The BBC must evolve – not reinvent itself

By Matthew Walters – @matthew_walters – 

Head and shouldersThe streets of Birmingham have witnessed their fair share of moments that ultimately came, in their own way, to define history.  From the late eighteenth and into the nineteenth century, its streets were home to Boulton and Watt’s development of steam engine technology that came to underpin Britain’s Industrial Revolution.  On those same streets, in the 1820s a Quaker named John Cadbury began selling tea, coffee and drinking chocolate in Bull Street.  And seventy years later, Major John Hall-Edwards – working out of what was then the Birmingham General Hospital (now the city’s Children’s Hospital) made the first use of x-ray under clinical conditions.

Just over a mile from the very spot at which Hall-Edwards so pioneered the field of radiology, three weeks ago Tony Hall – entering his fifth year as the BBC’s Director-General – began 2017 with a New Year message to BBC staff.  The speech, made at The Mailbox (the Corporation’s Birmingham headquarters), was – following a 2016 in which a new eleven-year Royal Charter was achieved despite (perhaps because) of the slow, gradual grind of public and political scrutiny – upbeat, excitable even.  Hall, perhaps predictably and tiredly, spoke of the beginning of a “new chapter” of “boldness”, “originality” and needing to have “the courage of our convictions”.

Despite the lofty rhetoric, little new was announced; instead, amongst a number of corporate announcements, three existing initiatives were restated: greater and wider use of viewer/user data, and so personalisation, across the BBC’s services; developing the breadth and depth of the iPlayer service; and continuing to do “brilliant things” for the BBC’s existing audiences.  Perhaps of most significance, as is our focus here, was Hall’s declared ambition for the BBC to use the next eleven-year charter period to “reinvent” public service broadcasting for “a new generation”.  An elastic – even tricky – phrase, this was the second time in four months these exact words had crossed Hall’s lips.  They warrant a little more attention than the industry has perhaps given them to date. more “The BBC must evolve – not reinvent itself”

Out of home comes into focus

By Matthew Walters – @matthew_walters –

Head and shoulders

Sunday morning began a few weekends ago like any other, with newspapers sprawled over the dining table and a pot of freshly brewed coffee to hand.  On the living room radio, John Lennon – his mock playful vocals ranging over the backing of a lilting acoustic guitar – lamented that “the more I see, the less I know for sure”.  I remembered this line this week when thinking of a newly introduced feature on one of our smallest, yet one of our most interesting, free-to-air platforms that has recently been withdrawn.  Closer inspection revealed that Recordings to Go, as it was called – launched in late March by EE TV as a way for its customers to transfer PVR recordings to a mobile or tablet device, to ultimately be watched outside of the home and without the need for a broadband connection – was quietly removed last month, following (in the words of EE) “discussions with content rightsholders”.  This was made all the more notable by the fact that, just weeks earlier, Sky Q – the new “pay premium” service from Sky – launched with a similar (though crucially not identical) feature that remains in tact and in operation at the time of writing.  Though this would appear to be the tale of two platforms and a type of functionality that has coined the most mechanical of industry jargon (“sideloading”), and could generously be described in these early days as little known and little used (though growing in popularity), this episode in fact cuts much deeper and wider – and points to further potential pinch points in relations between broadcasters, rightsholders and platforms in the months and years ahead. more “Out of home comes into focus”

A smarter version of Now: Sky and the new “squeezed middle” of free-to-air

By Matthew Walters – @matthew_walters

Head and shoulders“This is something we’re really excited about,” Jeremy Darroch said – perhaps revealingly – at Sky’s Q2 2015/16 results presentation last month.  “There’ll be no switching between inputs or sources, and it means this will become the gateway to our customers’ pay and free-to-air viewing.”  Amidst discussions of “Fluid Viewing”, in-home streaming and “pay premium” price points, these comments were some of the few that didn’t relate to the new Sky Q.  Yet these few words could yet have a more far-reaching and longer-term significance than anything said in the fluorescent-tinged fervour of the last three months as we’ve waited for the latest version of the Sky pay TV platform to come to market. more “A smarter version of Now: Sky and the new “squeezed middle” of free-to-air”