The Scope of the BBC’s Development

I think it’s very hard to say that the BBC doesn’t do a good job. Its TV stations broadcast some great shows, some of which it even makes itself, it also has some great radio stations (and 6Music) which have brilliant presenters and play a truly wide range of music. Its online effort is truly magnificent with a great structure and wonderfully up-to-date and relevant content. Its commitment and development of new technologies is impressive and visionary.

However with an income from us lot (in the UK) of �3billion so everything it should do should be bloody excellent.

The problem with living in a jacuzzi of cash is it does somewhat insulate you from the real world, well, the commercial world. It’s not that they mean to out-do and kill non-BBC services, it’s just a by-product of their development. Tim Gardham, when he was asked to review the BBC’s new radio stations summed it up well when he described the BBC as “well meaning herd of elephants, stomping through the jungle, trumpeting its achievements, each executive holding onto the tail of the one in front. They are undoubtedly a force for good, but unfortunately can be oblivious as to what might get crushed under their enormous feet”.

To try and mitigate some of this stomping the BBC governors have come up with this idea of a public value test, a public consultation, and then if successful the issuing of a ‘service licences’. The idea is to try and be transparent with new developments rather than them just ‘appearing’ and potentially killing-off commercially-funded competitors.

However this doesn’t stop the BBC trialling things before this process starts. The biggest trial is probably the BBC’s podcasting ‘experiment’, though there is something else I noticed last weekend which i’m not sure if I feel comfortable about. You see the government was very keen that digital television wasn’t dominated by the BBC and instiagted a big public consultation before it licensed BBC Three and BBC Four. Obviously the BBC has huge cross-promotional power and it didn’t want that to marginalise the development of new and diverse services from commercial operators. This licence also ensured the BBC made good ‘public-service’ programmes a part of their services. For example, a pure comedy and drama channel wouldn’t be that different from ITV2 and E4, but one that must included news and documentaries might – and thus BBC Three was allowed to be born.

Therefore I think it’s a bit odd that the BBC has launched BBC Three Catch-up, an interactive service (initially on satellite) that allows viewers to see a sort of BBC Three A, B and C that loops key BBC Three programmes. This Sunday, for example, you’ll be able to see two episodes each of Two Pints of Lager and a Packed of Crisps, Trauma Uncut and Tiny Tearaways.

I’m slightly divided on this experiment, part of me thinks, that as a licence fee payer I should be able to see content i’ve paid for, however the other part of me thinks that this is an evening where it makes it even harder for commercial stations to compete. It’s not as if Two Pints is never repeated, as it’s always on BBC Three, and with the rise of Sky Plus is it a decent use of the BBC’s bandwidth? If they are to use a service like this wouldn’t it be more public service if they were carouselling innovative BBC programmes that people might have missed and then use the brand power of BBC Three to help bring them to people who weren’t aware of them the first time round?

The BBC should be applauded for being on the cutting edge of any content and technological developments however it would be good if they considered themselves as part of the broadcast ecology with special responsibilities rather than existing in its own sealed bubble. Its technological developments should re-enforce its brilliant public service reputation not distance itself from them.