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New BBC chief vows to re-invent content, not just re-purpose it

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The BBC’s new director-general has vowed to merge TV, radio and online teams so that the corporation creates “genuinely digital content for the first time”.

The BBC is often thought of as an online exemplar. In fact, the big digital ideology of the the last several years has been making linear conventional broadcast material available on-demand, live and through multiple internet devices, principally through the iPlayer service.

But George Entwhistle, in a keynote delivered to staff as he replaced New York Times-bound Mark Thompson on Tuesday, said this practise has come to its natural limit; instead, he said, the BBC must now create content conceived for interactive platforms, not re-interpreted from older media.

In some ways, this may herald a return to the late 1990s and early  2000s, when the BBC, embracing the web as a third platform, published many kinds of text-based websites that were not dependent on broadcast services. Those projects have been cut over the last few years as video excitement grew and as the digital division adopted a 25 percent budget cut.

Entwhistle’s digital-native content is likely to be created for a richer and more multi-screen online environment than the last time the BBC followed such a strategy. So we may see a new era of inventiveness.

Here is the relevant excerpt from Entwhistle’s full speech

“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.

“I promise this won’t be a repeat of the bi-media experiment many of us lived through in the 1990s, where people who loved and were good at one thing were asked to do another.

“But it will mean a careful reconstruction of some of the output structures of the BBC. My initial view is that a genre-based approach will give us the right way forward.”

21 Responses to “New BBC chief vows to re-invent content, not just re-purpose it”

  1. Punyabrota Dasgupta

    I guess it is also about what exactly we define as a content here. for example, is it the only core editorial piece or packaged along with supplemental information, social network references, curation, etc which further enriches and decorates the core content. If that is the case, I guess much of that is probably already happen but surely in an unstructured way. Interested to see how it shapes up!

  2. Mel Blauvelt

    The BBC became bleh 15 years ago, this just sounds like more bleh to me. They used to be leaders, trendmakers, not followers. This is more corporate speak and more sideboob gazette instead of giving genuine (sometimes difficult) talent a chance. That’s what made British TV and radio stand out among the rest: authenticity. Not a %#?!ing iPlayer.

  3. I think the thing some people overseas might not realise is the BBC is funded by a licence fee. In the UK, if you have a tv or any equipment able to view live BBC content then you must have a tv licence.
    I think it would hardly be fair to expect the BBC to provide content worldwide when only the UK licence payers would be paying for it. I understand people mentioning “monetizing” the content but I don’t think that is within the remit of the BBC.
    They do have a commercial arm which sells BBC programmes abroad but this again wouldn’t be handled by that part of the BBC

  4. Litigant Joan Conway

    Sounds like a trap to me…”a genre-based approach.”

    In other words if the genre-based is “a gangster story,” we all know how that goes.

    But some current “gangster stories” no longer fit into that approach, like “American Gangster,” was an urban epic.

    Could we be talking about playing “cowboys and Indians” here.

    Today’s Native Americans are not going to like a genre-based approach if they are systematic losers by reconstructing the content controlled by White men.

  5. The BBC of my dreams focuses solely on content and steps away from all delivery. In a multi-platform world we don’t need iPlayer – nor BBC1, Radio5 Live… we would, instead, get maximum benefit from a BBC that creates stunning publicly-funded content that is offered, for free, to all delivery platforms. iPlayer is a great achievement but the BBC pays for its online developments with TV licensing revenue and that skews the online landscape in the UK, making it more difficult for free market competitors to survive and thrive – and that ultimately doesn’t benefit anyone.

    I also think it is difficult in the UK to have a meaningful debate about what kind of BBC makes sense for today and the future because the BBC and its rich history is such an important part of the British psyche.

  6. Lisa Grimm

    I think this makes sense as a starting point, but I would love to know what the long-term plan is for ensuring this born-digital content is properly preserved and available in the near and far future; for those of us who have worked in the online field since the 1990s (as well as in digital preservation), it’s easy to see that so much has already been lost. Let the lost Doctor Who episodes – among so many others – from the BBC’s past be instructive to its future. I’d love to help make that happen, if anyone there wants to hire and sponsor me!

  7. howard ellison

    The thrill, the love, the honour of working at the Beeb in the seventies: this is what drove now-legendary content. At every level, we all felt so engaged. George Enthwhistle has the opportunity to sweep away what followed and regenerate that wonderful creative spirit. Let’s trust we can say in a few years time “Nice one, George”.

  8. Sounds like a great idea. In fact this is what BBC New Media was already doing until Sachsgate resulted in a huge loss of nerve and abandonment of the most innovative ideas like local TV. Shame that most of the teams responsible for this work have been dissolved and gone their separate ways.

  9. Greg Golebiewski

    “And we need to understand better what it will mean to assemble, edit and present such content in a digital setting…”

    Do not forget about monetizing this content as well…

  10. It’s an exciting opportunity for the BBC – keeping in mind the brand extension digital represents from the core BBC brand, and the creative opportunity offered to expand and supplement viewer experience – that will be the challenge.

  11. Amir Mizroch

    Reblogged this on Mizroch and commented:
    All well and good, but I think that the new Beeb chief is behind the curve: activists, witnesses, techies, and journalists all over the world [especially in the Middle East] are already creating “genuinely digital content” without all the resources of the BBC…they’re filming events on their phones and uploading it, and the whole world is following them, including the BBC.

  12. Sounds like a pretty risky reorg to me, especially when they are also trying to save a bunch of costs. Might have been better to actually try to create some exemplars of this “genuinely digital content”, whatever the hell that is, before reorging the whole enterprise

    • To be fair he said it was going to take a couple of years for the reorg. Should allow plenty of time for experimentation of this kind, assuming even the BBC can’t spend two years *only* obsessing over the org chart.