Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Everybody now has their own broadcast station


Three key policies in new director general Tony Hall's 'vision' statement for the BBC impact on classical music and, therefore, require close inspection. The benefit of the first policy, 20% extra spend on arts programming, spins very well. But in reality it depends totally on the definition of 'arts', and all the evidence suggests the increased spend will simply be created by broadening the definition. The official remit of BBC Four TV is to "reflect a range of UK and international arts, music and culture". With Monday's typical BBC Four schedule offering Whatever happened to the likely lads, A very British murder with Lucy Worsley and Miss Marple the future of arts, music and culture does not look very bright under Tony Hall. Even before factoring in that the arts - including the Proms - are being used as political bait to catch a juicy license fee settlement and Charter renewal in 2016.

The second new policy of "a major new strand 'BBC Arts at…' that will showcase live performances from around the country" has already been implemented with disastrous results at BBC Radio 3. Quite wrongly the BBC sees its main competition as commercial broadcasters, and, again quite wrongly, is trying to differentiate itself by majoring on 'live' performances because commercial stations invariably pre-record. On BBC Radio 3 every third word uttered by the ubiquitous 'chin musicians' - aka presenters - is 'live'; which results in the absurdity of Pet Rock Trelawny gushing about a 'live' Prom in a recorded repeat the following day. Perhaps Tony Hall, who is much taken with things digital, should remember that there is no such thing as a 'live' broadcast. The BBC digital broadcast chain introduces a micro-second delay in relays of live performances, which only varies in order of magnitude from the macro-second delay in commercial sector pre-recorded performances.

Most worrying of Tony Hall's big new policies is that he wants "BBC Music to be a well-recognised brand". Despite flaunting his geek credentials by enthusing about watching Glastonbury on his phone, the new director general fails to understand that new technologies have overturned traditional concepts of brand, just as the same new technologies have overturned the infrastructure monopoly of traditional broadcasters. Today, thanks to mobile computing and social media everybody has their own brand and everybody has their own broadcasting station - see header image. The BBC gained early mover advantage with iPlayer, but betting the farm on a personalised son of iPlayer is a strategy that is doomed to fail because of the rate and breadth of innovation elsewhere. Things will only change at the BBC when Tony Hall realises that his organisation's medium is technology, but the message is inspiring programmes. When Louis Rossetto founded Wired magazine in 1993 his first instruction to contributors was "amaze us". What is lacking in the BBC today are programmes that amaze us, and based on yesterday's 'vision' statement by Tony Hall that is unlikely to change.

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