The future role of the BBC as a broadcaster on the web
given at a Royal Television Society
Check against delivery
A couple of months ago, at a management retreat with
my BBC colleagues, I was demonstrating the Any Questions Answered – AQA
- text service, where, for a pound, you get a single answer to,
surprise surprise, any question.
A nameless board member suggested I ask AQA: "How
should the BBC be structured?"
I did, and, after a long pause, got
the text back, "There are many views on this. The BBC needs a flatter
structure with fewer managers. It's not clear the move to Manchester
will save money." An
even longer pause ensued in the room.
So now the secret is out about how we do strategic planning at the BBC, I thought I'd ask AQA why the BBC is on the internet? The answer in just a minute...
The official purposes were laid down by the Secretary of State for Culture, Media & Sport in 1998, and ratified after the Graf review of bbc.co.uk in 2004. They are:
To share BBC television & radio's wider public purpose as the BBC's 'third
- To act as an essential resource offering wide-ranging,
- To use the internet to forge a new relationship with
licence fee payers & strengthen accountability, and
- To provide a home for licence fee payers on the internet
and act as a trusted guide to the new media environment
It's worth saying that the Graf review also concluded that it "could neither
be proved nor disproved" that the BBC's online activities have adversely affected
the UK internet market, and research done at the time, by MORI, suggested that
the BBC may have brought as many as 2 million people online for the first time.
Since then we have striven to provide services that
might help to narrow still further the digital divide - our web
initiative 'The People's War' inspired older
viewers to tell their wartime experiences for example - and it resulted
in over 125,000 contributions, with over 91% of the stories contributed
by people over 65, and brought tens of thousands of them to the web
for the first time.
And it is of course to our audience that we must listen first and foremost to
understand if we provide them with a valued service.
Human Capital asked
recently what the BBC's services are worth to the average person, and
the current bbc.co.uk service came out third after BBC ONE and TWO,
with a value of £3.40
per person per month, not far short of ten times more than the 38p it
actually costs the 16 million UK licence fee payers who regularly
use BBC online.
However, whilst helping the commercial online sector cannot take precedence over our primary mission to inform, entertain, and educate our audience over I.P. as much as television and radio, I've always recognised the significant role the BBC can play here.
I welcomed Graf's recommendation that we should implement
a more systematic and comprehensive approach to linking from bbc.co.uk
to external sites for example.
The power of taking audiences from
a programme on BBC ONE to a site on bbc.co.uk and then out
into cyberspace is huge – but I think we could go so much further.
And we are trying: 9.5m users in March used BBC content syndicated
to third party sites such as AOL and MSN; 23% of those users did
not visit bbc.co.uk at all in March.
So far from being a 800 pound gorilla crushing the green shoots of plucky cyber-sowers,
I believe we have the potential to have a significant and positive market
And AQA agrees! It texted me back that "The BBC website
is an excellent resource. The Worldwide Web, developed by Tim Berners-Lee
at CERN in Geneva in the 1990s, has room for everyone". Incidentally,
I had to check the 1990s date - I couldn't believe it was that recent,
but Berners-Lee created the first directory of web sites only as
recently as August 6 1991: we've not even had the 15th anniversary
of the web yet.
But can we really deliver a genuine win-win-win for audiences, the BBC, and the commercial sector? And if so, how?
Firstly, we at the BBC must recognise that the internet is changing. It is becoming more translucent and porous – less silo'd. It's becoming less centrally controlled – if it ever was.
Peer to peer and other technologies are shifting the
power from the centre to the nodes at the edge of the network:
you and me. This is a tough culture shift for an organisation used
the certainties of the broadcast world.
Used to the idea of almost
total control over what and how you watch, listen and consume,
we must now learn to "loosen up and let go" as the Buddhist lama
Surya Das puts it.
I still believe our audiences value bbc.co.uk as a portal, as a safe haven for many, which offers a starting point and a trusted guide.
And, by bringing audiences home to bbc.co.uk we will
be able, using social software and advanced Customer Relationship
Management (CRM) systems, to learn so much more about their likes
and dislikes, and build far more valuable, personalised experiences
around what we know they'll like, and often giving them what they
didn't even know they'd like.
But we also believe our audience want much more as well. To find our content where they want it, whether within their favourite portal like MSN, their community like YouTube, or their environment like the Second Life virtual world website.
They want to contribute their content – this we know – but
not necessarily always on our site, so we absolutely don't want to
become a MySpace or a Flickr or a Friends Reunited, we want to work
with these players, to partner our relevant offerings with theirs.
In short we want to shift from being a gateway, to being a conduit, a channel for conveying content, and frequently neither the start nor the end of the journey.
In this much more fluid world though, the imprimatur of the BBC, the stamp of
independent, trusted, innovative, quality content, will have ever more, not
So the key challenges facing the BBC as a broadcaster on the web in the next
three years are actually quite straightforward - we must maintain the traditional
values of what we offer - independence, trust, innovation, and quality,
whilst changing how we offer our content and services so that we remain relevant
in the on-demand, digital age.
I believe that how we deliver our programmes, the context, will be every bit as important as the content. Success in the web 2.0 world for all of us will come down to 'discoverability'.
Great technology will take us part of the way - for
example using powerful search algorithms to query our information
about programmes, our metadata, and unearth clips of Churchill
from our Archive using text, voice, face, or other pattern recognition.
Harnessing the 'wisdom of crowds' or social software, from buddy list recommendations to 'most downloaded', will take us further.
But to give our audiences not just what they want, but what they didn't know they wanted, what will surprise and delight them, often without the distractions of a thousand alternatives, well that will require the web to adopt the skills of the broadcast industry of the last 80 years.
Skills such as scheduling programmes in the knowledge
of which audiences will be tuning in, packaging programming in a
way that enables the smooth transition of audiences from one programme
to the next, promotion and marketing skills, and of course commissioning
of great ideas that capture the national mood and deliver reach beyond
Fundamentally, establishing a clear editorial voice that is flexible and intuitive to meet the needs of the on-demand world. And right now on-line, especially where rich media is concerned, this combination of technology, audience behaviour, and editorial skills is all too rare.
So we've got our work cut out. The Martini media world of anytime, anyplace, anyway, requires that we must radically reinvent bbc.co.uk.
Firstly making sure our content always matches our
values, and the high expectations of our users, applying the same
discipline that spectrum scarcity forces TV and radio to enforce.
Put another way we must learn better what 'de-commissioning' means
in the web space. And secondly, making sure our content can be
found, played-out, and shared and contributed to.
Find. Play. Share.
These are the three closely connected parts of the supply chain or conduit that will see our content reach and hopefully delight & engage the largest possible audiences.
Find is all
about producing next generation search & navigation
services. Play starts with our plans for BBC iPlayer,
which is subject to a Public Value Test, and builds on the success
of the BBC's RadioPlayer. And Share is at the heart of bbc.co.uk
2.0: personalisation, contribution, recommendation, and innovation.
The journey to reinventing 'Find' has begun. We have launched the BBC's programme
catalogue going back 80 years as an experimental prototype:
[Video: programme catalogue]
And this catalogue merely represents the BBC's knowledge about our programmes:
how much richer and more powerful when we open this catalogue up to our audience
to contribute to - to tell us the exact crew of the 1955 boat-race – and
We've also re-launched of the BBC's website search engine and internet search engine:
But this is just the start. It still has nothing like the editorial strength we're aiming for, and still barely harnesses the wisdom of crowds. Working with our partners, within a year, we aim to offer one of the world's most comprehensive video, audio and text editorialised search services.
With Play we have a clear proposition in BBC iPlayer, which
is subject to a Public Value Test. It is proposed to incorporate a 7-day catch-up
radio and television service, live streaming of our television channels, and
separately a pilot of the Open Archive.
iPlayer builds on the findings from the iMP trial which
showed programmes downloaded via iMP accounted for 6% of triallists' total
viewing from the BBC.
It showed that the 'long tail' applies equally to
TV programmes as it does to books. Some 96% of all programmes
offered were downloaded.
It showed that some programmes, released
from users' pre-conceptions of channel brands, could find a new
audience in the on-demand world, and it showed this service was of
equal appeal to men and women.
iMP has recently be renamed iPlayer. Working with
Microsoft, we've developed what a future generation iPlayer might
[Video: iMP Vista]
Share - a philosophy which is at the heart of bbc.co.uk 2.0,
it comprises not only innovative, interactive new formats which you may have
seen or heard about like Jamie Kane, Action Network, and Wannabes.
It also has
at its heart themed, editorialised User-generated content, building on legacy
which goes back five years to H2G2 and has continued more recently with Film
Network and Comedy Soup. Last week we were delighted that one of most significant
User Generated Content pilots, the Open Earth Archive, won a Bafta.
[Video: Creative Archive]
Earlier this month, we launched an Open Schools Archive. Tomorrow, we pilot Local Archives in Devon & Cornwall, and in Lincolnshire & Humberside.
But Share is also about this idea of being more a conduit
than a gateway, of trying to get out of the way, of moving from
the centre to the edges.
For example, last autumn we ran The Children
in Need Great Big Bid which pushed people through to Ebay to
buy and sell items for Children in Need and raised £1m.
last weekend, Radio 1's year-long partnership with Second Life
really came to life with a simulcast of the One Big Sunday
Dundee festival within the virtual world at SecondLife.com.
[Run VT5: R1/Second Life]
And, rather than getting the photos that the audience had taken of the bands
submitted to our web site, we partnered with Flickr instead.
[Run VT6: BBC/Flickr]
And coming up soon our BBC Action Network website will be teaming up with the RSA, Starbucks and T-Mobile as a partner in the RSA Coffeehouse Challenge.
The ultimate aspiration is to bring all of these new initiatives together into a comprehensive re-think of what the BBC's public service offering on the web should look like.
An offering which allows users to create their own
personalised version of bbc.co.uk and to share it with others.
Not through expansionism but partnership – partnership
with commercial companies and with our audience, achieving a balance
between the need for some central control and coordination, and 'letting
go'. Please feel free to help us!