21Nov

The BBC could save local media

posted by Steve Bowbrick

The BBC Trust has terminated the Corporation’s plans for a big new local news service. Here’s the nub of it:

In the case of the Local Video proposition therefore, we have judged that the proposal would not create enough value to the public to justify the investment of their licence fee monies and that this value is not great enough to offset the adverse market impact. The Trust has therefore rejected the proposal.

The Trust’s remit is clearly to dish out summary judgments, terminate services and generally kick butt. You can understand why: thoughtful touchy-feely judgments are hardly going to wash with the Corporation’s various implacable opponents emboldened by the last couple of months of cock-ups and defensive slips—especially those of them who buy ink by the barrel.

But it’s sad: a more measured response to the proposed video news service, something that acknowledged local media’s present crisis, for instance, might have been more helpful. It might, for instance, have said something like: “we’d like BBC local news management to go away and come up with a revised proposal that addresses the thinning out of local media by providing video, audio and news feeds free of charge to local media groups”, for instance.

Fairly vague ideas about sharing facilities and content were raised by Mark Thompson earlier in the year and there’s a strategic study under way that should report this year. The newsgathering and distribution facilities (studios, newsrooms, personnel, servers, bandwidth, CMS) purchased at wholesale rates by the BBC could be opened up to local players to produce real benefits to communities and struggling media outlets.

Radical thinking in the design of these services could also see them more open, more accessible and more useful than anything else in local media: benefits that should flow to local partners as well as communities. How about a local media toolset with deep links to the BBC’s various open linked data projects, to data and tools from government departments and institutions, to stores of open content and code, to archives from the BBC, museums and universities, to shared community and accountability functions… The list could go on.

So, giving the Trust the benefit of the doubt on this occasion—they were really only doing their job and creativity and flexibility are not in their remit—could Thompson expect a better reception if he came back with a totally reworked ‘Local Video 2.0′ proposal? One that emphasised openness, access to tools and local empowerment through technology. I’d like to think so.

5 comments

Comments so far.

  1. Posted by Deirdre Molloy on Saturday 22nd November

    Thank you for this post Steve. When you touched on “sharing facilities and content” it reminded me a lot of point 3. from a recent post by Umair Haque on his Harvard Business blog where he counterpoints the old business rule of ‘maximising destructiveness’ with a new approach of getting constructive.

    Of course I’m not comparing the BBC to the Detroit auto industry that Haque is focusing on – they’re entirely different entities, and the BBC is in a much better position methinks.

    Maybe the larger point it that rather than any co-operation being driven by sheer necessity in the face of local media’s struggles and the deepening of the recession (moves to share resources among the metropolitan media are already afoot), co-operation between the BBC and local players driven by more purposeful logic would seem to be more dynamic, sustainable and beneficial to all involved… but that would be a big change for all parties concerned.

  2. Posted by Nick Reynolds (BBC) on Monday 24th November

    Shouldn’t your last sentence read “i’d like to think not” i.e. you would hope he wouldn’t get such a frosty reception?

    Good post though.

  3. Posted by Steve Bowbrick on Monday 24th November

    OK wiseguy. I fixed the post. Thanks for the grammar check :->

  4. Posted by Monique Potts on Wednesday 3rd December

    I’m sorry to hear this has been knocked back – but not surprised really. It seems to be quite difficult for the BBC to innovate in a number of new media spaces (education, local etc) without being seen as being anti-competitive or compromising commercial media production.

    I think this creates a real bind for the BBC in trying to innovate and promote new models of media production.

    I agree that providing free feeds would be a
    very good way to feed into and provide resources to local media producers. But it’s also important to acknowledge that most of these local media producers are not in a position to be innovative in this space, where the BBC is.

    I know how much work is involved in producing these sort of proposals and to me it seems like a great loss of public value to just have to bin it.

  5. Posted by Steve Bowbrick on Wednesday 3rd December

    Amen, Monique. Did you read Vic Keegan’s rather angry article on this topic in last week’s Guardian. Very good stuff. He’s essentially in agreement with the premise that the BBC could have actually boosted local media provision and especially at the laggard outlets who haven’t touched video yet. What a shame.

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