Saturday 21 Dec 2013
Check against delivery
I'm going to start today with some statements of the obvious. There will be nothing in the first few minutes that particularly surprises you as a declaration – and, I hope, equally little to disagree with. But by putting a few facts together I want to give an idea of the scale of challenge posed by London 2012 to our capital city, to this country and to the wider world. That emphatically includes anyone anywhere with an interest in technology. And then I'm going to talk about what the BBC is doing to respond to some of this challenge, and how we want to work in partnership to achieve success. But the BBC's aim is straightforward: to bring the whole nation together in 2012 in a way that combines the best of British values with all the opportunities of digital.
The first statement of the obvious is that 2012 is going to be a year like no other in the United Kingdom. It's not just about sport. It's also about the first Diamond Jubilee since 1897, which will be a truly extraordinary event culminating in a double Bank Holiday celebration in June – now less than 2 years away. There will be one of the biggest ever series of cultural events in Festival 2012 – a chance to showcase our arts and our creativity. Our news media will have one of their busiest periods as the preparations reach a climax and world leaders converge upon London; and for BBC News we'll be maximising our ability to operate globally, nationally and locally – on TV, on radio and online. And then on July 27 there will be the Opening Ceremony of the biggest event in the UK in our lifetimes – the Games of the 30th Olympiad.
The Olympic Games are now, alongside the World Cup which begins tomorrow, one of the two events that bring pretty much the whole world together. Many events claim erroneously to be watched by a billion people or more, but these two really are – and it's estimated that around 4 billion people, about three-quarters of the world's population, watched the Games in 2008 in Beijing.
So these are events that define their host cities and their times, as the Chinese showed two years ago – and as we remember Athens, Sydney, Atlanta, Barcelona and all the rest. Visiting Barcelona now you're conscious of its place in Olympic history, and anyone who watched those Games will have had images of modern Spain – and a confident Catalan culture – that still shape their thinking today. London shares that opportunity, with the extra factor of being a city that's home to diversity on a truly global scale.
But where the world has moved on is in the ability of technology to make all our experiences richer, more intense, more immediate and more personal. There will always be a battle for the title of "the first digital Games" but London has a powerful claim: these will be the first Games for many countries since analogue started being switched off, and they're happening at a time of surging demand for digital media and social networking. Again, it's a statement of the obvious – but digital delivery will be at record levels.
This again, then, will be a showcase – for better or worse – for Britain and for technology in general. There are glitches at all Games, but previously organisation was complex while broadcasting was relatively simple. Just bung out loads of sport on your main terrestrial channel, leaving the journalists to complain about the hotel rooms or the queues for accreditation. In London people will expect media whenever and wherever they want it in one of the most connected cities on the planet – and if the on-demand service doesn't work, it's there alongside the press buses getting lost as a sign of not being serious enough about delivery.
And the jury for this will be an intimidating one, especially for the pinnacle moments during the 17 days of sporting action. I remember in Beijing going along to one of the swimming finals to find that a few seats along in the crowd was the President of the United States with the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party and then a couple of rows behind was the another powerful man – and certainly a richer one: Bill Gates. So it's those guys plus a few billion more who will sit in judgement on London.
So let me turn in more detail now to the BBC and what we're doing to try to respond to this challenge. The Olympic Games are in their nature a multi-partner operation: there's the International Olympic Committee in tandem with the London organisers at LOCOG, with whom we're working closely. The pictures are broadcast to the world by the host broadcasters at OBS, again through a collaboration with people like ourselves; and after being crafted by our production teams BBC content is delivered to the UK thanks to co-operation with companies across the digital and creative industries. In a similar way, we're working with organisations across Britain and beyond to create some of the great cultural moments of the year and to build up what you might call "the national narrative" – the story we want to tell to the world throughout 2012.
That is how it should be, because we see ourselves not just as a content creator and a broadcaster but as enablers too. We know that our funding through the licence fee gives us a unique privilege, so we want every pound to work for our audiences and to support the wider creative sector. It's been estimated by PWC that the BBC adds £6.5billion to UK plc – nearly twice the value of the licence fee; and of that, fully £5billion is of benefit to the creative economy. We try to amplify that by our relationship with bodies trying to maximise the impact of 2012 across the world – for instance, with UKTI and with other bodies seeking inward investment like Think London.
So what we want to do in the highest profile showcase in 2012 is to support not just quality and range of output within this country and on our global services but to focus relentlessly on innovation. To take a phrase from the booklet for this conference, it's about extending the boundaries of human ability – not just on the field of play but in the arts and sciences, and certainly technology, too. We're not talking about one single amazing breakthrough, but progress on multiple fronts; and we recognise that mass consumer take-up is a lengthy process. That means for millions of people HD will be a major revelation of 2012 as it moves from a niche proposition in Beijing to the real mainstream for London. But we have much more we hope will be genuinely new.
Super High Vision is one example – that's offering 16 times the resolution of HD. The technology, developed by our colleagues at NHK in Japan, has already been trialled. Indeed, BBC Research and Development played a part in the first live broadcast in Super High Vision which took place at IBC in Amsterdam in 2007. The Super High Vision screen in your home is many years away. But BBC R&D will be carrying out tests this September with a view to showing SHV footage during the Games at one or two cinema-style locations.
We've also said we want to move forward with 3D. Again, there won't be a BBC 3D channel by 2012 – but we'd like to offer with partners more opportunities than before for audiences to see some Olympic content in 3D. That may be at a special viewing pavilion run by sponsors or at a big screen or in a cinema – or, at the very least, we can just make sure it's captured for the archive. It would be negligent not to have 3D images of the Stratford Stadium at full capacity. But this is again an area where we can support the rest of the industry: developing production expertise, as well as boosting audience interest in what could be a significant revenue stream for the commercial sector, including gaming platforms.
Next I want to talk about choice – and this is the area of one of our biggest pledges. We can sometimes forget how far we've come in a very short space of time, and in Sydney in the year 2000 there were 4,000 hours of host broadcast content available from those Games – of which we offered the British public a mere 300 hours. That was because we were limited to a couple of terrestrial TV channels. By the time of Athens we had one interactive/red button stream and were able to offer about a quarter of the host content; and it was only as recently as Beijing that we gave our audience the ability to be able to see over half of the sporting action – about 2,700 hours from the 5,000 produced. For London, our promise is simple: every hour of every sport will be available – which we calculate as being around 5,800 hours. So if you want to spend all day watching the water polo: you'll be able to. Equally, we'll offer the customary service on BBC One that takes viewers to all the key moments from different sports. The choice will be yours not ours. It's worth saying too, that this is about better value for money: consumers will get about 20 times the amount of content compared with ten years ago from a licence fee that is currently rising at less than the rate of inflation.
To do this, we'll need a suite of digital media services. The BBC's red button has served us well in recent years and it's still well received by audiences, but it's BBC Online that gives us the big opportunity to deliver even more choice. Most people today think of BBC Online as a service accessed via computers but the growth of web-enabled smartphones, and the emerging market for connected TV, means this will be accessed easily both on the move and from the comfort of your living room sofa. Then for places of work we're looking at how we can liaise with partners to see how multicasting will help offset some of the internet demand in the UK across the biggest events – which means allowing multiple users to get service from one IP connection. This will be particularly useful for easing the pressure on company networks.
There's a similar need to manage demand on mobile, which has grown at an incredible rate as people use data-rich services – whether that's streamed video or updating Facebook. Our initial aim was that this would be a Games where we would offer "unprecedented richness" of content for mobile. I've also spoken of the current frustration of even basic mobile at major events where you can't get a signal for a voice call or texts, and said that was something the UK should try to eradicate by the time of London 2012. We don't want to abandon the ambitions yet but it's clearly tougher than we thought because of the limits of the current mobile infrastructure, and it seems the networks will still struggle with the steepest spikes of demand. We're working with the mobile industry to address this, and there are obvious options to explore: for instance, how much 3G traffic can transfer to wifi. But as of today I wouldn't be confident of getting a signal for everything you might want to do with your mobile in the Olympic Park, and this is an area where we need the goodwill of all involved – and some bright ideas.
But where we are making strong progress is with our project Canvas. Subject to approval by the BBC Trust, Canvas is a partnership between the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Five, BT, Talk Talk and Arqiva to create a subscription-free, open-connected TV platform. The vision is to bring the power of web-connectivity to Freeview and Freesat; and we believe that connection with the internet is the future of television.
When you add this all together, what I believe we're doing is two things which sound contradictory – but actually fit together extremely well. Through the events of 2012 we will offer our audiences unprecedented choice and personalisation: they will be able to customise what they see and hear in a way that would have been unthinkable less than a decade ago. But we will also be bringing the UK together to share these massive national moments, so there will be tens of millions together for the Opening Ceremony of the Olympics or the 100 metres final or watching the Diamond Jubilee – and the opportunities of how, where and when to enjoy the output will form part of a common experience.
This is exciting because it suggests the gloomier predictions about the digital age are wrong. There are still things that can unite, and audiences are not destined to fragment in a multitude of different ways. The BBC can provide the national meeting place; and seizing the potential of digital allows us to bring together people from the beaches of Bournemouth to the headlands of Orkney – enabling them to watch and communicate and share and feel part of the same experience. We can also take Britain to the world on our global services and provide the platforms that celebrate the world coming here.
There's a lot to do to make this happen. It's only just over 18 months to the New Year's Eve fireworks that will usher in 2012, and as of today there are 778 days to go before the Olympic Opening Ceremony. But amid all the complexity, what we're trying to do should be quite simple: stage a set of wonderful events, captured for the largest number of people. At the BBC we're delighted to be at the heart of that, and the pleasure will be greatest if it's shared by as close as possible to 100% of the UK population. It's what you might call a stretching target – but we're determined to do just that.