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BBC denies ‘radical’ overhaul of websites

September 30th, 2009 | 2 Comments | Posted by in Broadcasting, Online Journalism

What’s the difference between a refresh and a re-launch? We’ll leave that for the Guardian and the BBC to fight out…

The Guardian today reported that a ‘radical redesign’ and re-launch of BBC websites is planned for March 2010, with a focus on social media – according to the paper’s sources.

Among the changes outlined were a ‘a new homepage and underlying hosting platform,’ radical changes to news navigation, commenting facilities on programmes, the launch of the Open iPlayer and new connections to third party platforms.

The BBC, however, denied such a ‘radical overhaul’ to Journalism.co.uk, although it said ‘a refresh of the BBC News site’ will take place in due course – as previously reported.

In a statement it said:

“We’re always looking to improve the BBC experience for our users but contrary to reports, we are not planning a radical overhaul of the BBC’s websites.

“We are looking at how we can genuinely make BBC Online part of the web and meet our users growing expectations that they can contribute in different ways to our web site, and more broadly how we can share our technologies with other media companies.

“The website for Strictly Come Dancing as well as the Open iPlayer are examples – and as previously announced, we are planning a refresh of the BBC News site in the new year. Any investment in BBC Online is tightly assessed for market impact and public value before we commit to it.”

Further explanation will be given further down the line, a spokesperson told Journalism.co.uk.

In March 2009 director-general Mark Thompson announced that the BBC must cut £400 million from its budget within the next three years to avoid going over its statutory borrowing limit. Thompson said the corporation was targeting a five per cent cost reduction for television programme cost, year-on-year, for the next five years, a cumulative saving of 20 per cent.

This month he has talked of a ‘radical’ review of a different kind, one which will not necessarily dismiss the notion that the BBC has reached its limit of expansion (a suggestion originally made by culture secretary Ben Bradshaw).

Speaking at the BBC Open Day in August journalism controller of BBC Future Media & Technology, Nic Newman, said there will be no new editorial launches; rather users would see a ‘re-arrangement’ of content in the new year.

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BBC Trust launches ‘its largest’ TV service review – into BBC One, BBC Two and BBC Four

September 24th, 2009 | No Comments | Posted by in Broadcasting

The BBC Trust today launched ‘the largest and most significant service review’  of television that is has ever undertaken, and seeks views on BBC One, BBC Two and BBC Four. A 12 week public consultation is now underway.

“This forms part of the Trust’s regular series of reviews and will be the largest and most significant service review the Trust has undertaken. BBC One and BBC Two are the two most popular services that the BBC operates. It will be the first time that the Trust has looked at these services,” said Diane Coyle, BBC Trustee, who is leading the review.

The review will look at all content on the channels including news and nations and regions output, the Trust outlined. The BBC News Channel and BBC Parliament will be examined in the future.

The public can share their views at this link…

The BBC Trust was yesterday criticised by MPs’ in a select committe report, over the body’s handling of the corporation’s commercial arm, BBC Worldwide.

Last week the culture minister, Ben Bradshaw, speaking at last week’s Royal Television Society conference in Cambridge, said there could be a case for a ’smaller licence fee’ and also suggested that the BBC Trust model is not ‘sustainable’.

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BBC Trust responds to MPs’ accusations over commercial expansion

September 23rd, 2009 | 1 Comment | Posted by in Broadcasting, Journalism

As reported by the Guardian, a report published today by the House of Commons culture select committee criticises the ‘arrogance’ of the BBC Trust and the BBC for brushing off MPs’ concerns over the expansion of the BBC’s commercial activities, particularly BBC Worldwide’s acquisition of Lonely Planet. In the report’s conclusions the committee stated:

“The purchase of Lonely Planet remains the most egregious example of the nature of BBC Worldwide’s expansion into areas where the BBC has no, or very limited existing interests. Had the BBC Trust been a more responsible oversight body, it would have given more serious consideration to the likely impact on the commercial sector. We can only speculate as to why it did not.

“Our report demonstrated that, in terms of public disclosure of the financial details of the Lonely Planet purchase, the BBC was certainly not as transparent as it claimed to us to have been. The BBC’s arrogance demonstrated in much that it presented in its case to us in this respect, and in the way that it ignored this aspect in its response, is self-defeating in terms of the preservation of its public reputation.”

The criticisms follow culture minister Ben Bradshaw’s comments at last week’s Royal Television Society conference in Cambridge: he said there could be a case for a ’smaller licence fee’ and also suggested that the BBC Trust model is not ‘sustainable’.

In response to today’s report, the BBC Trust said it had been carrying out its own review of the BBC’s commercial services, the completion of which has been delayed ‘until there is greater clarity around the Digital Britain report’. The Trust announced changes to BBC Worldwide’s governance which were reported to the committee last week, it said. “These changes addressed a number of the issues to which the committee’s latest report refers,” it claimed.

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Mark Thompson on the defence: BBC review will be ‘radical and open-minded’

September 18th, 2009 | 2 Comments | Posted by in Broadcasting, Editors' pick

BBC director-general Mark Thompson yesterday responded to the various criticisms of News Corp’s James Murdoch and culture secretary Ben Bradshaw at the Royal Television Society’s binnenial convention in Cambridge.

While Thompson said that he agreed with parts of Bradshaw’s RTS speech and said that a ‘radical and open-minded’ review of the BBC would not dismiss the suggestion that the coporation had reached its limits of expansion, the director-general said he found some of Bradshaw’s ideas ‘frankly puzzling’.

“He [Bradshaw] set out a long list of the current BBC public services. By the way, I don’t know many broadcasters who haven’t launched multiple services over the past decade. But with one or two exceptions, these new BBC services weren’t approved by the BBC Trust. They were approved by the Government of which Ben is a member. Indeed, the Government asked the BBC to launch a range of new services to help with their policy of encouraging the public to move to digital television and radio. Ben’s surprise at these services is itself surprising.”

The speech can be read in full at this link.

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BBC faces attack from both sides

September 17th, 2009 | No Comments | Posted by in Broadcasting, Comment

“At a time when the government’s Digital Britain report has argued that the licence fee should be ‘top-sliced’ and shared with the BBC’s competitors, the corporation finds itself unusually short of friends and increasingly vulnerable,” George Eaton wrote on NewStatesman.com at the beginning of September, following James Murdoch’s attack on the BBC in Edinburgh.

Furthermore, ‘with a Tory party increasingly sceptical of the BBC’s size and scale on the brink of power, the corporation faces the threat of a powerful alliance between Cameron’s Conservatives and Murdoch’s News Corporation,’ he suggested.

But it’s not just the Conservatives it needs to worry about: yesterday the corporation found itself attacked again – this time by the culture secretary (and former BBC reporter) Ben Bradshaw (speech in full at this list) who said the BBC has probably reached its size limit, the licence fee could be reduced, and that the trust model might not be ‘sustainable’.

The chairman of the BBC Trust, Sir Michael Lyons is defensive of the BBC (a position criticised by Bradshaw last night: ‘I know of no other area of public life where (…) the same body is both regulator and cheerleader’) and wants to speak directly to the licence fee payers.

Last week, for example, the chairman chose to issue an ‘open letter’ (or as MediaGuardian accurately pointed out, a press release) on the BBC website with evidence of licence fee payer support for the corporation.

Asked on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme this morning why he bypassed the government with this statement, he said:

“Well how else do I communicate with the people that I am charged by the charter with representing? I am not charged with obeying ministers, I am charged with protecting the independence of the BBC and representing the licence fee payer.”

The chairman issued this statement this morning, defending the Trust:

“The next Charter Review [of the Trust] is many years down the line [2017] and we should be judged on our performance then. In the meantime, we have been set up to be, as the then secretary of state put it in 2006, ‘the voice, eyes and ears of licence fee payers’.

“That means reshaping the BBC; defending its strength and independence; and also protecting the investment licence fee payers have made, and if that means upsetting a minister along the way, it is unfortunate but so be it.”

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Ben Bradshaw’s speech in full: BBC has probably ‘reached limits of reasonable expansion’

September 17th, 2009 | 5 Comments | Posted by in Broadcasting, Events

Ben Bradshaw’s speech from the Royal Television Society’s binnenial convention in Cambridge last night, his first since becoming the British culture secretary in June. In his speech he criticised James Murdoch’s recent comments in Edinburgh and discussed regulation, regional news and public service broadcasting. The headline grabbing comments concerned the BBC: Bradshaw said that there could be a case for a ‘smaller licence fee’ and also suggested that the BBC Trust model is not ‘sustainable’.

Twenty years ago I had the good fortune and privilege to be the BBC correspondent in Berlin. I had arrived there in the beginning of 1989 – as a rookie reporter from BBC Radio Devon – to a posting considered a bit of a backwater.

Not much had happened in Berlin since the wall had gone up. My predecessor’s biggest story in four years was the death of the elderly Nazi, Rudolph Hess, in Spandau Prison. Within weeks of my arrival, the East Germans were revolting and in just a few short months the Berlin Wall was
down. In career terms – it was very lucky timing.

I’ve been recalling the events of 20 years ago quite a lot recently. Not just because of the impending anniversary, but because of the loud and bad tempered debate in Britain about the future of public service broadcasting in general and the BBC in particular.

 I have many memories of that time in Berlin, personal and professional.

But one of the most abiding is of the stream of East Germans in the days after the Wall came down, who were able, for the first time, to visit the BBC office in West Berlin. They came to say ‘thank you’ for the programmes that had sustained them during decades of Communist rule.

When I asked them why they listened to the BBC, rather than the much better resourced Deutsche Welle, or the West Berlin stations or the Voice of America, they gave a variety of answers, but there was a common theme: “You don’t preach to us. You don’t treat us East Germans as second class Germans. Your news is fair. You don’t pretend everything in your own country is perfect, so we believe what you say about other things. You allow different voices.”

Broadcasting – changing world

The two decades since the fall of the Berlin Wall have seen a profound and accelerating change in our media landscape. You know better than most the journey from the analogue world of three heavily regulated broadcasters and a small add-on commercial market, to the digital world where the market is much larger, with a multimedia element, and where the public intervention is represented essentially by the BBC, with a self-funding Channel 4 gingering up the public service end.

It has been a transition from what could be called a command and control to a mixed economy.

In that transition some things have been lost or endangered – plural provision of children’s programming, high-end drama and, across all media, the viability of commercially provided news, locally, regionally and in the Nations.

But the changes have also brought huge gains for the consumer and for the industry. There is a choice of programming and of technology-driven convenience and quality unthinkable back then. Although current trading conditions are tough, the industry is fundamentally healthy both commercially and creatively, winning Oscars, Emmys and Golden Globes.

Our production sector makes the UK the world’s largest programme exporter after the US and by far the leading exploiter of programme formats, with over half of the global market.


 This mixed economy has served the interests of the public, both as citizens and as consumers. It would seem to be what people want.

When we do intervene or regulate, we try to do so in a way that best allows the market to grow, to evolve, to expand. And we try to do so in ways that sustain the core values to which the public continue to attach importance – impartiality in news, effective protection for children and so on.

In the last 20 years, the private/public mix has continued to innovate to anticipate and reflect public taste.

Technical innovations such as Sky Plus, High Definition and the iPlayer; an impressive range of innovation in content, from new talent to new formats; new regulatory models encouraging the growth of the independent sector outside London. And – at the centre of public provision – a strong, stable BBC with the security of income fixed for several years at a time to ensure its independence, both politically and commercially.

As we come towards the end of the transition from the old analogue world to the fully digital world, the challenge is to secure a consensus on whether our mixed economy remains the right approach – which I believe it is – and how to maintain it for the long term.

This is an appropriate point at which to thank Stephen Carter and his team for their excellent work in Digital Britain which provides both the long-term framework for government’s policy on the digital economy and our next steps.

Competing visions for future of public service

Just as we are approaching the 20th anniversary of the fall of the wall we have just marked another significant 20th anniversary – that of a Murdoch making a speech about the media in Edinburgh.

Murdoch speeches in Edinburgh are designed to be – how should I say – thought provoking. And James’ certainly was. Among his most striking assertions were that profit is the only guarantor of independence; that people are better informed if broadcasting is left to the market; that regulation needs sweeping away; and what he called state sponsorship – by implication the BBC – must be far, far smaller.

Profit the only guarantor of independence? I’m not sure that the market has secured the independent quality broadcasting that citizens in some modern democracies might expect. As for the market informing people better – that has not been my experience travelling around the United States, compared with the more regulated mixed media economies of Europe.

No, I do not believe that the market alone can deliver the plural sources and high standards of independent and impartial news and current affairs, let alone the richness of innovation and quality in other areas like drama, comedy, natural history and children’s programmes for which Britain is envied worldwide. There are important areas of content as well as infrastructure that the public says it values, wants and expects, and that the unregulated market will simply not provide.

Future of public service broadcasting

I challenge James Murdoch’s use of the term Orwellian to describe Britain’s media landscape. Being publicly funded or subject to statutory regulation does not equate with state control. East German TV was state controlled. That’s why those East Germans valued the BBC – it was free, diverse, self critical.

And the British people understand the distinction between publicly funded and state controlled too. Otherwise they would not consistently say they trust the BBC more than any other media organisation – more than ever according to the latest survey, in spite of the summer media onslaught on
the corporation.

So James said things with which I profoundly disagree. But he also did us all a favour by asking legitimate questions and raising genuine concerns that our public discourse has been skirting around for too long. He was right to raise questions about the BBC’s size, its remit and its impact on the rest of the British media industry.

In the 20 years since I was reporting Berlin, the BBC has gone from being a service of two television channels, four national radio stations, a local radio network, a teletext service and some videotape sales, to a BBC with eight linear TV channels, several interactive and high definition channels, nine national radio stations and a dominant local radio network, the iPlayer, a world-leading online presence, and a commercial publishing, DVD , television and multimedia empire of some scale.

And if it were to continue on anything like that trajectory, the rest of the industry would be right to be worried and the mixed economy would be seriously imbalanced. 

Since James Murdoch’s speech the BBC has another review of itself, including, we are told, looking at its size.

And then Sir Michael Lyons comes up with his £5.50 ‘give-a-way’ and appears to be arguing he would rather the licence fee were smaller than the BBC share any of it to save regional news. What’s to be made of this? Is this really about the long term interests of public service content? I would just like to point out that the £5.50 is not the BBC’s to give away.

It was agreed on top of the current licence fee income for the BBC to fund help with digital switchover. However, Michael, if you want to return £5.50 from the BBC’s share of the licence fee to the public – or more if you wish – let me know and I’m sure it can be arranged!

This is not a serious or sensible way to have a debate about something as important as the future of the BBC and public service broadcasting. 

I happen to think the BBC probably has reached the limits of reasonable expansion.

 I believe the corporation is right to be looking more carefully at what it pays its stars and executives.

It is time for the BBC to allow the National Audit Office access to its accounts. 

I’m also concerned about the regulatory structure of the BBC.

Although the Trust has performed better than its predecessor, I don’t think it is a sustainable model in the long term. I know of no other area of public life where – as is the case with the Trust – the same body is both regulator and cheerleader.

And finally, there may indeed be a case for a smaller licence fee. But there is a proper timetable for determining that. One of the unbroken conventions adhered to by successive Governments, to avoid the suggestion of political interference in or pressure on the BBC, has been to respect the multi-annual settlement system. I resolutely believe that to be right. Any attempt to break that convention would rightly be seen as a direct assault on the BBC’s independence.

However, there will need to be a decision in around two years time on the licence fee after 2012. During the next Parliament the shape of the new Charter with the BBC will need to be agreed. This will beg even bigger questions than those I’ve already just posed. Do we as a nation still value public service broadcasting? Do we want the BBC to survive and, if so, what do we want it to do and how do we want to pay for it?

These are very profound and hard questions to answer. Harder than at any time since the BBC was born given the speed with which the media environment is now changing. They cannot and should not be resolved by the BBC reviewing itself. Nor by speeches by media moguls or politicians. The public also needs to be heard in this discussion. They pay for it after all. They are the customer.

This means that the process, the discussions and consultation in the run up to the end of this licence fee and charter period will need to be even more open, even more fundamental than those we conducted before the current settlement. A proper national conversation, certainly not a stitch up behind closed doors between BBC management and politicians. Only that way will whatever is agreed have the legitimacy to withstand the onslaught from the BBC’s enemies and critics and stand the test of time.

The regulatory structure

I have spoken about one way in which government intervenes in the market for public benefit – public service broadcasting, now let me turn to the other, regulation.

There are those who argue that because of the revolutionary changes to the broadcasting landscape the traditional approach to regulation is outdated. I agree: but our approach is not traditional. At the same time, however, this does not mean to say that we can or should do away with regulation all together.

It is often those who call loudest for deregulation and non-intervention in areas that affect them who are quickest to call for intervention and regulation where it benefits them. The fact that we have some of the lowest wholesale broadband prices in Europe is not an accident or the product of the market. It is the product of regulation that has enabled vigorous competition – including from new entrants.

There is a serious point here about the right kind of regulation. When it comes to regulating for convergence, it is worth remembering that in establishing Ofcom Britain led the way in Europe by bringing content, delivery and wireless spectrum regulation together in one place. Ofcom has done so with two-thirds of the staff and lower costs then the five bodies that preceded it. And it is our approach to wireless spectrum, of liberalisation, deregulation and market mechanisms that have become the new European model.

Of course regulation needs to evolve as consumers’ habits change. The key is to move with the public. They expect broadcasters to have a duty of care when running phone-in programmes. They still value the watershed. They still expect protection against offensive material beamed unbidden into their living room, as opposed to what they actively go and get from walking to the newsagent or surfing the internet. They enjoy the rumbustious opinion and style in the print media. But they trust the impartiality of broadcast news.

This is the strength of the mixed economy. However, that does not mean we are interested in regulation for regulation’s sake, which is why I want to change our approach on product placement. We’ll consult on this shortly and would hope to have any change in place in the New Year.

To the critics of our regulatory structure I ask the simple question: if regulation were a problem in itself, how is it our media market is amongst the most successful in the world? It is because we have got the right balance between public and private. We have stayed ahead of the game and, as our Digital Britain plans show, we are determined to maximise the future potential of the broadcasting industry.

A draft Digital Economy Bill is taking shape, ready for the next session of parliament. In addition to tackling unlawful file-sharing it paves the way for universal broadband – future-proofed – and for delivering digital radio and next generation-mobile services. Digital Britain commits us to a new remit for Channel 4, building upon the vision of Next on 4, moving it firmly into the digital age.

Andy Duncan was, of course, the driving force behind Next on 4 and I’m very grateful to Andy for the leadership he has shown Channel 4 through a period of unprecedented change in the media world. He has been instrumental in repositioning  Channel 4 for the digital age and I’m sure we all wish him all the best for the future.

This time last week the switch to digital TV reached its millionth home. The analogue system is only three years away from being switched off entirely. Three out of every four sets in the country now receive multichannel television – nine out of 10 households. And the Switchover Help Scheme we established has now helped more that 100,000 older and disabled people to switch, providing equipment, installation and aftercare.

Next month we will have many of the most influential global figures around the table at the inaugural c&binet conference – our Davos of the creative industries – aimed at identifying and supporting the most effective way of protecting, producing and commercialising creative work.

Regional and local media

I mentioned earlier the threat to plural news programmes in the regions and nations. As a former local newspaper and local radio journalist I would be acutely aware of the importance of good local news to the public, even without my constituents reminding me on a regular basis.

The high viewing figures for regional news are no accident. People want to know what’s happening in their patch. It helps maintain a sense of local and regional identity and pride. It plays a vital part in a democracy at holding local authorities, the NHS and other public organisations to account. It’s reporters and presenters have a far more intimate relationship with the viewers than those on the network.

When in the South West earlier this year Carlton amalgamated its former two news regions into one – based in Bristol – my constituents were not happy. They lost their dedicated ITV evening news programme produced and edited from Plymouth with an even more local opt out from Exeter. While the Carlton journalists do a valiant job of reporting their vast new region with limited resources, we all know that the economics of local and regional news are getting less and less sustainable. The poll we published yesterday showed 84% of the public think it’s important to have a choice of sources of regional and local news.

Seven out of 10 people want regional news on more than just one channel. And one cannot will the ends without the means. Two thirds of those questioned supported our idea of using the equivalent fraction of the licence fee that’s currently ring-fenced for switchover to secure plural regional news for the future. We said when we announced this in Digital Britain that we thought this was a fair, transparent and sustainable solution, but that we were open to other ideas.

We still are. I note Mark, your interesting suggestion of floating some of BBC Worldwide and I look forward to hearing more about this proposal. But we are determined not to lose plural news provision in the regions. It seems crazy that people all over the world can access the brilliant BBC website if we cannot provide a choice of quality regional news to people here at home.

The consultation closes 22nd September – after which it’s essential we press on with plans for three pilots of local news consortia, one each in Scotland, Wales and an English region, which we hope can begin in the course of next year.

Skills and talent

Plurality is not the only virtue of the local news consortia idea. They will also provide a valuable opportunity to find new skills and talent, opening up opportunities in the media to young people in cities like mine.

I very much hope that the Government can help you help the next generation of local journalists using not just these new consortia but in all the good work you already do to encourage young people and build skills.

The creative industries, the digital economy and the media are areas where this country is by nature and history strong. They make a large and increasing contribution to our national economy and will provide a significant proportion of the employment growth in the future.

That’s why, as part of the Government’s future jobs fund – my colleague Yvette Cooper and I have agreed to fund between 5,000 and 10,000 new jobs in the creative sector. I know some of you are already involved in this venture and I would urge more of you to come on board. The scheme will not only help thousands of young people whose employment prospects have been the worst hit by the global down turn – but they will help you and us find and nurture the creative and media talent of the future.

Conclusion

I have argued tonight that public service broadcasting has informed, entertained and enriched Britain, and generations of Britons. The BBC has been central to that in the past and I hope will continue to be in the future.

Equally, the market has brought huge benefits. When those East Germans were streaming through the Berlin Wall 20 years ago, there were no mobile phones, let alone blackberries or multi-channel digital televisions. High-speed broadband, downloads and video-on-demand were glints in the eyes of the visionary few rather than central to all of your business models. It is the market that has driven and delivered this change.

This mixed economy – free but regulated, public service and private – has served Britain well.

In his Edinburgh speech, James Murdoch described it – actually you, Britain’s broadcast media – as the ‘Addams Family’ of the world’s media. I don’t know how you felt about that. And I assume he didn’t mean it kindly. But aren’t the Addams family a well-loved, long running, world-wide hit? And haven’t you, this British Addams family, won seven out of the 10 international EMMYs two years running? And don’t you export £1 billion of TV content every year? So, maybe on this definition of the Addams family, I finally find something on which James and I wholeheartedly agree.

Thank you.

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Jon Bernstein: Why ITV’s micropayment plan is unlikely to make the Grade

July 15th, 2009 | 3 Comments | Posted by in Comment, Online Journalism

ITV management had better hope Ben Bradshaw’s deeds are as good as his words, because its faith in an another revenue-generating scheme looks misplaced.

Bradshaw, the recently appointed Culture Secretary, told the Financial Times earlier this week that the BBC’s refusal to relinquish licence fee money to aid other broadcasters with a public service remit was ‘wrong-headed’. He said the corporation’s hierarchy would have to come to its senses sooner or later.

While the BBC fights the good fight against ‘ideological’ forces such as these, part of the network gave airtime to a would-be recipient of top-slicing: ITV’s executive chairman, Michael Grade.

On BBC Five Live last Thursday, Simon Mayo asked Grade about the YouTube Susan Boyle affair (some 200 million video views to date).

After describing YouTube’s proposed revenue-share for the Boyle clips as ‘derisory’, Grade insisted ITV wouldn’t get caught out again:

“We are working on it and watch this space, but we’re all going to crack it, either when the advertising market recovers or a combination of advertising and micropayments which is 50p a time or 25p a time to watch it.

“We may move in time, in the medium term, to micropayments, the same way you pay for stuff on your mobile phone. I think we can make that work extremely well.”

(You can listen to the interview on the iPlayer until midnight Wednesday 15 July. Grade interviews starts around 1 hour, 22 minutes.)

Despite Grade’s confidence there are grave doubts that paying per clip is going to work. Here are four reasons to worry:

1. Micropayments don’t work for perishable goods
It’s an argument that has been made against charging for news stories, but it is equally applicable when you are talking about clips from a reality TV programme.

Quality drama may have a shelf-life and an audience willing to pay for it, but a water cooler moment from reality TV? Not likely.

The Susan Boyle phenomenon still feels vaguely current, but it is a passing fad.

If you’re unconvinced take this quick, highly unscientific test: would you pay 50p to watch the machinations of ‘Nasty’ Nick Bateman from the first series of Big Brother?

The correct answer: who’s ‘Nasty’ Nick Bateman?

2. Micropayments put people off
Writing back in 1996, social scientist Nick Szabo introduced the idea of mental transaction costs. He argued that no matter how small the payment, it still incurs effort on behalf of the potential buyer to work out if he or she is getting a good deal.

He wrote:

“The reason we don’t do the things is that they’re not worth the brain cycles: we have reached the mental accounting barrier.”

And that in a nutshell is why micropayments are doomed to failure.

It’s a theme Chris Anderson touched on in his recently released book ‘Free: The Future of a Radical Price‘. He wrote:

“It’s the worst of both worlds – the mental tax of a larger price without the commensurate cash. (Szabo was right: Micropayments have largerly failed to take off.)”

Unsurprisingly, Anderson advocates free as a preferable alternative to micro, but he’s not alone. New York professor Clay Shirky is with him.

In fact Shirky has been saying much the same thing since the beginning of the decade and his 2003 essay ‘Fame vs Fortune: Micropayments and Free Content‘ has become something of a set text.

3. Micropayments only work if you control distribution
ITV’s Grade rightly cites mobile phones as a great platform for micropayments.

The network operator controls what is available via the handset, limiting availability and ensuring prices won’t be undercut.

Further, the operator offers a simple and largely pain-free way of paying for goods by adding the cost to a monthly bill or subtracting it from a top-up on a pay-as-you-go phone.

But the web is different – it’s anarchic, open, a free-for-all.

Nobody controls distribution and despite efforts to chase down copyright abusers, there will always be someone ready to undercut your micropayment with an even smaller charge – free.

Opponents of this reading cite Apple’s iTunes Music Store as proof that micropayments can work on the net. But, as Shirky argued earlier this year, the fee-per-track model works because this is a rare example where no alternative exists.

“Everything from Napster to online radio has been crippled or killed by fiat; small payments survive in the absence of a market for other legal options.”

Further, Apple does control part of the distribution, successfully creating a market for the must-have iPod.

So despite Grade’s assertion, it’s unlikely any micropayment system on the internet will turn out ‘the same way you pay for stuff on mobile phones’.

Incidentally, it will be worth watching to see how the smartphone redefines this divide between the largely ordered phone network and the web.

4. YouTube clips drive traffic first, revenues second
If you think about a clip on YouTube as a direct money maker, you’ve got your priorities wrong.

It’s about reach, exposure and promotion. It’s about creating a buzz and driving traffic back to the core.

Did the Susan Boyle clip achieve this? No question.

For starters, video views at ITV.com were up 528 per cent year-on-year and advertising slots for the duration of the ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ season sold out.

Meanwhile, such was the interest around the show, the final was seen by 19.2 million people – ITV’s highest audience since England vs. Sweden in the 2006 World Cup. More eyeballs this year promises high advertising yields next.

In short YouTube kept its part of the bargain.

Would all that have happened had ITV charged 25p a clip? Would 200 million people have checked it out? Will a pay-per-clip Britain’s Got Talent be a winner?

The twist in the tale is that Grade, who steps down as executive chairman at the end of the year, won’t be around to find out.

Jon Bernstein is former multimedia editor of Channel 4 News. This is part of a series of regular columns for Journalism.co.uk. You can read his personal blog at this link.

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Ben Bradshaw: why the obsession with the Today programme?

June 29th, 2009 | No Comments | Posted by in Broadcasting, Editors' pick

In an interview with Jane Merrick in the Independent on Sunday, the new Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, Ben Bradshaw, questioned (very briefly) an ‘obsession’ with the Today programme:

“Ministers, he [Bradshaw] says, must be answerable to Parliament first: “If that’s difficult for the Today programme – tough. The BBC will have to change its news timings to fit in with the new respect that we’re going to give Parliament. Why this obsession with the Today programme? Why should we be dancing to the tune of the BBC, of Radio 4’s news agenda?””

Full interview at this link…

Via Press Gazette.

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#Digital Britain: Ten good links

June 17th, 2009 | 2 Comments | Posted by in Editors' pick, Events, Journalism

Yesterday it arrived: the final version of the Digital Britain report. Landline users among us will have to sacrifice around three lattes a year to meet the 50p a month levy for the Next Generation Fund.

Director of digital content for Guardian News & Media, Emily Bell, asked, via Twitter, for two words to sum it up other than ‘colossal disappointment’. An advanced Twitter search showed these responses from her followers: ‘as expected,’  ‘damp squib,’ ‘disappointingly colossal,’ ‘wasted chance’ and ‘too cautious’. However, Bell is now worried she might have been ‘too negative’ in her reaction – but that could just be her going soft, she says.

Ten good links*:

  • 2. ThinkBroadband’s summary. It’s clear and rectifies misunderstandings that might arise from second-hand summaries of the report.
  • 5. PageFlakes page with related links for Digital Britain content: including video, Twitter and blog searches.
  • 7. The BBC opposes top-slicing of the licence fee for independent news consortia, stated by the Trust’s chair Michael Lyons in a BBC press release.

*with an extra two, for luck.


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Local media: A stimulating discussion? Your ideas needed

June 15th, 2009 | No Comments | Posted by in Journalism

Last week the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) sent an eight-point plan to new culture secretary Ben Bradshaw as an economic stimulus package for the UK’s local media.

In summary:

  1. Reform of cross-media ownership rules with a strengthened public interest test;
  2. Hard and fast commitment to ring-fence licence fee funding for the BBC;
  3. A levy introduced on commercial operators who benefit from quality public service content – including local news – but do not contribute to its production;
  4. Tax breaks for local media who meet clearly defined public purposes;
  5. Tax credits for individuals who buy quality media;
  6. Direct support to help establish new genuinely local media organisations;
  7. Strategic use of central and local government advertising;
  8. Support for training opportunities that open access to journalism

The proposals come ahead of the long-awaited Digital Britain report, part of which will make new suggestions for local media ownership models and provision.

Both, of course, come on top of a select committee inquiry into local media, countless pontifications from media commentators (ourselves included) and lobbying by industry groups of Bradshaw’s predecessor Andy Burnham.

Reactions to the NUJ’s suggestions from a range of industry representatives are featured below – Journalism.co.uk wanted to gauge the feeling on the ground, so to speak (feel free to leave more comments below or email laura at journalism.co.uk).

Having spoken to Society of Editors executive director Bob Satchwell as part of this process, one thing is clear: new ideas are needed to support newsgathering at a local level, whatever shape or platform it takes.

But with the current level of pressure on existing local news providers, it is short-term answers that are needed, says Satchwell:

“While we’re waiting to create new models to deal with new media landscape the existing reality may be so seriously damaged that it may be too late to apply those complex solutions.”

Here are some reactions to the NUJ’s proposals – what’s the next step?

Firstly starting with a comment left on our original post by James Goffin on levies for aggregators:
Presumably ‘A levy introduced on commercial operators who benefit from quality public service content – including local news – but do not contribute to its production’ is aimed at people like Google, but why leave it there – and why only in one direction?

If this is genuinely aimed at supporting local media (and not just shoring up the BBC, which tends to be the NUJ line nationally) then why shouldn’t the corporation be charged when it ‘benefits’ from stories it has followed up from the local press? (Or blogs for that matter).

And much as I enjoy the idea of claiming back my Private Eye subs against tax, I can see it being as effective in stimulating the economy as the VAT cut.

Give them some credit for at least trying; pity most of it is nonsense.

Tom Calver, a communications officer for Blackburn with Darwen County Council, on defining ‘quality’ and a plan for mutually owned local newspapers:
Point 7 calls for us to consider ‘quality journalism’ when we place ads, which puts those of us in council comms in the unenviable position of having to decide what constitutes ‘quality’. Does the NUJ really think we should be doing that? In any case, there is only one local paper here, so I don’t have any choice in which title to use anyway.

What guarantee is there that ad spend would really support quality journalism, rather than just boosting profits while the newsroom is still run down?

I’m also slightly confused as to what’s meant by “identifying appropriate targets”. Generally speaking, my targets are groups of local people. If a local paper is a good way to reach them, I’ll use it. If it’s not, then I’d be wasting taxpayers money, and failing to get the message to the right people. So is the suggestion that only people who read the local paper are appropriate targets for any campaign?

Or is the suggestion that ‘appropriate targets’ are ‘deserving’ newspapers which should be supported in some sort of charitable way? I’d understand that if local papers were not-for-profit with a clear commitment to good journalism and informing local people, but they’re owned by large groups who will look after the bottom line long before they look after quality journalism.

The NUJ just has not gone far enough. It is asking for more money to be chucked at the same failing model, albeit with some loose guarantees about quality from the same groups that have cut back in newsrooms. That might slow the decline, but it won’t turn things around.

How about mutual ownership for local papers? Newspaper staff, local people and those who support quality journalism could all be members. A constitution could guarantee day to day editorial independence, but the editor would answer to a board elected from the membership, which would set parameters for coverage, monitor quality and ensure investment in training.

That sort of organisation could then benefit from tax breaks and have access to funds supporting community development. With a clear duty to improve local coverage, it would probably get back some of the lost readers (and so make itself a more appealing advertising channel for public services!).

Rick Waghorn, ex-regional newspaper journalist and founder of MyFootballWriter.com on practical problems:
I think it’s all very well intentioned, but as ever the devil will be in the detail and the ‘how’ any of this is likely to work…

Or, indeed, who is going to have the political will/leverage to ensure any of this is adhered to.

Tax credits? Who adjudicates on the ‘quality’ assessment panel?

Direct support for ‘genuinely’ local media organisations? How? When? Via whom? Ofcom?

Strategic use of local and central government advertising is spot on – but that can start happening now. But again who is charged with making the ‘assessment’ that it is ‘quality’ journalism?

With Tom Watson out of government, Ben Bradshaw presumably given 10 days to master his new ‘brief’ before the publication of Digital Britain, I don’t see anyone with the drive or the will to oversee this – not whilst the Brown government is so fatally weakened.

Alas, I fear it’s going to be every man, woman and under-fire journalist for themselves for the foreseeable future – and the only people that are ever going to come to our rescue are ourselves.

Former editorial director for a UK regional newspaper group on media ownership problems:
My own concerns would be about possible loss of independence that could come with subsidy.

The cut backs in the industry are already leaving gaps. It might be better to see who and what steps in to fill the vacuum. [More emphasis on new media models - Ed]

On cross media ownership, take a look at Guardian Media in Manchester where it has already happened with TV, radio, web and newspapers under one roof. It has not been a success.

Comment from Dan Mason, director of Dan Mason Associates and former newspaper group managing editor, on journalism enterprise:

Full marks to the NUJ for keeping the ball rolling after the departure of Andy Burnham. I’m delighted to see the appalling lack of support for media innovation and enterprise included (this would top my list), as well as the need to focus on better media training.

My big concern is that trying to define something as subjective as ‘quality journalism’ as a cornerstone of any plan renders it impotent from the start, especially when the suggested criteria includes demands on media companies that are impossible to regulate, like maintaining paginations.

If this keeps the dialogue going and pressure on this government to act, great. But, if Lord Sugar has anything to say about it, ministers will need to focus on what can be achieved, by when, for what cost.

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