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”

Digital Media 2017 – Five forecasts

2016 was a year flush with innovation in the digital media industries.  The launch of SkyQ set the pace for mainstream TV platforms. Amazon’s launch of GrandTour on Amazon Prime, Twitter buying NFL rights, and Facebook Live streaming election coverage from the US laid down a calling card from recent entrants into the TV market. Most of these innovations weren’t immediately game-changing but hint at further sweeping changes to hit media markets in 2017.  Our consultants have put together our list of the changes we anticipate for the coming  year. We will be examining these trends, innovations and commercial changes in more detail at conferences like CES and IBC through the year and reporting back to you our thoughts and insights. As we head towards CES 2017 we start the thinking with these five forecasts:

In 2017 we redefine what we mean by a ‘platform’
In recent years, we have got used to the idea of describing companies as ‘platforms’ or ‘platform operators’.  This has normally meant a company that gives us some form of digital device, backed up by some form of distribution network, and which sold us services or content to use on that device. We have used this term to describe TV companies, mobile phone companies and broadband companies. more “Digital Media 2017 – Five forecasts”

Streaming Devices Like Amazon Fire Are Now Driving OTT Use On The Big Screens In UK Television Homes

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Decipher have released the latest wave of their bi-annual Mediabug research into consumer media use. Now in its fifth year, the bi-annual report is based on an online consumer survey of 3000 UK consumers, and reports on how new technology is impacting media consumption.



For the first time, this Mediabug Wave has shown the impact of new low-cost streaming devices like Amazon Fire Stick, Roku and Google Chromecast in driving OTT VOD use onto the big screen in UK television homes.

more “Streaming Devices Like Amazon Fire Are Now Driving OTT Use On The Big Screens In UK Television Homes”

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”

Breaking Out of The Box

Sept 2011 - New NW BW Head & Shoulders (thumbnail)

By Nigel Walley – @nwalley

The humble set top box – or STB – has come a long way since it was first introduced over 20 years ago.  Originally just a device intended to decode broadcast signals, many in our industry dismiss the discussion of the STB as a ‘tech’ issue.  However, the STB has emerged as one of the most important device classes in the consumer media landscape and once again is driving disruption and strategic change.

In the early years, viewers used content from pay boxes as a complement to their ‘normal’ TV viewing, just turning on the box when they wanted to access their pay channels. But over time set top boxes morphed a number of times into a new and much more influential driver of change in our industry.  more “Breaking Out of The Box”

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”

Media Agency Innovation and the ‘Labs’ Conundrum

Sept 2011 - New NW BW crop for social mediaBy Nigel Walley

Last week I was struck (but not surprised) by the news that Ogilvy have decided to shut their ‘media innovation’ function – Ogilvy Labs.  I have run the only commercially independent media lab – iBurbia Studios – for the last 10 years and understood some of the pain they had gone through.  However, seeing the articles in the press from their labs team protesting about ‘lack of investment in innovation within agencies’ struck a chord. But probably not in a way they would like.

iBurbia Studios was a spin out from the media innovation consultancy Decipher, that I have run since 1998.  Older readers will remember that Decipher itself was first conceived as a ‘change agency’ within Interpublic Group creative agency Lowe Howard Spink.  iBurbia was first conceived in the old Lowe’s HQ at Bowater House.  So I know a little bit about running media innovation labs in agencies. more “Media Agency Innovation and the ‘Labs’ Conundrum”

Chasing Sparrows In Marathi

We hear so many horror stories of fraud, malware and deceit on the internet that it can sometimes be easy to lose sight of the overwhelming global good the internet has delivered. Sometimes this is a huge good, but most often it is the cumulative impact of lots of little ‘moments of goodness’. We want to share a small unimportant story that makes this case.

In 2016 Decipher will be launching a spin-out tech company based on some IP we have developed in-house. We recently went through the increasingly difficult process of deciding what to call the new company.  As most start-ups will tell you, in an increasingly globalised world there just aren’t many that words left that you can buy the rights for in all the relevant ways. more “Chasing Sparrows In Marathi”

Disney, Broadcasters and Direct-to-Consumer: A Whole New World?

By Matthew Walters – @matthew_walters –

“This is the future, in many respects…we’re seeing more and more opportunities to reach consumers directly, and not through middlemen…this [DisneyLife] is a great example of our strategy to utilise technology to connect with consumers in more direct and compelling ways, something that only Disney can do.”

 Bob Iger, Chairman and Chief Executive, The Walt Disney Company
October 2015

Head and shouldersChristmas is almost upon us, and it seems apt as 25th December gets ever closer to be discussing the company behind some of the festive season’s most well-known films – think Santa’s Workshop (if you haven’t seen it, you must), think Tim Allen in The Santa Clause, and think Michael Caine’s Ebenezer Scrooge in The Muppet Christmas Carol.  Many years and many miles from the streets of Dickensian London, it was on a fourth-quarter call with investors last month that Bob Iger – the man atop the Disney empire – fielded questions from analysts on two issues of strategic importance to Disney, one current and one future. more “Disney, Broadcasters and Direct-to-Consumer: A Whole New World?”