be pop stars. When we got involved we wanted to take the idea further and saw scope to do more than a simple vote show.

So we used the £2.7million raised from public voting and our share of the winners' record deals to create a bursary which will help fund the musical education of five aspiring musicians.

It'll also pay for musical instruments for 150 children and help hundreds more over the next two years.

But you might ask why bother? Why spend money at the margins of ratings? Why enter where a commercial broadcaster fears to tread?

The age of interactivity allows us to be driven simply by what viewers want. But the BBC difference is that we sometimes offer viewers things that they did not know they wanted.

We should never be driven by the lowest common denominator and I want programme makers to come up with ideas which could offer ancient history, science and any number of subjects in ways which will engage with mass audiences.

We have already seen some examples of that, but interactivity has to develop beyond voting someone out at the end of the programme by pressing your red button.

It also has to offer challenge and excitement and the thrill of knowledge.

Digital plays to people's natural curiosity to find the new, the unexpected, the serendipitous.

But the examples all share one thing in common and that's the pursuit of original ideas which challenge assumptions about what television can do.

In doing so, they break new ground creatively and through interactivity offer new kinds of experience and engagement for viewers. They have a value beyond the screen.

But this is only possible because the BBC retains its scope and scale. It's this which allows us to play a distinctive role in UK production - both through our in-house investment and as a partner to the independent sector.

It's this which enables us to bring more than 600 hours of high quality, original television to Cannes this week.

So finally, let me emphasise that a marginalised, under-funded BBC wouldn't be able to take these risks or explore the full creative possibilities of television today.

It wouldn't be able to explore the potential to enrich people's lives through music, culture and learning.

The BBC's ability to do this is in an increasingly commercialised industry is, I believe, becoming more rather than less important.

And that's why the review of the BBC's royal charter which is currently underway will be crucial to determining the kind of television we have in Britain in the future.

Of course there'll be those who will argue for a reduced role for the BBC. All you can eat will keep everyone satisfied, they'll say. But I hope we see a debate based on a much broader understanding of the value of television.

I hope that while continuing to pursue the commercial value of television we don't lose sight of the need to invest in ways to deliver its public value too. It's this public value which broadcasters like the BBC must focus on delivering. It's this that will determine our future in the broadcasting landscape.

I see the BBC's ability to deliver this kind of value as enhanced by digital television rather than diminished.

I see more scope for us to foster debate that underpins an informed democracy.

I see greater opportunities for us to be creative in our approach to programme making and to champion public engagement and original ideas.

I see increased potential to develop our educational role and as a means of linking communities.

Finally, just take a look at one of my favourite projects at the BBC's Worldwide stand. It's this summer's huge factual event – D-Day.

It is dramatised and with first-hand eyewitness accounts which link the past and the present to the red button.

The point of this speech – and indeed this joint conference – is to explore the potential of television today.

One way or the other, we are all united by the same thing and that's meeting the needs of audiences.

That's why MIP and Milia belong together. That's why talking about television without thinking about digital is no longer an option.

I also hope we can also move beyond the arguments about whether commercial or public broadcasting is the way forward.

The lesson of the last century was that neither sector on its own could provide everything television had to offer.

While many things have changed, that lesson still holds true today.

For public service broadcasters like the BBC, interactivity is opening up new and exciting possibilities to strengthen our democratic, social and cultural contribution.

In doing so we can increase our scope to enrich people's lives. Bringing audiences closer to programmes, getting them more involved and creating shared experiences is where our value lies.

I passionately believe that the BBC will be more important in the digital interactive world – not less – in providing:

• information rich factual programmes;

• rib tickling comedy that lets the UK laugh at itself (and the rest of the world with it);

• impartial trusted news with an international perspective and

• home-grown drama and entertainment enhanced by interactivity and with content increasingly powered by our own viewers.

Roll on the revolution!

Thank you.


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