“From live output to living output” – changes at the BBC

BBC Broadcasting House

Good news from Broadcasting House. In his first speech in the job, George Entwistle, the BBC’s new Director General, calls for “genuinely new forms of digital content”, born of the participatory environment of the web. And he’s going to restructure the organisation to enable the kinds of conversations and collaborations that are needed to make that happen.

I made a very similar case in my recent Open Letter to the New DG and it’s exciting that this is Entwistle’s vision. It’s going to be challenging, but Entwistle is clear about what’s needed from a production perspective – taking apart the silos that currently separate radio, TV and creative technology to “integrate all three disciplines – definitively.” He sees the new shape of production as genre based, which I’m sure is right. There’ll be some changes to commissioning needed too.

It’s going to take time. Don’t expect to see the likes of Bear 71 or The Johnny Cash Project coming out of the BBC right away. But a corner has been turned. Below is that section of Entwistle’s speech. You can read the whole speech here.

“The BBC is rightly thought to have done well in the early stages of the digital revolution. iPlayer has been feted for its superbly engineered platform, which set new standards in video streaming, and a user interface that made catching up on the TV you’d missed a pleasure. But while celebrating all that, the real key to iPlayer is the unmissability of the content it offers.

Even in our near-miraculous coverage of the Olympics, I would say that we’ve taken – joyously – our capacity to present and distribute existing forms of content to their natural limits rather than innovate to discover genuinely new forms of content.

Yet it’s the quest for this – genuinely new forms of digital content – that represents the next profound moment of change we need to prepare for if we’re to deserve a new charter.

As we increasingly make use of a distribution model – the internet – principally characterised by its return path, its capacity for interaction, its hunger for more and more information about the habits and preferences of individual users, then we need to be ready to create content which exploits this new environment – content which shifts the height of our ambition from live output to living output.

We need to be ready to produce and create genuinely digital content for the first time. And we need to understand better what it will mean to assemble, edit and present such content in a digital setting where social recommendation and other forms of curation will play a much more influential role.

Now I believe an organisation run, for decades now, around the existing platforms and the content they define for themselves – radio and TV – is going to find it hard to get ready for that. A television or radio organisation can always be forgiven for obsessing only about the creation of television or radio.

To be ready for the world into which a new Charter would take us we will need to change the way we’re organised.

So, in around two years time, my aim is to have restructured the BBC – with fundamental implications for A&M, Vision and Future Media. To be ready to create and curate genuinely digital content, we will need to integrate all three disciplines – definitively. We need to ask people from all three to work more closely together in order to imagine ourselves into the space where a new kind of content is possible.”

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