A day in the life of the Head of BBC HD
I know the extended silence has been frustrating you - I've been away from the office for some of the time, and also handling a range of other issues. Looking at your comments and questions, I thought that it might be useful to give you a sense of what I do apart from writing this blog - not just to justify the time I spend away from it but because I think it might help to give you a flavour of the range of current issues for the BBC and HD.
On a daily basis, when I get into the office, I look at the overnight log from the broadcast engineers. That identifies any technical problems with the channel - and unfortunately, as many of you will be aware, frequently highlights problems with HD transmissions. Sometimes the cause is clear - human error or a system not doing what it should - and often we're only talking about a few seconds of interruption. But on other occasions (audio drop outs from the Electric Proms) it is harder to get to the bottom of what is going on.
Like you, I find it deeply frustrating that more than 20 months after we launched the channel the service still doesn't always run smoothly. I appreciate that we are deliberately pushing at the boundaries of what has been done before - regular live broadcasts, switching between different channels and different types of content, but I would like us to be in a better place than I feel that we are, and believe me, I'm working with a team of others (hopefully) to get us there.
I also receive on a daily basis the channel audience figures from BARB, colloquially known as "the overnights". Across channels they are a less than perfect guide to viewing, but they are the basic currency all channels work with. With BBC HD figures which I know some of you look at, there are particular concerns. Numbers of those with access to HD are growing all the time, which must make it difficult for BARB to keep pace. HD households still represent a relatively small proportion of the total TV audience and therefore the figures are less reliable than they otherwise might be. Take those factors together with the prevalence of recording devices for those with HD, and the willingness to use them, and it means that while the figures give us a sense of how programmes have performed relatively, they are just one of a number of sources of information which we look at to evaluate the channel's performance.
Those issues out of the way, the day, tends to be taken up with meetings. In no particular order, the issues I'm focussing on at the moment are....
Picture quality: I know this is a big concern for some of you, and honestly, I don't need lots of complaints to start to worry about this. I'll defend to the hilt a programme like Criminal Justice, which I think looked fantastic, though others are entirely within their rights to dismiss the "film look" that it went for. But of course I want to make sure that we keep up the standards of the HD offer from the BBC, and I want to make sure, through looking at both technical and audience filters (pardon the pun), that we are in good shape.
I've launched some further work around this - not because I believe there is a problem, but because I want to make sure there is not - and together with Andy Quested I will of course bring you the outcomes of that work as soon as I can.
HD programmes and schedule: As you'll know, we're still a growing channel. We're actively exploring whether we can extend the channel hours overall, but meantime there is plenty of work to do in growing the amount of content that the BBC is making in HD. Lots of time is spent on conversations with producers inside and outside the BBC looking at whether they make a move to HD, how they do it, and how much it will cost. I really feel that we are experiencing a sea-change here.
When I started last Summer there was a marked reluctance to consider HD in many areas, and very little proactivity from producers. We are now reaching the point where in some areas there is more demand to work in HD than we have the resources to support. It is a good problem to have, but it also generates a second, much more difficult issue of which you will be well aware: With more and more content coming through, how do we best schedule the channel? This Autumn we have a particularly rich mix of programming, including The Restaurant, The Culture Show, Children in Need, new drama and comedy, new US acquisition from BBC Two Defying Gravity, and of course Life, Strictly Come Dancing and Top Gear.
We know that programmes work best for you when we show them at the same time as the standard definition channels, but with such a diversity of content we can't always deliver it, and we're as frustrated as you are when we have to make those choices.
Navigation: Many of you comment on the difficulty in knowing when things are on. I run the channel, I sign off the schedules, and I also as a viewer sometimes find it difficult to locate content I'm looking for. There are a variety of routes to solving this, and believe me when I say that I am working my way along all of them. BBC HD is not like other HD channels in the UK. Because 100% of our programmes are made in HD, we are not a simulcast of another channel that you know and has a familiar structure.
Because we want to bring you the very best programmes across the full range of flavours from the BBC, you will find programmes from BBC One, BBC Two, BBC Three, BBC Four, Cbeebies, CBBC, and even occasionally some programmes which can only be seen on BBC channels in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, or on BBC Red Button. I want to make it as easy as possible for you to enjoy BBC HD, rather than to battle with it, and therefore to find effective ways to plan your viewing, and to move between BBC channels to access the HD versions of programmes which you love on other BBC services.
Freeview HD: A lot of the thinking in the BBC about HD has been around making sure that HD does not become an exclusive, subscription-only offer in the UK. You can get BBC HD even on Sky without paying an additional subscription, and of course getting the channel (and other HD services) on to Freeview as well as Virgin and Freesat is an important part of ensuring that everyone can have access to what we believe is simply the next, normal TV standard.
I'm expecting that when HD arrives on Freeview at the end of the year the platform will probably play a significant role in the growth of HD homes through 2010, although I think that HD take-up from the other existing platform providers will also increase over the next year . There are plenty of other people around the BBC who are actively involved in making HD on Freeview, because of the BBC's involvement in switchover and the overall development of the digital terrestrial platform. Really, I'm just a channel provider. But I'm conscious of the need to make sure that BBC HD is fit for the mainstream audience which I'm sure will come to HD over the next 12 months or so, through a variety of platforms.
BBC HD Strategy: I know that many people ask where the BBC goes next with HD, and a number of you have thoughts about what the answer to those questions should be.
Thinking about our service development is just one aspect of the BBC's approach to HD. I also have to work with others to address the questions around how fast we move BBC in-house production across to HD delivery, how we move programme commissioning across, how we work with independent producers around these issues, what cameras and other resources we should use, and how we ensure that we deliver the best possible value for licence payers out of the investment we're making in HD at the moment.
I don't think that HD is a luxury for the BBC - it is the way that TV production is going and we could not turn our backs on it, anymore than viewers would have thanked us for deciding that colour TV was not for us. But that doesn't mean that there is lots of money to spend on this area, nor should there be when across the BBC we are looking for savings, and trying to make money go as far as possible. That of course presents daily challenges around how we make the budget we have stretch to encompass our ambitions for you - the HD audience.
In between meetings - and of course in the evening - I do what I hope you would want and expect me to do: Watch television. I try to look at what we are about to broadcast, and what we do broadcast, but also need to see programmes we are considering for HD delivery, and I try to watch other channels - both SD and HD - to get insights into other ideas that we should be considering.
I also - of course - check this blog for your comments and feedback, and even write a new post when I can and have something to say. I don't want to give you just marketing for programmes and therefore, I'm afraid, there may be longer breaks between posting than any of us would ideally like. I hope this is useful, and even possibly interesting. I will be back.
Danielle Nagler is the Head of BBC HD, BBC Vision.