Andy Parfitt, enduring and super-successful Controller of Radio 1, sits at a small desk in amongst his team. No egomaniac then. But is he interested in openness? Well, on the face of it, yes. I asked him for some examples from Radio 1’s recent past and the two he came up with were BeckyCam and ScottCam (read about them both in Scott Mills’ Wikipedia entry, watch the ScottCam highlights here and the BeckyCam highlights here).
The first, in case you’ve forgotten, involved setting up a webcam (at Becky’s computer, obviously) in the Radio 1 production office and having various important people (including Andy) drop by to answer questions from listeners.
The second was a kind of elaboration of the first: multiple cameras in DJ Scott Mills’ flat and a week of fun and games. Both were successful and entertaining and groundbreaking programming: the kind of stuff that wins Sony Awards and gets written up in trade mags and conference presentations.
ScottCam in particular was very successful, producing huge listener engagement and providing opportunities across the whole week and outside of Mills’ scheduled slot for lots of spontaneous fun and games: the kind of stuff that simply wouldn’t have been possible during an ordinary week.
Here comes the ‘but’.
But, let’s face it, they were both editorial wheezes. They were risky and clever and full of editorial potential but they did nothing to expose underlying processes, to genuinely involve outsiders or to share resources and assets.
First, the challenge for the BBC is to conduct its business in a fundamentally different way, at all levels and not just up at the top in the thin sliver of editorial that the public can see. Radio 1’s cheeky experiments are cool and funny and will probably do all the right things in terms of growing the audience and shifting the demographic but they’re not in any real way open.
Second, these are one-offs. They’ll inevitably produce lots of learning and plenty of interesting new programming but they’re not sustainable and they don’t contribute to a new way of doing things. What the BBC needs now is to speed up the evolution of a whole new framework for openness that makes it integral to the creative and operational machinery of the Corporation. Openness for Radio 1 needs to become a reflex—just part of the workflow—like it is for the geeks (and increasingly for the creatives).
Radio 1’s in a great position to pioneer this kind of work. Parfitt’s got a young and receptive audience and good-will to spare. I’d love to see Radio 1 try some really open new methods: in commissioning and production, in sharing and in new licencing models.
Parfitt wants to push forward and find ways to be more genuinely open at Radio 1. He’s keen to learn more and in the New Year I’ll be joining him on a tour of the most interesting examples of BBC openness we can find. I’ll document our tour here and, in the meantime, add a comment here if you have an example of the kind of openness that Andy Parfitt ought to know about, particularly if it’s in radio.