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Archives for June 2012

Caroline Thomson: Profit will never be put before programme integrity

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Caroline Thomson Caroline Thomson | 09:45 UK time, Friday, 29 June 2012

There have been some stories in the papers in the last few days that have suggested that the BBC is embarking on a new strategy in which we are asking programme makers to 'commercialise' some of our news and current affairs programming with a view to making money.

It has been said that staff are being asked to exploit commercial opportunities at the expense of focussing on the programmes themselves. Questions are being raised about whether profit is being put before programme integrity. Surely, the critics say, that's not what the BBC and its staff are there to do? The answer to this is of course an emphatic no.

The BBC exists, as it always has, to make programmes that audiences love - "to inform, educate, entertain and make a profit" is certainly not the new mantra for all our programme makers.

But it has long been the case in UK public service programme making that we have benefited from revenue generated by the commercial sale of CDs, DVDs, books and other activity linked to programmes which have helped to supplement programme budgets.

The History Of The World in 100 Objects books and CBeebies Live events are just two examples of activity that have delivered profits to the BBC that have in turn gone back into programme budgets. These are the kinds of ideas we look for - ideas that complement not compromise or change the shape of our programmes.

BBC News, whether it's domestic TV, radio or online, is of course funded by the Licence Fee and is not subject to any commercial pressures. It's a different story with BBC World News, the live TV news channel broadcast outside the UK, which is a commercial operation funded through advertising and distribution deals. And it is in this commercial area that we can always use as many good ideas as possible to help generate additional income that can be invested back into the network.

It is also worth saying that any ideas we do come up with have to undergo the intense scrutiny of our editorial guidelines and the sharp eye of the BBC Trust whose role in part is to ensure that the BBC is not compromising its position in any way. Editorial integrity remains, as it always has, the unassailable core of what we do and we undermine that at our peril.

I am also happy to reassure NUJ General Secretary Michelle Stanistreet that we would never consider introducing profit targets for programme makers across the BBC. So yes we will always seek to find appropriate ways in which we can raise commercial revenue that will support licence fee funding for our programmes but never at the expense of the core programme values. And so I am afraid we are unlikely to be seeing a range of Paxman dolls anytime soon.

Caroline Thomson is Chief Operating Officer

What the BBC spends on television content - a response to today's Ofcom report

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John Tate John Tate | 09:34 UK time, Thursday, 28 June 2012

Ofcom published its 2012 PSB report today and I'm pleased that, once again, it shows audiences continue to rate the BBC very highly for quality - with BBC One and BBC Two by far the highest-rated, and BBC Three and Four comparable with ITV1 and Channel 4.

I'm disappointed though that Ofcom has chosen to lay such emphasis on an apparent downturn in BBC content spend - when the true situation is quite different to the one Ofcom sets out and indeed perfectly explicable. And I apologise in advance should this posting sound like an edition of the number crunching programme More or Less - but I think it's important to lay out the facts. Ofcom's report suggests that BBC spend on new network TV programming fell by 11% in real terms between 2010 and 2011, from £1.4bn to £1.25bn. However, this figure excludes all of the BBC's programming for audiences in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the English regions. Even on Ofcom's definition, there are a number of structural reasons for the apparent fall. Unlike 2010, 2011 was a year without major biennial sports events so spend on sport was down - by around £85m. Much of that money has been held over to 2012 to cover the Diamond Jubilee, Euro 2012, the Cultural Olympiad and the Olympics. I therefore expect the increase in 2012 to make up the fall in 2011. Another reason for the apparent fall is that Ofcom's figures are adjusted by the level of inflation in 2011. This was a year when inflation was at an exceptional level of over 5% (and when the BBC received no inflationary increase in the licence fee). The effect of this is to make spend in previous years effectively higher and the fall from 2010 to 2011 the greater; a difference of around £70m. Ofcom's report also says that the BBC spends 56% of its 'TV income' on 'first-run originated content'. However, Ofcom's figure leaves out a number of costs which are essential to the making and broadcasting of programmes and channels, including copyright payments to musicians (e.g. for using background music); programme development costs (such as developing new formats or commissioning pilots and scripts); programme commissioning; channel scheduling; repeat fees; and various other items. It also excludes other new TV content such as programmes from overseas and content made for the Red Button service. To make a crude analogy, it is as if one looked at the cost of a music festival only in terms of the amount paid to the musicians. The total 'TV income' baseline that Ofcom's figure is measured against also contains some costs that the BBC cannot realistically spend on television in any case, such as the BBC orchestras; the costs of generating third-party income; and the cost of collecting the licence fee. It also includes one-offs like restructuring costs which are not recurring spend and as such vary a lot from year to year. When you recalculate taking these factors into account you get a far fairer reflection of the underlying situation, with the percentage of BBC television income spent on television content standing at around 75%. There is undoubtedly strong pressure on the BBC to spend on non-content items. And so it should. An example of this is the Government's 2007 'digital objective' or 'sixth purpose' for the BBC to promote digital communications. In practice this has meant building out the digital terrestrial TV network to the whole country in one of the largest broadcast engineering projects ever undertaken in the UK; investing in digital radio; as well as building digital production centres in Salford, Glasgow, Cardiff and London. To give just one example of the investment needed to make the digital transition: the costs of transmitting the BBC's services have risen from £142m in 2002/3 to £208m today, a rise of nearly 50%. This rise is not unexpected, given the many new ways we have to make our programmes and services available to audiences nowadays. But it inevitably reduces the amount that the BBC can spend directly on content as a percentage of total income. These transition costs will, however, subside, and a greater percentage of our budget flow back into direct content creation on TV, radio and online. This is not some idle promise - it is the very basis of the BBC's strategy: Delivering Quality First.

John Tate is Group Director, Strategic Operations

The Exhibitionists: A collaboration between BBC Cymru Wales and The National Museum in Cardiff

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Eloise McNaulty | 13:45 UK time, Wednesday, 27 June 2012

In a new four-part TV series of BBC Two Wales, members of the public gain access to the National Museum of Wales and set about curating their own art exhibition for the very first time.

In a special post for the About the BBC Blog, Commissioning Executive, BBC Wales, Phillip Moss throws light on how The Exhibitionists came about.

The National Museum in Cardiff's civic centre couldn't look much more like a museum if it tried. It's a solid, be-columned Portland stone structure that says everything about Cardiff's coal wealth at the beginning of the 20th century and the wish of the city fathers to have institutions and buildings to match anything you could find in other capitals around the world.

Although Cardiff itself would have to wait until 1955 to actually become a capital, the museum wasn't going to hang around and it's been home to world-class collections of natural history, geology and fine and applied art since 1927. 'Imposing' is a word I'd use to describe the building and it was the word firmly in my mind as I was guided round the base of the inevitable dome that looms high above the museum's entrance hall.

I was on my way to discuss The Exhibitionists, a tv series which we hoped would give us access to the museum's treasure trove of artworks and ceramics stored in its underground vaults. With me was independent producer Ffion Jon Williams, who a few weeks earlier had pitched us the idea of a series featuring members of the public competing for the chance to curate a real exhibition.

The exhibition would be open to the general public in the museum's new Gallery 24. As we circumnavigated our way to the meeting held in one of several rooms that radiate off the dome, we walked past forbiddingly closed oak doors with signs above them saying things like 'Assistant Director' and 'Head Curator'. There's very much a feel of the old Broadcasting House up here - a feeling only reinforced as you walk past a door marked 'Director General'.

And so we found ourselves in the wood-panelled Court Room, with an array of long-dead gentleman looking down on us disapprovingly from paintings around the walls, face to face with the museum's current Director General, the charismatic David Anderson. The meeting started off a little tentatively, and by ten minutes in we were not making much headway.

We wanted to bring a reality format to a programme about art, with our 'Exhibitionists' being whittled down each week in a way that would be very familiar to viewers of Masterchef or The Apprentice. The trouble was, David was not at all keen on playing Lord Sugar.

Up until the meeting, the museum had been making all the right noises, but David would ultimately decide and at this point I wouldn't have bet one of the museum's Monets on the deal going through at all. After Ffion had explained about how the programme might work - including the museum opening up their entire collection to our five members of the public - things were looking cautiously positive, but no more.

Then it was my turn. Despite the rather intimidating circumstances, I found it a surprisingly easy little speech to make. I said how important we think it is for the BBC to be partnering with other public institutions, and how this programme was a perfect fit for both organisations.

After all what could be more public service than allowing the public to find out more about the art which we all own, and bringing the fabulous art in the national collection to a new audience?

Luckily David Anderson is not stiff like the oak panelling, nor crusty like the old gentlemen looking down on us, and I think I must have said the right thing as he then enthusiastically launched into his own speech about how this was entirely what he wanted to do - open up the museum, make it less intimidating and get new people though its doors.

And so the doors were opened to us too. Pretty much everything we asked for he gave, and the museum and its staff couldn't have embraced this idea more fully.

We think this might be the first time that a UK museum has allowed members of the public to put on their own exhibition, and in keeping with David's inclusive, non-Lord Sugar style, it's visitors to the museum who will decide who is the eventual winner.

So, after 14 years in the BBC, a Director-General finally said yes to me.

Phillip Moss is a Commissioning Executive at BBC Cymru Wales

The Exhibitionists, produced by Cwmni Da for BBC Cymru Wales, starts on Wednesday June 27 at 10pm on BBC Two Wales.

See the paintings chosen for the first episode of The Exhibitionists.Your Paintings is a joint initiative between the BBC, the Public Catalogue Foundation (a registered charity) and participating collections and museums from across the UK.

David Anderson, director general at the museum, blogs about the exciting collaboration between the National Museum Cardiff and BBC Cymru Wales.

Watch an exclusive clip from The Exhibitionists below.

Uniting communities and the nation throughout the summer

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Peter Salmon Peter Salmon | 16:58 UK time, Monday, 25 June 2012

At the weekend Manchester, Salford and Trafford became part of Olympic history when they hosted the Olympic Flame on its way to its final destination in East London.

In recent weeks it has travelled through the North East - Alnwick, Newcastle, Gateshead, Durham, Middlesbrough, Hull, York and Carlisle - before returning to the North West through Dumfries, Bowness-on-Windermere, Kendal, Blackpool and Lytham St Anne's and coming to a temporary rest in Manchester's Albert Square on Saturday.

Early on Sunday morning it arrived in Salford. Olympic hopeful Shanaze Reade, professional BMX racer and track cyclist was one of the people who had the honour of seeing the Torch safely from Salford to Trafford in front of more than 2,000 local people.

In every town and city that the Torch has passed through, the event has brought communities together to celebrate a unique moment of history with a sense of both local and national pride.

Salford was no different. Alongside members of the British Olympic Team like Shanaze, local people have also had the opportunity to carry the torch and - rain or shine - friends, family and the public in general came out to cheer them on.

Shanaze was also joined by Manchester-born teenager Kirsty Howard, whose personal story and incredible fundraising efforts have had a big impact on many people's lives, ever since her appearance at the 2002 Manchester Commonwealth Games. And it was great to have Sir Bobby Charlton and Kirsty Howard live on BBC Breakfast on the day as well.

It is moments like this that make each and every moment of the Torch relay inspirational and memorable. And across this region and the entire UK, BBC local news has been on the ground bringing the Relay into peoples' homes.

Encouraging and celebrating this sense of community is at the heart of what we are doing from our home at MediaCityUK, across the entire North of England.

This weekend for example, BBC Outreach held a series of events here at MediaCityUK including a two-day showcase celebrating the end of the Salford Gardens Festival. Inspired by the fact that Frances Hodgeson Burnett, author of the classic children's novel The Secret Garden lived in Salford as a child, the Festival is a partnership between a number of organizations including the BBC as well as local community groups and Salford City Council.

The Outreach team also worked with local primary schools to create four short films around the theme of "secret places". These were screened to pupils and local residents here on the site alongside "Shelagh Delaney's Salford" by director Ken Russell which featured the famous Broughton-born playwright talking about her hometown.

And over the summer we will continue to go out into communities here in Greater Manchester and across the region. Here on the piazza at MediaCityUK for example, we are finalising plans for free events around Wimbledon, London 2012 and BBC Children's that I hope will bring thousands of people to the site.

Later this autumn BBC Radio 5 live will be out on the road with OctoberFest and BBC Philharmonic Presents will return with a series of concerts. Keep an eye on the BBC North website for details on all these events coming soon.

While the Olympic Torch may have left our backyard en route for Leeds and Grimsby next week, BBC North has an important role to play in delivering the Corporation's Olympic coverage. The state-of-the-art digital technology housed in our new buildings will ensure that the audience doesn't miss one moment of the Olympics that the BBC will cover on 26 television channels, 3 radio stations or online.The fact that our Salford-based BBC Sport online site has just amassed its biggest ever weekly reach figure - 15.4m UK browsers - speaks volumes for licence fee payers' growing enjoyment of this massive 2012 summer of sport.

In fact if you've ever wondered whether sport still has the power to unite the nation, the twenty-three million people who watched on Sunday evening for the European Championships is even more proof. As England once again succumbed to penalties, it tells you everything you need to know about why the BBC needs to stay in major sporting events.

So with an eye on the rest of this summer, the breadth of coverage on offer will be truly Olympian in its own right. Like the Torch Relay itself it will hopefully unite communities and the nation together this summer and BBC North will enjoy being at the heart of it.

Aung San Suu Kyi visits BBC Broadcasting House

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Jon Jacob Jon Jacob | 13:39 UK time, Thursday, 21 June 2012

Aung San Suu Kyi meets Dave Lee Travis

Burmese politician and human rights advocate Aung San Suu Kyi visited BBC Broadcasting House in London on Tuesday 19 June 2012. During her visit she met former radio presenter Dave Lee-Travis who she had listened to on the BBC World Service when she was under house arrest. A slideshow of pictures taken during her visit is available on Flickr.

Dave Lee-Travis spoke to BBC Radio Ulster Talkback presenter Wendy Austin about his experience.

Aung San Suu Kyi also spoke to composer Jonathan Dove during her visit. Some of their conversation was broadcast on BBC Radio 3's In Tune.

Re-designed BBC College of Journalism website launches

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Jonathan Baker Jonathan Baker | 09:30 UK time, Wednesday, 20 June 2012

No other media organisation has anything quite like the BBC College of Journalism website. Online training aids are common, of course. But for its sheer ambition, scope and authority, the College site is in a league of its own.

That's why newsrooms and journalism schools around the world pay a subscription for access to the site. And why it's also widely used by the media and by media schools throughout the UK, where access is free.

The attraction for these external users is that the materials they are able to tap into are exactly those that the BBC provides for its own staff. Everyone knows the worldwide power of the BBC brand in general, and the reputation of BBC news in particular.

So a site that embodies those key BBC values of accuracy, trust, impartiality and quality, and explains how they can be practically applied on a day-to-day basis, is a highly attractive proposition.

In essence though, the site was conceived and created by BBC journalists, for BBC journalists. And that has remained the cornerstone of our approach in the re-design, which is now coming to fruition after many months of work.

The core BBC values and the core craft skills - be they in television, radio or online - are still at the heart of what the College website offers. Much of this material's strength is that it is presented by the BBC's best, and best-known, practitioners - people such as Huw Edwards, Allan Little and David Shukman.

But the ambition of the original site, launched six years ago now, went far beyond that - and with our new identity we are carrying those aspirations further still. As well as giving invaluable help with the fundamentals of broadcast journalism, the site also aims to be highly relevant and topical - through a whole range of aids to BBC journalists covering current stories, and through blogs and the posting of extracts from live College events.

This is an area in which we hope to make a step change with the new site. The new design is vibrant and welcoming, and we want the content to reflect that by being dynamic and in touch with the big stories and issues of the day.

The new site (pictured above) also supports our effort to create stronger links between online learning and the other training offered by the College of Journalism. On its own, the site is a tremendous resource for BBC staff, in News and in many other areas of programme-making. Increasingly, we are also using it as a place for people about to attend face-to-face training - which still constitutes the bulk of what we do - to prepare for that training, and then follow up afterwards.

And for the first time we have a direct link from the site to Academy Coursefinder, the system by which BBC staff actually register for face-to-face training courses.

There are other aspects to this more integrated approach. The College of Journalism website broke new ground when it was created. The College of Production now has a site as well, and so does the Academy itself.

From the point of view of the user, from inside the BBC or outside, distinctions between Colleges mean little. They just want to get to the content that is of most use and interest to them as quickly as they can. So it's important that the various Academy sites work together in a seamless way, in order to make sure that people find what they want, and quickly. The crisp and clear layout of the new College of Journalism site, with simpler navigation and intuitive systems, should contribute a great deal to that effort.

Our hope is that the new website will be just as popular and useful outside the BBC as its predecessor, and will attract plenty more subscriptions. But more importantly, it has a big role to play in spreading our unrivalled experience and expertise across the whole of the BBC's journalism - not just in news programmes but across the whole range of the BBC's programme-making.

To return to where we started, this is a unique resource; it would be a terrible waste if the largest possible number of people within the BBC didn't take full advantage of it. The new-look site is designed to encourage them to do just that.

Jonathan Baker is the Head of the BBC College of Journalism

Read an interview with the College of Journalism website editor on the BBC Academy website.

Controller, Ben Cooper, blogs about the Radio 1 Hackney Weekend

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Ben Cooper | 10:37 UK time, Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Rihanna will be singing at the Radio 1 Hackney Weekend

2012 is a special year for the UK with London playing host to the Olympic Games. Here at Radio 1 and 1Xtra we wanted to make sure that we marked this in a fitting way, and in one that would give young people from London and beyond, who might not necessarily be engaged with the games, a chance to celebrate as part of Festival 2012.

The result is that in less than a week Radio 1 will embark on the most ambitious event in its 44-year history, as we put on one of the biggest gigs of the year with Radio 1's Hackney Weekend - a free two day music festival for 100,000 people, headlined by Jay-Z and Rihanna.

Hackney is the perfect fit for us - an Olympic borough with a vibrant music scene and a large young population, many of whom can often be overlooked and disengaged, so exactly the people that we wanted to reach and inspire. I don't think any commercial operator would consider basing themselves in Hackney after the images of social unrest we saw last year and the problems with gangs the area has witnessed. But what could scare others off makes Radio 1 and 1Xtra want to get involved and hopefully encourage others to follow.

The Hackney Weekend will give young people from this corner of East London and beyond, many of whom might otherwise not be able to afford to go to a music festival, a chance to enjoy over 100 UK and international artists and DJs across 6 stages. As well as Swedish House Mafia and Kasabian the performers includes the likes of Jessie J, Jack White, Nas, Wretch 32 and many more - all brought to you by the BBC.

Putting on a show like this is something you don't do alone. From the support of the Metropolitan Police, to the help of the local council on issues such as transport, to our great relationship with the UK music industry to secure all the artists, this is about partnership. All with one aim - to give young people the chance to celebrate in the shadow of the Olympic Park.

We have been working closely with the police and have put security measures in place to make sure the weekend can be enjoyed by everyone there. We've not only taken over the traditional Glastonbury weekend while it takes a year off, but we've also borrowed it's security fence to make sure no one can get into the site without a ticket. And all tickets will have photo ID on them to make sure they cannot be transferred or sold on.

But it isn't all just about the music and mud of a weekend festival. That's a part of what Radio 1 is about, but so too is tackling issues which matter to young people across the country. 2012 will be about athletes realising their dreams of gold, silver or bronze - what we wanted to do was give teenagers a chance to realise their dreams of an exciting job. With close to one million 16-24 year olds not in employment, education or training this is a big issue which we face. It's something we know our young listeners are worried about and something that's particularly pertinent to Hackney. That's why since the 1st June for three weeks we've been running our biggest ever social action programme - the Radio 1 and 1Xtra Academy in partnership with BBC Learning and a host of local London organisations.

The Academy offers young people from Hackney and beyond the chance to gain practical skills, experience and advice in a range of careers including media, business, fashion, film and music. We've had some amazing people through the doors, including Usher, Leona Lewis, Plan B, Labrinth, Noel Clarke, Dizzee Rascal, Levi Roots, Lethal B and Ashley Walters, to speak to young people about how they got started and to offer them advice. And for teenagers across the country videos, tips and advice from the Academy have been posted online for them to access.

So far I've been impressed with the way that the young people attending the Academy have been soaking up the opportunities offered to them and taking charge of their futures. We're proud to be reflecting this positive side of Hackney's younger generation to the rest of the UK.

It's this work along with Radio 1 and 1Xtra's creative ambition that makes both stations stand out from the crowd. I like to think of the stations as being the unofficial party political broadcaster of young UK, giving a voice to young people across the country. Hackney is doing just that - political because we are talking about one of the biggest issues facing them at the moment with youth unemployment and party because the 23 and 24 June is going to be one hell of a show. I hope you can join us.

Ben Cooper is the Controller for Radio 1 and Radio 1Xtra

Discover more about the Radio 1's Hackney Weekend.

Read Interactive Editor (Music Events) Sam Bailey's post about how the Hackney Weekend will be made available online.

Ben Cooper and Saul Nassé introduce Radio 1 & 1Xtra's Hackney Academy

Review of the BBC's Performing Groups

Tim Davie Tim Davie | 13:46 UK time, Monday, 18 June 2012

Last year, as part of the BBC's Delivering Quality First (DQF) strategy, I asked John Myerscough to conduct an independent, external evaluation of the BBC's six 'performing groups': the BBC Concert Orchestra, BBC National Orchestra of Wales, BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, BBC Singers and BBC Symphony Orchestra.

John, a respected professional with many years' experience in the classical music world, was asked to assess the potential for savings to contribute to the BBC's financial challenge, following the most recent Licence Fee settlement. He was given unrestricted access to the groups and invited to scrutinise funding arrangements and operations, and compare them to the wider orchestral sector.

Today we are publishing John Myerscough's report and outlining our savings plan for the performing groups, which draws from the report's findings but is also informed by a range of internal and external viewpoints.

John's report recognises that the groups are a core part of the BBC's public service remit and that each one plays a unique role in British cultural life, delivering high-quality performances of distinctive repertoire and supporting education and outreach projects. It also shows that they have increased their impact and performance in recent years and have already achieved levels of efficiency that compare favourably with other orchestras. Finally, it acknowledges that any savings plan must preserve the groups' quality and distinctiveness, and minimise the impact on audiences. This follows the principles of all the DQF savings plans, which have aimed to protect 'content' spend as far as possible.

We considered the option of closing one of the groups, but concluded that this could not be achieved without significant loss of value to audiences, which would be at odds with our DQF strategy. In John's words, this approach "would be inconsistent with the Corporation's editorial needs." We are, therefore, not proposing the closure of a performing group.

However, we have identified a plan which delivers substantial savings by renewing the 'creative vision' for the Performing Groups. In clarifying the unique role and purpose of each group and reshaping their operations accordingly, we agree with John's analysis that we can "achieve greater effectiveness, fit and flexibility" and achieve considerable savings while "fostering quality and distinctiveness".

More specifically, this approach reduces costs by: modifying the number of contracted staff in each group to match more closely their output; introducing some session-based contracts to achieve simpler operation and more flexibility; modernising some work practices to encourage flexibility and value for money; and lowering administration costs further by sharing functions, especially among the three London groups and the Proms. Limited increase in box office revenue, while ensuring we retain distinctiveness, also contributes to the plan.

In adopting this strategy, we believe we can achieve savings of up to 10% of the groups' total budget and have identified potential savings of at least £2.1 million per annum by 2016/17. As the report says, a savings plan of this nature "should be achievable but it will not be easy". Further, it is clear that if we were to attempt another round of cost-cutting at this level, we would have to close one of the groups.

This will be a challenging period for everyone associated with the performing groups and the discussions about how best to apply the changes will continue with staff and unions. However, I hope that we now have a clear sense of how the groups can contribute to the BBC's financial challenge while protecting their quality and preserving each one's unique role in British cultural life.

You can read the report here.

Tim Davie is the Director of BBC Audio & Music

The Biggest of Big Weekends

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Sam Bailey Sam Bailey | 12:13 UK time, Friday, 15 June 2012

On 23rd and 24th June, Radio 1 will be presenting its biggest ever live music event: Radio 1's Hackney Weekend 2012. It's an extension of the station's annual Big Weekend festival, which lands in a different town every year, bringing the world's biggest music stars with it. As we all realise by now, 2012 is a pretty special year, so the Weekend is Bigger than ever and is landing in East London, in the shadow of the Olympic Stadium. It will be twice the size of a normal Big Weekend (which is already pretty big) and will see 100 acts perform on five stages to a 100,000 strong crowd.

Both Radio 1 and Radio 1Xtra will be broadcasting live from the event all weekend. BBC Three will be there live from 7pm on Saturday and Sunday, and you can press the red button on any digital TV channel all weekend to watch highlights of live music. My team look after the coverage online.

Since the event's earliest beginnings, the online coverage of this festival has been extensive, and every year we've tried to go one better, to get the rest of the UK population as close to being there as we can. This year is no exception, so I thought it would be worth outlining a few of the things we've got planned for this biggest of big weekends.

At the core of our offer is full coverage of every single artist performing on the bill. Since 2008 we've streamed live from Big Weekend, initially with some tentative webcams, but eventually with the full stream provided by our colleagues in TV. We present that using a multi-stream console, so you can zip around the stages at your leisure, picking and choosing from the bill to create your own festival from the comfort of your laptop. And in 2012, I'm pleased to say it won't just be from your laptop; we're going to be streaming on mobile for the first time. Users with iPhones or Androids will be able to watch along, wherever they are.

Once a band is off stage, our team of editors will work to clip their full set up and make it available on-demand for 30 days after the festival. So, if you miss Tinie Tempah because you're watching Gyptian, or need to catch Trey Songz because you were busy with Ed Sheeran, it'll all be there. Our Broadcasting House team (probably 20-strong at its peak, and drawn from across the BBC), usually fuelled by sweets and canteen sandwiches, will work throughout the night, to get that content up as quickly as possible. And yes, this year the on-demand content will all work on your mobile as well.

We're already busy at work in Hackney, working on content from the Radio 1 and 1Xtra Academy, a programme of practical workshops and Q&As based at the Hackney Picturehouse. The sessions in the Academy are providing up to 10,000 young East Londoners the chance to learn new skills and experiences, and our aim online is to bring that inspiration and practical advice to young people across the rest of the UK. As well as streaming some sessions live, we're doing loads of extra filming backstage to collect together all the best advice from the Academy's speakers and guests. We've also produced a number of short films working with local film-makers Tim & Barry, to showcase some of East London's brightest talents, and find out how they are starting their way in the world.

For that last few months, we've been working with Hackney's young community groups to harness their creativity in digital spaces. The work has already produced some entertaining and amusing results, so we're planning to have a team of young East Londoners working on site with us to cover the Hackney Weekend itself. A group of young journalists will work in third-party social spaces, delivering their angle on this monster event in their backyard, whilst a second group will be photographers at the BBC Introducing stage. What we gain in unique perspective, hopefully they gain in valuable creative skills from their BBC producer mentors.

Radio 1 will obviously be broadcasting for the whole weekend, and you'll be able to watch the radio station as well as hear it. We'll have roaming cameras following the DJs round as they do their shows from across the site and in their portable studio. Big Weekend is always an opportunity to try out new things; in the past we've had Frozen Indigo Angel, the Bluetooth Loo, and the Facebook Check-In experiment. This year, with the biggest crowd we've ever had, we've got a few new ideas to play with, but you'll have to wait to see what they are.

It's going to be big! Hopefully I won't be too busy over the weekend to update you from on-site in Hackney, with some backstage pics to show you our setup and introduce you to the team. Until then, enjoy the Hackney Weekend website (built on our new events content management system) and coverage of the Academy.

Sam Bailey, Interactive Editor, Music Events, Audio & Music Interactive

BBC Radio 1's Hackney Weekend runs from 23-24 June 2012 inclusive. Follow events on the Radio 1's Hackney Weekend 2012.

Selecting the 2012 BBC Radio 3 New Generation Thinkers

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Jon Jacob Jon Jacob | 10:48 UK time, Friday, 15 June 2012

BBC Radio 3's New Generation Thinkers for 2012 pictured at the press launch on Monday 11 June.

Earlier this week, BBC Radio 3 announced the names of the ten academics who had secured a place on its New Generation Thinkers scheme.

Working with the Arts and Humanities Research Council to select the ten, the BBC will mentor the academics, develop their broadcasting skills and shape their ideas into fully-formed programmes for radio and television.

During the press launch, I spoke to Radio 3's Head of Speech and Presentation Matthew Dodd, Mark Llewellyn from the Arts and Humanities Research Council , and some New Generation Thinkers about the scheme.

More information about the scheme can be found on the BBC's Media Centre website.

The New Generation Thinkers for 2012 will make their debut appearance on BBC Radio 3's Night Waves on Monday 18 June.

An insight into the arts commissioning process at the BBC

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Mark Bell Mark Bell | 10:13 UK time, Thursday, 14 June 2012

To coincide with the announcement of the 2012/2013 season of arts programming, About the BBC blog editor Jon Jacob talks to the BBC's Commissioning Editor for Arts, Mark Bell about his work. 

This is the first in a series of interviews with senior managers and execs at the BBC. Coming soon, an interview with Commissioning Editor, BBC Music & Events Jan Younghusband and Head of Arts Production, Jonty Claypole.

Guidelines for the submission of programme ideas for BBC One, Two, Three and Four can be found in Mark Bell's development briefing documents on the BBC Commissioning website.

Full details of the arts programming for 2012 and 2013 can be found on the BBC Media Centre website.

Follow @AboutTheBBC on Twitter for our latest updates.

New trailer for a summer of events on BBC One

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Jon Jacob Jon Jacob | 14:45 UK time, Wednesday, 6 June 2012

The BBC has started airing a special new trailer (above), showing how the nation is coming together to share a summer of events on BBC One.

The trail features over 104 people from across the nation and includes BBC talent such as Huw Edwards, Gary Lineker, Jake Humphrey, Reggie Yates, Colin Jackson and Fearne Cotton.

The 90 second trail, which first aired before the Queen's Diamond Jubilee, uses a vast array of quick cuts which merge 168 separate shots from 74 different locations together to create a smooth, filmic sequence. The work also features the original Beatles' recording of 'All Together Now'.

The trailer highlights the little rituals some of us have when preparing to watch an event with the BBC: making the tea, getting the biscuits, making sure the whole family is comfortable on the sofa, and of course finding the TV remote. It shows the nation, that wherever we are and whoever we watch with, the BBC's coverage of British events allows us to all come together as one.

Classic BBC sitcom Steptoe & Son, 50 years old today

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Robert Seatter Robert Seatter | 12:51 UK time, Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Harry H.Corbett (left) and Wilfrid Brambell playing the lead roles of Steptoe and Son.

Harry H.Corbett (left) and Wilfrid Brambell playing the lead roles of Steptoe and Son.

The dysfunctional family is a constant dramatic theme, from Greek classical theatre (where usually they end up dead) to Ayckbourn's comic assemblies in the family home and garden. TV took up the family drama with an idiosyncratic twist when it launched the father/son duo of Steptoe & Son half a century ago.

It began as a one off drama called 'The Offer', piloted in the launch pad for many great BBC comedies that was Comedy Playhouse. Written by Alan Simpson and Ray Galton, the duo was fresh from their triumph of Hancock's Half Hour. Never one to repeat themselves, they were sitting in a Shepherds Bush 'caff' eavesdropping on the conversation of local rag and bone men, and decided that there was the topic for their next comedy TV show. Apparently, they never quite expected the overwhelming hit they got.

Harry H. Corbett

Harry H. Corbett

The show is unusual in many ways. I remember watching it as a child of the 60s, and never being quite sure if I should laugh or cry. That uncertainty is part of its deliberate comic effect, I realise now.

Unusually, Steptoe & Son cast actors not comedians in its lead roles, eschewed gags and slapstick for gritty realism, and used real earthy language - almost to the limits of the BBC watershed - rather than comic hyperbole. 'You dirty old man' became the recognised catchphrase of the series, but it felt like real dirt not TV make up.

It's also of its time and eternal. Poor Harold's constant attempts to better himself -via literary erudition, classical music, amateur theatre - are always belittled by a sneer from father Albert who puts him right back in his 1950s working class. One episode, I remember, has father and son held hostage by a desperate prisoner on the run (Leonard Rossiter actually!). So desperate is Harold to escape his father that he begs the prisoner 'Take me with you'.

Harry H. Corbett and Wilfrid Brambell on set filming Steptoe and Son.

Harry H. Corbett and Wilfrid Brambell on set filming Steptoe and Son.

But no, they are bound together. That's the nature of their personal hell (other people, or in this case, family ties). Plus the show was so relentlessly popular - lasting on and off till 1974, spawning two feature films and a radio version, as well as various international versions (Albert & Herbert in Swedish) - that the two actors found it difficult to get back to the world of 'serious' drama they had come from.

Ironically, Wilfrid Brambell who played the old father actually outlived his on air son Harry H Corbett by three years, even though Brambell was 13 years older. Even at the end, there was no liberation for poor Harold.

Robert Seatter, Head of BBC History

Find about more BBC anniversaries on the History of the BBC website.

Is The Archers going to get 'darker and bigger'? No.

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Keri Davies Keri Davies | 12:38 UK time, Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Vanessa Whitburn and John Yorke

Has recent press coverage made you worried that The Archers is going to take a lurch into EastEnders territority? Well, worry not, because it isn't. Acting Archers editor John Yorke explains the truth about this story.

A few months ago I was asked by a national newspaper if EastEnders would ever consider doing a live stage musical. I answered with a categorical 'No'. Two weeks later, I was slightly taken aback to read: 'EastEnders to stage musical'.

Perhaps I shouldn't have been shocked then to read a flurry of headlines yesterday, cataloging my plans to smash up Ambridge like some bloated property developer and turn it into Albert Square...

It's a great story - but it isn't true. The source was a fairly innocuous interview with Radio Times about what's coming up on the show.

Read the rest of this post on The Archers blog.

Mark Thompson's letter to The Sunday Times, Sunday 3 June 2012

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Mark Thompson Mark Thompson | 15:12 UK time, Friday, 1 June 2012

BBC Director-General Mark Thompson has written a letter published in The Sunday Times today that states the BBC's position on the Newscorp/BskyB takeover bid. The letter is published below.

Martin Ivens ("The BBC has a dog in this Murdoch fight" Comment, last week) is mistaken in two respects about the BBC and News Corporation's bid to buy the whole of BSkyB.

The first is that the BBC was or is opposed to the bid itself. We weren't and aren't. Our point was only ever that the bid should be referred by ministers to the relevant competition authorities.

The second error is in relation to the implication that any corporate position the BBC took on the bid was likely to impair our ability to cover the story with strict impartiality.

When it became clear in 2010 that the BBC would take a corporate view about the referral of News Corporation bid, I recused myself from my duties as editor-in-chief as regards both the bid and the wider phone-hacking story and handed responsibility for both to senior colleagues within our news division. That separation remains in place.

Mark Thompson

Director-General BBC

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