Chris Jackson

the BBC wants to be a TV platform. how does this get delivered?

Interesting speech today, from Tony Hall, about the future of the BBC. An exciting and ambitious set of initiatives were announced that, if delivered, will truly put the BBC in a better place. It warms the heart, or at least it will when progress is made.

A couple of areas weren’t explicitly covered, so this is my take (see the post title).

the BBC wants to be a TV platform

In the old days, the industry neatly divided. There were:

  1. Content producers and rights holders, including movie studios, independent producers, and sports bodies

  2. Broadcasters, who put together channels

  3. Platforms, such as Sky or Freeview, who distribute broadcasters’ content

Today it was clearer than ever that, through iPlayer, the BBC intends to move into being a platform. They’ve dabbled before, but this time it’s serious—the overwhelmingly dominant theme for the next few years, and with the whole organisation pulled behind it. It’s not just those crazy new media kids now.

In the world of online technology, it’s the broadcaster that theoretically gets squeezed, so it probably makes sense to move in this direction. But it’s still a huge call, and a big change. Not something anyone is explicitly calling out.

how does this get delivered?

The BBC has some amazingly talented engineers, and I am proud to have counted myself amongst their number for many years. But many would agree that innovation in recent years has been incremental at best. Under a harsh light, you might conclude that the ideas behind iPlayer were first announced 10 years ago, and that the product has been much the same for the past 5 years.

More worrying, there have been serious recent disasters in technology delivery, and the BBC has quietly backed out of other technology delivery contracts.

Making this happen requires considerable flexibility—not easy anywhere, and especially in a public sector environment. But it has been done, perhaps most impressively by the Government Digital Service. They have written extensively about their development processes, flexible culture, and how a small core team is having a huge impact across government.

A key part of GDS success is the G-Cloud initiative, that allows government departments to procure Software as a Service (SaaS) from SMEs. This means that, as departments deliver on new initiatives, they have great access the best possible specialists with ready-made systems and services that make their ideas sing.

The BBC has no equivalent. Its core systems are made to order, either internally, or on risky time and materials contracts. Procurement is based on ridged frameworks, which hardly change for years. Initiatives like Connected Studio are laudable, but focus on small product features from the smallest of shops, rather than serious technological underpinnings.

what’s next?

Now the announcements are made, it’s time to deliver. The BBC needs to think carefully about how this will happen. Here at MetaBroadcast, we hope there’s an opportunity to finally become properly involved, beyond the fringe. Talk to us 🙂

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