Television

BBC focussing on digital media strategy in a big way

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MUMBAI: With an eye to the future, UK pubcaster the BBC is looking at taking advantage of the digital media world. In a speech given at the Edinburgh International Television Festival 2005 a few days ago, BBC DG Mark Thompson said the broadcaster plans to introduce software called MyBBCPlayer next year.

Said Thompson, "In 2006 – of course subject to scrutiny and approval from our governors and all necessary consents – we hope to launch a new offering with the working title of MyBBCPlayer, a window through which licence-payers will be able to access a host of BBC content. The last seven days worth of programmes from BBC Television and Radio. This will be a bigger range of international, national and local news content than we could ever get into a single bulletin. And an ever-expanding proportion of the BBC's sound and video archive.

"We have a lot of work to do on search, navigation and branding – not just on our own by the way but working with partners like Google and Autonomy – but using MyBBCPlayer alongside our linear services should make it easier for audiences to find the content they want whenever and wherever they want." This he says will be important as this decade will be the "on demand" decade.

Thomspon stressed that the BBC's core mission is to create great audio-visual content and to deliver it to the public as effectively and conveniently as it can. The mission transcends any one technical delivery system. He noted that everything we know about online world suggests that it's the big brands – the Ebays, the Amazons, the Microsofts – that punch through. And the BBC is one of the big brands. He said that the most important single team within the organisation is probably the Beyond Broadcast group. They are exploring where and how BBC content can add the most value in the on-demand, pan-media universe we are hurtling towards.

"Their insights are informing every part of Creative Future. Over the next few months we'll be drawing the rest of the BBC into this creative conversation. Then our Governors. Then the public. The Creative Future project is happening at a time when many of our key services are starting a new chapter with new leaders and when, I think without exception, every creative leader in the BBC is wrestling with the question of what the new technologies and audience behaviours mean for them and their service."

    

            

      Thomspson noted that the BBC's digital services reach millions of licence-payers every day. The July reach for bbc.co.uk was 13.3 million UK adults – that's 54 per cent of the entire UK internet universe. And the percentage is a lot higher in broadband homes and offices. "Much is often made of the inevitable long-term decline in overall share to BBC Television as households convert to multi-channel digital TV. In fact share has been more resilient over the past ten years than almost anyone predicted.

"But even if we recognise that share for some established services is likely to reduce over time, it's equally important to acknowledge that usage, share and reach for some new services is growing very rapidly. BBC interactive TV reach is now 45 per cent in Sky homes. Across all platforms, we reckon it's now hitting around 14 million adults per month. These services, in other words, are no longer marginal experiments but are already a central part of the value the BBC delivers to the public in exchange for the licence fee.

"And we expect all of the measures of usage to continue to grow strongly – both in share and in absolute terms – as take-up itself grows and as consumer demand more high quality, easily accessible content on the new platforms. I see no reason why BBC's broadband reach shouldn't approach the historic levels achieved by the BBC's television and radio services. Nonetheless, and despite the rapid strides we've made to date, we believe that on-demand changes the terms of the debate, indeed that it will change what we mean by the word 'broadcasting'. It's not, of course, the only feature of this phase of digital, but we believe it's by far the most important as far as the BBC is concerned.

"This decade will be the decade of on-demand. And we will arrive at a digital Britain not when we switch analogue terrestrial TV to digital – though that's important as well of course – but when every household has access to rich and interactive on demand services." He also stressed the importance of forming patrnerships. That is why the BBC recently signed a deal with Universal Music to work together to exploit parts of the BBC music archive where the two parties have shared interests. "As a partner, we think we can help open up new markets and new value for commercial rights-holders and platform-owners. Everyone I think accepts that in the context of DTT. It's equally true of on-demand.

"Does it make sense to open up as much of our news archive to the public as possible – for information, education or just for private interest? Yes it does. Should we look very closely indeed at how that might impact on, say, ITN's business-to-business news archive business? Yes again. We want to work with ITN and indeed everyone else in the archive space to figure out ways of maximising both the public value and the positive market value of what we can do, while minimising any negative market impact.

"The controls which both Governors and Government are putting in place to assess public value before agreeing to new BBC services will be more transparent and objective than anything we've seen before. I have to say that, even if these controls did not exist, I believe that it would be in the BBC's interests to work in collaboration with commercial players."

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