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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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BJP: Derbyshire – the best place to live as a photographer?

Olivier Laurent’s extensive report into the use of the terrorism act against photographers suggests that many British police forces have been permitted use of Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 to stop and search individuals, including photographers – with Derbyshire’s force, so far, being the only exception.

The British Journal of Photography (BJP) filed 46 Freedom of Information (FoI) requests to chief constables in Britain to determine whether they had requested permission to use the section of the Act in their regions.

A number of forces declined the information requests, according to BJP.

“[C]ounties including Cumbria, Essex, Hertfordshire, Merseyside, and Surrey all declined to answer, claiming that although there is a public interest in the transparency of policing operations, release of any details regarding the use of S44 could threaten the health and safety of the public and the police force itself,” reports Laurent.

Full report at this link…

There’s also a breakdown of how the police forces responded to the FoI requests by county.

Follow this link for more coverage of photography and the UK’s Terrorism Act.

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The Baltimore Hoax: newspapers and bloggers fall for Wire comments spoof

There’s been a wonderful ‘gotcha’ story today.

Following on from the ‘froth and fertle’ of the ‘Chris-Grayling-compares-Britain-to-Baltimore’s-The Wire-TV-Series’ story (even Garbo came in on that one at the Wardman Wire), parts of the British Press and parts of the blogosphere picked up a story that the mayor of Baltimore had rebuked Grayling on her own website.

These news sources included:
1. The Guardian
2. The Independent
3. The Baltimore Sun
4. Liberal Conspiracy
5. Labour List

The Sky News blog took a different position, and suggested that the whole thing was a bit fishy.

The story was a fake, as Alex Hilton – the editor of Labour Home and ‘currently resting’ Recess Monkey – had created a spoof mayor of Baltimore website with a fake press release, which suggested that if we compare Baltimore to TV series The Wire, we may as well compare Britain to The Midsomer Murders.

The real Mayor of Baltimore website is part of that of Baltimore City.

The fake website contained a number of clues, such as an assertion of copyright belonging to ‘R Monkee Esq’, and a slight giveaway in the source code:

OK, so I’m just having a bit of fun at Chris Grayling’s expense.
Sitting in the office on a hot August afternoon, I was fantasising
that I was mayor of Baltimore and how annoyed I would be.
I hope you very quickly picked up that this was a spoof.
Didn’t mean to break any laws or ethical mores – please don’t
extradite me if I have unwittingly done so. Hope you appreciate the
humour, Alex Hilton, alexhilton@gmail.com – 07985 384 859

But some British newspapers and blogs missed the clues.

What can we learn?
I’ve recently been arguing that the different skills of bloggers and journalists are complementary rather than being competitive; it seems to me that this ‘incident’ points up some skills which are common to both.

The pressure to get the story out now is the real enemy of good reporting. Surely it is better to wait and be beaten, than to just get it wrong. A model which depends on being five or 10 minutes quicker than a competitor with the news may end up undermining credibility. In this case, there were ample signs that this was a hoax, but they were somehow missed. I’m glad I’m a supporter of the slow blogging movement.

One antidote to mistakes caused by time pressure is a stronger ‘fact-checking’ framework, as used in the USA. For bloggers the equivalent might be a ‘sanity check’ by a completely different set of eyes.

One way to avoid that is to follow the classic ‘niche’ route, and simply avoid competing in the commodity area of ‘the latest news’; report something in-depth where you can be a specialist and a unique authority. That is a strategy which is perhaps more open to bloggers than journalists in the big media.

Once the incorrect report is published, the important element becomes the nature of the the updates and corrections are a peculiar mix of self-justification, continued reflex-bashing of Mr Grayling, and straight corrections. Labour List has done the cleanest three-point-turn in this case:

UPDATE: The Guardian, The Independent, The Baltimore Sun and LabourList all got hooked, lined and sinkered by this, which was a hoax inexplicably deisgned to deceive, arranged by LabourHome’s Alex Hilton. Lesson learned: check twice.

Question asked: why, Alex? Hopefully he’ll let us know in due course. In the meantime, apologies.

The final point that I have noted is the ‘comment box ranting’ tendency to follow the line of the article, even when there are those in the same thread pointing out that the article is nonsense.

The one point that I am still interested to discover is how Alex Hilton seeded the story into the media.

Matt Wardman edits the non-partisan Wardman Wire group blog which covers politics, media and technology. He is @mattwardman on Twitter, and mattwardman [at] gmail [dot] com on email.

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CJR: The Guardian’s Washington bureau chief on US/UK news models

Our second pick from the Columbia Journalism Review today: a lengthy Q&A with the Guardian’s Washington bureau chief, Ewen MacAskill.

There is lots of ground covered; MacAskill’s explanation of the Guardian’s approach in the States and his thoughts on differences between US and UK journalistic technique make particularly interesting reading.  An extract:

“[I]n some ways, the American system is more transparent, but because of the more adversarial system in Britain, sometimes more stories come out there. It’s a contradiction: the American system is more transparent, but in spite of that, an awful lot goes on behind the scenes that we never get to hear about.”

Full Q&A at this link…

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Jon Bernstein: Five lessons from a week in online video

July 22nd, 2009 | 3 Comments | Posted by in Comment, Multimedia

It’s now four years – give or take a few weeks – since broadband Britain reached its tipping point.

Halfway through 2005 there were finally more homes connected to the internet via high speed broadband than via achingly slow dial-up. Video on the web suddenly made a lot more sense.

And given that we’re still in the early stages of this particular media evolution, it’s not surprising that we are are still learning.

Here are five such moments from the last seven days:

1. If you build it they will come…
…provided you build something elegant and easy to use. And then market it like crazy.

This was the week that we learned how the hugely successful BBC iPlayer has overtaken MySpace to become the 20th most visited website in the UK . The iPlayer is now comfortably the second most popular video site even if its 13 per cent share is still dwarfed by YouTube’s 65 per cent.

If you want more evidence of success just look at the BBC’s terrestrial rivals. ITV, Five and even Channel 4 – which had a year’s head start over the BBC – are now aping the look, feel and functionality of the corporation’s efforts. No hefty applets to download – just click and play.

Of course, this model – a different player for each network – will look anachronistic within a few years. Maybe less. Hulu arrives on these shores soon.

2. Don’t do video unless you’re adding value
If you are going to put moving pictures on your newspaper website it’s a good idea to ask why? And the answer should be that it adds something to your storytelling.

Last week the Independent completed a deal that sees the Press Association providing more than 100 90-second clips a week, each focusing on a single news item.

Nothing wrong with the quality or content of the video that the Indy is getting, but where’s the added value? Unless the video has some killer footage or a must-see interview, why would a reader of a 500-word news article click play? I’m not sure they would.

As someone eloquently put it on my blog:

If it’s visual, it needs pictures and maybe video. If it’s verbal, sound will do. For everything else, words are cheaper for the producer and quicker for the consumer.

3. You can’t control the message
Singer Chris Brown chose YouTube as the medium to deliver his first public pronouncements following February’s assault on his now ex-girlfriend Rihanna.

He plumped for the video-sharing site rather than a TV or newspaper interview presumably so he could control the message – no out-of-context editing of his words and no awkward follow-up questions.

To some extent he got his wish. Within 24 hours of posting his 120-second, unmediated mea culpa, it had been viewed nearly half-a-million times.

More significantly, however, the video had received over 12,000 comments and most were hostile.

4. Brands love YouTube
In an oddly defensive post on its YouTube Biz Blog, the people behind Google’s file-sharing site set about busting what it claims are five popular myths.

Putting ‘Myth 4’ to rest – namely that ‘Advertisers are afraid of YouTube’ – the post asserted:

Over 70 per cent of Ad Age Top 100 marketers ran campaigns on YouTube in 2008. They’re buying our homepage, Promoted Videos, overlays, and in-stream ads. Many are organizing contests that encourage the uploading of user videos to their brand channels, or running advertising exclusively on popular user partner content.

We wait, breathlessly, for a follow-up post so we can discover how many of these elite brands made a return on their YouTube investment.

5. Death becomes you
Nearly a month after his passing, Michael Jackson’s life is still being celebrated online. Eight out of this week’s viral video top 20 are either Jackson originals or owe their inspiration to the singer.

A case of the long tail occupying the head. For a few weeks at least.

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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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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Internships available in environmental journalism

July 15th, 2009 | 1 Comment | Posted by in Jobs, Training

A new media company is teaming up with one of the UK’s largest magazines to create a green and ethical supplement and needs two interns to help them inform people on ethical issues and green living. Details are on a need to know basis at the moment, but there’s a very big name editor lined up to work on the project.

One of the interns must be a ‘star of the future’ for environmental journalism and could become the supplement’s editor in time. Their role will be to help with content for the website and editorial planning for the magazine, as well as writing advertorials.

The second intern will be a Green Press person and should also have an interest in music PR. They will be working with a green record company and with Britain’s greenest festival.

To apply or for more details email: alex.lockwood@sunderland.ac.uk or contact him on Twitter @alexlockwood.

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It’s no use having a platform if you have no customers. Full stop.

John Mair is a senior lecturer in broadcasting at Coventry University. He was born in Guyana and regularly returns there to help build local media, print and TV. His last posts looked at the Caricom Summit held July 2-5 in Georgetown.

As one door closes in the media, another opens. The trick is to spot whether the train leaving the station will crash or make it to the new destination. British newspapers and others are standing watching the various emerging platforms wondering which ones to accept and which to reject.

Some are dithering and may die. Imagine you are the editor of the Coventry Evening Telegraph facing steadily declining sales. Do you boost them on a  new web platform, do you throw your resources, mainly journalists, at that platform? Do you try to revive the traditional paper? Or do you give up the ghost?

For the last two and a half weeks, I have witnessed, here in Georgetown, the death of one platform and the rise of others. The Plaza Cinema in Camp Street is, or was, right opposite my hotel. It was a Georgetown institution when I was a boy.  A huge art deco cinema which played the big films. I saw ‘Ben Hur’ there over 50 ago as a young boy.

There were five or six big cinemas in the town which provided entertainment for the masses especially at weekends. Films came from Britain or the USA a few weeks after their release there. Each town and village on the coastal plain had a small cinema too. The films they showed varied according to the ethnic group of the area.

Indo-Guyanese village cinemas showed Hindi films with English subtitles – early Bollywood; the African Caribbean diet was Hollywood. Cinema was part of the very fabric of life. The cinemas supported a daily full page advertisement in the local papers.

Then along came television. Most of it illegal – stealing from satellites and from video shops. Copyright was for the birds. They showed anything and everything. When I pointed out to one transgressor that the film he was showing on his TV station clearly said on screen ‘For Home use only’, his retort was instant: ‘I show it in my home, they watch it in theirs. What’s wrong with that?’ Iron logic. TV stole the cinema audience. People preferred the comfort and safety of their living rooms to the trip into town where cinemas were old and often smelt of bodily functions.

The illegal DVD trade took up any slack (last week within twelve hours of it happening live in LA, I could buy a DVD of the Michael Jackson Memorial Service in Georgetown market). The cinema platform firmly died first in the villages, then in the town. There were fewer and fewer ads in the paper.

Three weeks ago, part of the art deco facade of the Plaza fell down. It had been closed for two or three years now. That was followed by an army of scavengers who, day and night, over two weeks literally stripped the place of anything worthwhile.

Timber went first, taken away in scores ofdray carts (horse drawn carts) to pastures new to make new or improved houses in which to watch films on TV or DVD. It was like watching ants taking food from one place to another.

Now all that is left of the once great Plaza is a breeze block back wall and some steel pillars. The human scavengers have like locusts left just the shell. If ever I wanted a real-time demonstration of the death of one media platform and the rise of another, this was it.

In the not-so slow death of the Plaza Cinema in Georgetown lie big lessons for those trying to ride the tiger called the internet.

It’s no use having a platform if you have no customers. Full stop.

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Goodbye City University: @amonck reflects on four years as journalism head

July 9th, 2009 | No Comments | Posted by in Editors' pick, Journalism, Training

As reported in May,  Adrian Monck is to leave his position as head of journalism at City University, London after four years, to lead the communications team for the World Economic Forum, which holds the annual meeting for global leaders in Davos, Switzerland. Today, he bids farewell to City in this blog post, originally published here.

Although I’ll be haunting College Building for the next week or so, today is my leaving drinks (or ‘glad you’re gone’ party as we used to call them).

I’ll be keeping up a link with the place as a prof, and I’ll be trying to bash out a PhD. And I’ll also be giving a modest sum for the highest scoring MA project, which will be a prize in memory of Richard Wild. The first £250 will be handed out this autumn, so any City students reading: heads down for the finishing line!

Since I came to City in 2005, we’ve launched an MA in Journalism with new pathways in science and investigation, a Masters in Political Campaigning and Reporting, an MA in Creative Writing Non-Fiction, and a BA in Journalism. We’ve gained some fantastic new staff to go alongside the existing terrific team, including the Guardian’s David Leigh, Channel 4’s David Lloyd, ITN‘s Penny Marshall and visiting fellows like Heather Brooke and tech guru Robin Hamman. We have a distinguished scholar as head of research, Professor Howard Tumber, and we’ve just appointed Britain’s first professor of financial reporting, a chair in honour of Marjorie Deane (expect more on financial journalism soon).

We brought the Centre for Investigative Journalism to City, and its successful summer schools and hopefully there’ll be new initiatives to announce in that area soon.

We’ve established a digital core to our curriculum – there should be a partnership with Nokia coming up in the autumn.

And this year we finally moved into multi-million pound facilities (on Flickr) worthy of the talents of the people who teach and study here. And we have a Graduate School of Journalism to go alongside the best anywhere has to offer.

Best of all, I’ve witnessed the annual progression of an extraordinary group of people who’ve joined us from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, and from Lancashire to Lagos – our students. Their qualities are what make so many people want to give up time to teach here. Their enthusiasms and passions are among the rewards.

It’s not all been plain sailing, as anyone who’s brushed up against me will doubtless agree. But I hope it’s been worth it. City is now, more than ever, a global school for journalism, bringing in people from around the world to share experiences and gain new insights. Its future is already being mapped out in areas like political and humanitarian campaigning, and in deepening specialist knowledge amongst those competing to enter what is still an extraordinarily privileged world.

And the privilege of journalism? It’s the privilege of speech. Maybe it’s narcissistic, maybe it’s worth dying for.

But despite our disagreements (and let’s be honest, academics have to be able to start arguments with themselves) it’s what unites me with colleagues in education, in the news business, and with new friends and acquaintances in the ever-widening world beyond.

So, with whatever voice you choose, keep speaking up.

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Guardian Media Talk: Digital Britain, Suzanne Breen and Twitter in Iran

It’s been an exciting week for digital media: so much to follow with Digital Britain, Iran elections, Suzanne Breen, MPs’ expenses, and the unmasking of NightJack.

The Guardian’s Media Talk podcast,  presented by Stephen Brook, takes on the first four topics in a ‘special-ish’ edition.

“The panel dissect the long-awaited Digital Britain report: a blueprint for the future, or a 21st century fudge? Plus, Twitter in Iran; victory for Suzanne Breen; and a parting shot from Peter Sissons, the grumpiest newsreader of them all.”

Podcast at this link…

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