Thursday, January 29, 2015

Opinion formed 3

The BBC's Future of News Project worries about serving the under 55s.

An organisation that cancelled Top of The Pops, sought to axe 6Music and now wants to close BBC3 doesn't exude much care for younger 'cooler' viewers and listeners. An organisation that hails Mrs Brown's Boys, Citizen Khan and Miranda in comedy, Call the Midwife, Casualty and Last Tango in Halifax in drama, and Strictly in light-entertainment ain't going get the yoof buzzin', even when pre-loading.

A holistic approach is what's needed, as with Newsbeat on Radio 1. Keep BBC3 alive and mix up the spirit of That Was The Week That Was with Liquid News, add a touch of essence of Charlie Brooker, a dash of Jon Stewart's Daily Show, maybe front the whole thing with Barry Shitpeas and Philomena Cunk, every weeknight at 8pm, taking apart things that are really happening - and stick with it until it's part of the furniture. Talk to John Lloyd again about Spitting Image and Not the Nine O'Clock News - he knows the secret formula.

Opinion formed 2

The BBC's Future of News project wants to provide more regional and local services online. “The changes in the news industry mean that there are gaps in the coverage of our country and they are growing,” the report says. “At the same time, power is devolving. The BBC is going to have to make the most of digital services, alongside radio and television, to ensure people have the information they need where they live and work.”

The chief executive of Johnston Press, Ashley Highfield, has yet to explode on Twitter, but I'm sure he will once he gets round to reading the report. James Harding has spent a year trying to cultivate regional and local press, with the temptation of free content - and yet, here comes another, as yet unfunded expansionist proposition. (Remember the 2008 plans for news, sport and weather video on 60 BBC Local websites, budgeted on 400 staff ? - and the 2009 plans for 60 ultra-local websites of 2008 ?)

The report confesses that Auntie's existing local radio stations now only cover "live" news 12 hours a day, with weekend political shows pre-recorded on Fridays. One might suggest that the audiences have noticed. The Future of News says 56% of people want more local news. I'm not sure that the commercial local tv experience backs that.

On social media, issue and news-led debates spark off in all sorts of places. The BBC a long time ago decided to get out of active moderation of forums, as too expensive and, for the moderators, too boring. But there may be a way of the BBC hosting a local news conversation as a way forward (as it used to do on local radio, but now seems to prefer a rather soggy music of music and "chat" for most of its live 12 hours). It could mix in with the "local live" pages, and may be more interesting that news that bin collections have been disrupted by snow. Many people would have guessed that.

THERE he is...

On a day that mockumentary W1A is filming around Broadcasting House, Alan Yentob has been spotted looking puzzled at plants. (He has previous on this).  He's at something called a Thirsty Plant workshop, organised by open-source software company Arduino. This is where sensors are used to alert growers/gardeners that a plant needs water. It's part of a creativity session for BBC1. Imagine.

@danielhirschmann takes Alan Yentob through a Thirsty Plant workshop @bbcone this week as part of our partnership with the BBC on their YEAR OF DIGITAL CREATIVITY

Opinion formed

OK, three posts coming on the BBCs "Future of News" report, nicely chunked up here by the NiemanLab into three themes - doing much more for audiences round the world, improving local and regional news services, and reaching more under-50s.

We're coming up to the first anniversary of licence fee-funding of the BBC's World Service - and still struggle for an essential rationale for the change. The key sentence in the report "If the UK wants the BBC to remain valued and respected, an ambassador of Britain’s values and an agent of soft power in the world, then the BBC is going to have to commit to growing the World Service and the government will also have to recognise this".

We ought to remember that the UK never got to vote on this deal, cooked up over a weekend by Mark Thompson and Jeremy Hunt. There is no mechanism for licence-payers to change the situation, no opt-out, and The Trust has not sought their views directly. Mr Harding can not seriously be expecting manifesto commitments from parties on this.

The platitude that is the BBC "purpose" in this area (Bringing the UK to the world and the world to the UK:The BBC will build a global understanding of international issues and broaden UK audiences' experience of different cultures) is hardly a mandate to become  "an agent of soft power".

Nonetheless, our liberal consciences would all be clearer if we didn't leave international news to Fox and Russia Today. Sadly, the funding model for the BBC's international news services is an uncomfortable mix of licence-fee and advertising. So, the "ambassador of Britain's values" finds room in its tv schedules for more and more travel shows and business bulletins, which attract advertisers. In growing "home pages" for, most recently in Australia, the opposition is not Russia Today, but The Guardian. The drive to build up BBC World in the States is not to fill some democratic deficit, but to make money. Potential advertisers with BBC World in India are advised that "52% of the audience are Business Decision-makers", with no mention of the proportion that might be disenfranchised.

Now the hint in the Harding report is that global audiences might be asked to help fund expansion (telethons with Lyse Doucet ?) and that the hunt is on for more commercial partnerships. At the moment, the only success criterion I can spot is the Lord Hall target of 500m users around the world by 2020.

The aspiration has to be expressed more clearly. I would like to see the BBC offer a core multimedia news service, say, in 20 of the world's biggest languages, with an ambition to have at least 20 other languages covered (by agreement with an outside advisory body, which could feature appropriate NGOs) by 2025. This core news service has to be clearly defined and transparently costed, and funded (again by 2025) by a publicly-specified percentage of the licence fee, plus partnerships, advertising etc. If the Government wishes to add support, it could do it at arms length through the British Council, a defined agent of soft power, who could be treated like any commercial partner. Otherwise the Government shouldn't come near decisions about where and when to broadcast.

And let's hope we measure the success of this global news service by reach across classes, rather than "opinion formers".

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Great minds

Regular readers will be delighted to spot Telegraph Editor-in-Chief Jason Seiken in an 'immersive' online assemblage on the Future of News by the BBC's James Harding.

He appears in video chunk marked 'experts', with his comment immediately rubbished by Martha Lane Fox.

As to the Future of News, I've immersed myself twice now, and failed to picked up any conclusions from the seabed.  Others will let me know if they find some...


"This is an exciting time to join the BBC as Marketing Executive in the News Marketing team". Not half, eh ? General Election year and all that. I quite fancied an executive position, but in the world of selling, things are not always the right way up...

Number 1 accountability: "Assist the relevant Marketing Manager and Head of Marketing in working upstream with stakeholders".  So it's more of a Marketing Assistant, it seems.

Up the wrong tree

Author Robert Harris (ex Selwyn, Cambridge, Newsnight and Panorama) may still be watching some form of analogue tv in his Berkshire vicarage. He's complained that there's no dedicated book programme on BBC tv - when there used be two in the 1970s.

He's referring to The Book Programme, which ran intermittently on BBC2 from 1973 to 1980, presented by Robert Robinson, and produced by broadcasting titan Will Wyatt; and Read All About It ('The paperback programme'), which ran late night on BBC1, presented and edited by Melvyn Bragg from 1976 to 1977, then fronted by Ronald Harwood through to 1979.

Announcing the Costa Book Of The Year last night, Bobby said "It is an absolute disgrace that the BBC, a publicly-funded organisation, shouldn’t do a bit more to help our books business. Come on, Tony Hall, if you’re watching this on BBC News: do a little bit more for the book trade, please."

Yes, the event was carried live on the BBC News channel, where Nick Higham has a weekly "Meet The Author" slot. It has an archive of over 200 interviews.

Over on Radio 4, A Good Read has been running since 1977, and, between that, and The World Service Book Club, there's a back catalogue of 279 podcasts. On the BBC Parliament Channel, BOOKtalk has been running for over four years.

But the real point is that many other BBC programmes sustain themselves with free interviews plugging books. Daddy of them all, Start The Week on Radio 4, in all its various re-inventions since 1970, couldn't survive without them - and carries book credits by episode on its website. Authors sit for hours in London as they are switched to various BBC local radio daytime shows. Radio 5 Live still has the odd daytime opportunity, slightly reduced since the departure of Richard Bacon. Books are waved around on screen in The One Show, Graham Norton, Andrew Marr. Newsnight loves American authors. (Un) Original British Drama is currently built on books - Wolf Hall, Mapp and Lucia, Call The Midwife, re-runs of Death Comes To Pemberley, with Poldark, The Secret Agent and SS-GB still to come.

And then there are the writers sustained by BBC salaries and contracts - Jeremy Paxman, Lord Barg, James Naughtie, Andrew Marr, Kirsty Wark, Anita Anand, Huw Edwards, Lucy Worsley, Janice Hadlow and more - touring the literary festivals, in the hope of being Yentob-ed at Hay.

Books ARE the BBC.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015


Here's a neat American ad for the electric BMWi3, aimed for play-out in the Superbowl, and featuring former NBC Today hosts, Katie Couric and Bryant Gumbel. Fun for the 1994 breakfast exchanges about the mysteries of the worldwide interweb highway; and today's twerking.

Developing news

The Taffia have moved closed to a new BBC home, with the news that Taylor Wimpey want to buy their current HQ at Llandaff.  The deal is subject to planning permission; Taylor Wimpey hope for 500 homes on the site - if the purchase price estimated by Wales Online of £20m is right, that's £40k per dwelling.

And if £20m is the right price, the BBC Wales team will be at their calculators this morning. Is it enough to make the sums work for the move to Cardiff's Central Square ?  That deal is a rental, for twenty years, with the first three rent free. And they'll need money for new technology, training, etc. Ms Bulford and The Trust will have to give final approval - like many other projects, that might not come until after the General Election, when the Charter outlook might be clearer.

Hit the trail

Exciting times for Newsnight production teams. Last night Evan Davies switched networks for a "live" trail just inside the end of the 10 o'clock bulletin on BBC1, then there was some fumbling of the "live" opening of the show itself on BBC2.

Is this something do with viewing figures ?

Other people who read this.......