In response to…. BBC Charter

In response to [published in the proceedings from]

Westminster Media Forum “BBC 2016 Charter Renewal” meeting 2004-02-25 at Millbank Tower.

Inverting the Model

Working at the junction between the macrocosms of broadcasting (TV and Radio) and the internet (everything) is always stimulating. You always have to assume that you know nothing about either. Both have such different language and thought processes it’s often a leap of faith even to communicate. The only thing shared is ego size.

If Web content creators ever felt 2nd-rate to newspapers, TV or print, they are not alone. I’ve been to many “broadcasting” meetings where you can hear the radio guys explode because the TV folks just don’t acknowledge them. TV sits in its Empire with its own eyes and voice.

A lot of people have actively and tangibly been recreating the TV and Radio “distribution” over the last decade. There isn’t a good word to describe it – Broadcasting over the Internet is just a thing you can do. Webcasting, Streaming, Downloading, etc. fall into the same trap as Broadcasting (Terrestrial, Cable, Web) in describing distribution technology – none describe the medium. Unfortunately the Internet does all of them.

We are, today, at a new junction point and our BBC could be its champion.

It has built one of the most formidable and difficult to achieve reputations in the emergent globalised world: that of a trust-network.

It is the “most popular content website” precisely because of its perceived impartiality. The existence of BBC online has helped people discover the “Digital World” – to look at Britain is starting in the wrong place.

Our “unique service” captures the eyes and ears of the world. It is “owned” by the people. There is no capitalist-agenda at its core: it exudes egalitarianism, fights governments, loses, wins, but cares. Of those I’ve met who work for or with our BBC have a sense they are protecting our culture. There are notable exceptions to this, but this is not my aim here – the global public perception is of quality and “moral purpose”.

So, we are faced with change. The BBC publishes vast quantities online, and is consumed fervently worldwide. This year will see significant change – placing live on-air and archive content from both TV and Radio online, in some cases with a 7-day rolling archive.

You can visualise a day, not very far from now, where all of BBC output from all sources is available online, including the entirety of BBC archives – to a global audience, for free. However, its competition and critics are diverse and growing.

So, let’s turn the model on its head. Phase out the license fee and charge an optional online subscription fee for BBC Online. 10m people paying 33p a day recoups £1.2bn per annum. For an online service, this fee is tiny. For the BBC it has considerable worth. Some lucky subscribers also get “normal” TV and Radio transmission thrown in for free by virtue of their geographic location, and its public-access remit is upheld.

Our BBC doesn’t need to change what it makes, or why – people already come to use its archives, to watch news, trust in the communities it builds, its transparency and who it links to. It forces greater accountability and could change “how” content is made. Also, the sticky problem of UK taxpayers subsidising the rest of the world for online content goes away, or rather, turns through 180 degrees.

It can be transparent about the money raised in ways that profit-organisations cannot: publish its revenue hourly, online. Give viewers a sense of what is being made, and what their money makes achievable in real-time.

Take it further and let people influence what is funded after the base financial targets are hit – publish budgets for uncommissioned programmes and let individuals “donate until the budget is hit”. Then make the programme and release it on air, online and on DVD.

If we want a Digital Britain. If we want to catalyse the world’s thinking on globalised media and its responsibilities: use the BBC’s scale and experience, and put its direction in the hands of its global audience.

Gavin Starks
European Chairman, International Webcasting Association

Entrepreneur and Webcasting innovator, Gavin has pioneered streaming
media since 1995. He is a founder and European Chairman of the International
Webcasting Association. After helping to build Virgin Net in 1995
he created award-winning webcasting company, Tornado Productions,
selling it in 2003. He has worked at Jodrell Bank Radio Observatory,
had his music performed, and his research published, internationally.

v1.0 Gavin Starks, 4th March 2004
v0.5 Gavin Starks, 29th Feb 2004