Speech given to the Broadband Britain Summit in London
Thursday 28 October 2004
10 million broadband users in September. One million
up on the month. The fastest ever growth of any new technology? Quite
At this rate, broadband users will overtake narrowband
by Christmas. Digital Britain will be Broadband Britain: if ever there
was a 'white heat of technology' product, this is it.
It is perhaps a sobering thought though that it's 41
years since Harold Wilson first talked about a new Britain forged from
'the white heat of technology', and whilst some British companies did
indeed harness this heat and burned brightly and became world class,
a far larger number of damp squibs never managed to turn great innovation
into lasting success.
We have turned innovation into lasting success, in the
realm of digital TV. The UK is the world leader in DTT penetration,
and in overall digital TV take-up, and in interactive TV usage, and
we have global pre-eminence in the creation, packaging, and distribution
of TV programmes.
Can we move this 'linear' digital content leadership
into the broadband 'on demand' world? Or will
the white-heat prove to be nothing but hot air?
If the first age of the internet was about basic communication,
about email, and the second, over the last four or so years, about e-commerce,
then broadband heralds the third phase of the net. One where content
Our research shows the consumption of content rises
exponentially as our users' bandwidth increases.
So the emergence of broadband gives the UK the opportunity
to transfer our global pre-eminence with video into the online space
harnessing technology to add richness and depth to the UK's internet
experience, adding to its cultural value in the same way that the TV
and radio has for previous generations.
If we don't take advantage of the opportunity, then
the current dominance of overseas narrowband players, like MSN, Sony
and AOL, will continue that dominance into the broadband world, and
hence control the future of audio/video consumption, and by extension
ultimately our UK media industry, our audiences, our culture, and our
share of the global voice.
A fanciful threat that has already come to pass in the
music industry with the rise of Napster and i-tunes, and, some might
argue, in the television industry with the Sky platform.
Broadband heralds a world of video rich content where
the power has shifted from the content owners to the audiences.
It creates a world where, for the first time ever,
they are in control of their consumption.
In this near-future world, media sources are blurred,
and audiences will be watching programmes that come from a variety of
places some from existing TV channels, some off the internet,
others stored on a computer hard disk at home or swapped via email with
To help deliver this on-demand vision the BBC has been
working on an interactive media player, iMP, which has just undergone
a technical trial.
iMP enables people to download television and radio
programmes, choose to record whole series such as EastEnders, catch
up on programmes they have missed and watch or listen to them on any
device they want all through peer-to-peer sharing on a broadband
This is the new world of media consumption only made
possible by a faster always on connection.
iMP is just one of a suite of products in development
that makes up our BBC On Demand strategy, including the Creative Archive,
the Radio Player, and the Broadband Console, with the express aim of
finding the right content and services to put the British media industry
at the forefront of this technology tidal wave and narrow the digital
As I mentioned at the outset, thanks to aggressive marketing,
competitive pricing and the increased availability of services almost
10 million people in the UK currently have broadband (that's 12% growth
on last month) with 5.2 million connections in homes across the UK.
Over the next five years, we will see continued take
up of basic digital technologies, but also the rapid growth of broadband
which could, if the full potential is realised, transform the lives
of everyone in the UK.
The BBC has, I believe, a critical role to play in this
growing market, based on a clear vision of the kind of digital world
we predict will be a reality by the end of this decade: a digitally
empowered Britain in which broadband, along with free digital TV and
digital home storage, play a vital role.
Broadband Content Drivers
But what really are the benefits of 100% broadband Britain?
Perhaps we can best see this in practice by looking
at Korea, where 75% of homes have broadband the highest per capita
penetration anywhere in the world.
The government there expects broadband to increase industrial
efficiency, create jobs and e-businesses, and improve the country's
global competitiveness as well as per capita GDP.
For the man on the street increased broadband penetration
has meant continuous access to instant unlimited TV, music and emails
anytime anywhere via broadband enabled mobile phones.
It has meant that 'smart homes' are now a reality (the
Korean government expects to have 10 million by 2007) so you can in
theory programme your central heating from work or start the dinner
cooking on your drive home.
For businesses, it has meant that 20% of retail transactions
are now done solely online and that shops and restaurants have new ways
of promoting their services by, for example, sending texts and videos
of their products and menus to potential customers in the area.
Here in the UK, the BBC sees broadband as a means of
enabling us to place greater emphasis on community and individuals'
It will open up new ways to involve people in civic
processes and institutions, let us create personalised learning tools
and tailored services for minority groups, as well as enabling more
convenient ways to watch and listen to our programmes and services.
But today I want to highlight the benefits that broadband
could bring to one specific part of our audience children.
Sixty per cent of schools are currently connected to
broadband and 27% of parents with a child under the age of 15 have a
broadband internet connection at home.
What would be the benefit to society of getting this
figure closer to the 100% mark where every child would have access to
broadband at school and at home?
Firstly, increased broadband access would create a new generation of
digitally-savvy consumers who instinctively understand how multimedia
works, putting the UK in a strong position to lead in the new digital
Secondly, it would increase access to skills, training and learning
which, as research from the DFES shows, leads to better prospects and
higher earnings for individuals.
According to the Government's Education & Skills
paper in 2003, this also has wider benefits for society - enhancing
worker productivity and helping the economy remain internationally competitive.
Education and skills learning are also associated with
better health (lowering the chances of depression, obesity and respiratory
problems) and also a reduced crime rate (with a strong proven relationship
between lack of qualifications and offending rates).
These alone are strong economic and social arguments for increasing
broadband access but what does this mean in terms of the BBC services?
Broadband will make the BBC's rich children's content
into a truly public resource allowing greater creative dialogue and
more personalised learning journeys.
For example, while we will make sure that 70% of the
Digital Curriculum will still be available to those with narrowband
connections, some aspects of the service will only be realised through
This inevitably means that some people won't be able
to take full advantage of the Digital Curriculum a service which
will enable students to discover and explore using video, flash animations,
interactive games and printable worksheets.
Similarly, the BBC's planned scheme Music for All will be firmly rooted
It will aim to transform music education giving children
the opportunity to hear live performances, experience master classes
in all music genres, create and perform their own pieces and work alongside
leading musicians who can help them to develop their musical passions.
By developing such services as these, new content designed specifically
for broadband, the BBC has a role to play in helping explore the full
potential of this new medium.
Barriers to Adoption
But as these examples also show, those people without a broadband connection
will increasingly lack access to vital public services, important skills
and potentially life changing experiences and risk being left on the
wrong side of the digital divide.
We recognise that we must achieve universality for our services, but,
this is a fine balance.
We must not invest a disproportionate amount of the
licence fee in services that cannot currently be accessed by a sizeable
minority of the audience in the pursuit of driving take-up.
This sizeable minority still experience significant
barriers to getting online and/or adopting broadband.
These barriers start with lack of access, then lack of awareness, and
Solving those leaves us with many consumers still having
a poor understanding of the benefits made available to them through
online and many more lack the necessary e-literacy skills to take advantage
And once we've got passed those hurdles we need the
compelling content and services to be up and running, easily findable
and navigable. Easy!
The Prime Minister, at the recent party conferences, rightly focussed
on the first of these barriers, access, and the industry largely agrees
that his stated aims could be met by 2008.
Next, awareness: In my eyes, awareness does not appear to be a barrier
Last month, 71% of people (GB aged 15+) were aware
of bbc.co.uk. That's more than the number of people who have ever tried
the internet in GB (61%) and over double the number of people who have
ever used bbc.co.uk (34%).
But affordability remains a stumbling block. Home computers are no longer
so costly that they are out of reach for the majority, but recent research
from BMRB suggests that broadband adoption has only now resurged as
a result of price reductions from broadband service providers (BSPs)
like Tiscali, BT, Telewest and Wannado.
Between August and September of this year the reduction
in their tariffs resulted in one million new people upgrading to a high-speed
Perhaps the UK could accelerate this take up even further if hardware
manufactures, BSPs and the BBC were to join forces with compelling
free-to-broadband content and access package - a non-subscription broadband
entry package that could come free with a customer's cable or phone
line: a kind of Freeview or Freesat model (we could call it Freeband)
but for the internet.
The BBC would, for its part, make a major contribution
to providing compelling content for such an initiative.
While this would go some way in tackling the affordability
barrier, it does not tackle the issue of selling the benefits of the
internet and the poor e-literacy skills that ensue from this.
'Get Britain Connected' Week
What I'd like to propose is a 'Get Britain Connected'
week, later next year: a joint initiative with Government, players in
the broadband supply chain (both commercial and public sector) and the
BBC with its airwaves and cross-promotional opportunities to target
those members of society who might find themselves on the wrong side
of the digital divide.
If the cost of broadband falls enough then broadband
service providers are increasingly going to have to create greater sales
and therefore more users in order to generate the profits
that the high prices had delivered in the past.
That means driving awareness through more marketing.
It is at this point that the BBC's main strengths: its talent, its brands
and its content, come to the fore.
With a wealth of quality original content and innovation
at its disposal, as well as arguably the richest archive in the world,
the BBC can provide a compelling reason to get a high-speed connection.
We are putting a huge effort into producing distinctive video rich content
for the web, partly to put increasingly clear blue water between us
and our print newspaper colleagues, but also to create the must-have
compelling content to drive usage and get broadband woven into the fabric
of everyday life.
Take for example our recent coverage of the Olympics.
The peak audience on TV was 12.5 million with over 10
million pressing the red button across all platforms to view our interactive
Online, 5.5 million people in the UK used the BBC web
service with nearly two million requests to view Olympic broadband streams,
and, of course, only a fifth of those with telly have broadband. The
demand is clearly there.
Similarly, you may remember the recent story of Red the dog in
Battersea who opened his own cage every night and freed his canine friends.
Immediately after the clip was featured on BBC ONE,
thousands of people returned to bbc.co.uk to see the footage again,
and forward it to friends.
It might not be high-brow but it's the kind of popular
on-demand media that opens the service up to new users and gets them
coming back for more.
Broadband potentially means a great future for the UK, but also runs
the risk of creating a digitally deprived underclass.
The BBC, working in partnership with the industry and
Government, can have a significant impact on creating 100% broadband
Britain with all the tangible benefits to society that this will entail.
So, the BBC's proposed role can be summarised as firstly collaborating
with any free-band or similar initiative, secondly using our airwaves
to kick off a major digital media literacy campaign next year, and thirdly
providing a rich mix of new content and existing television and radio
programmes, on-demand, to drive demand.
We'd welcome your thoughts. Thank you.