Wednesday, 27 June 2007

BBC and the new reality

Two pieces of recent news about the BBC confirm to me that the organisation, despite whatever problems it has, essentially 'gets' the new paradigm of programming and broadcast. That is so say, the transitional period of simple linear television scheduling and the future of multiple kinds of distribution to audiences with different levels of technology, and different levels of interest in interacting with that technology. I for example am not massively keen on watching TV via my laptop if I have a choice, but do tend to watch shows stored on my Sky+.

Firstly we are informed that BBC2 will repeat more programming and take more shows from BBC3/4, but despite journo's spin as a viewer I actually see this as a positive rather than a negative.

Ok, granted this isn't the best news for smaller producers who rely on these shows to help make a living, but the BBC isn't a charity and doesn't owe anyone a living.

There is simply so much content nowadays, and specifically from the BBC, so much locally originated programming that as a viewer I miss a lot of shows that I would enjoy or be challenged by. But whilst the BBC is making masses of quality content, it is paradoxically making it harder to
cut through the masses of media therefore harder to find and watch.

The fine art of promotion (and implicitly scheduling) has been honed to a very focused, very targeted and very efficient way of driving mass audiences to a particular point in time, for a increasingly limited number of shows. The leads to big ratings, a big splash and back slaps all around within the organisation.

Take Mary Queen of Shops as an example, a great show, with lots of on-air promotion and lashing of press coverage. Like many others I was alerted to it by a press report the next morning, but despite hunting through BBC web pages and EPGs I discovered the first, no doubt expensive, episode had been on and gone in a blink of an eye. Missed that one, couldn't join in the water-cooler moment and had to wait for next week to pick it up from there. If that was a drama, and I missed the first episode, I simply wouldn't have bothered with the series. That never, ever, ever happens on any of the commercial channels, its revenue suicide.

So I have a few requests for the BBC:
1. Always repeat your highest profile shows the week they are broadcast, and don't 'hide' that repeat info, say by mentioning it on the web. Do drive audiences to your prime showing, but realise you need to fit into people's lives, they shouldn't have to fit into your schedule.

2. If you create a season of shows, to be viewed as a season, make them a linked series on the EPG, rather than have to go onto the net or find a paper to individually find and programme shows. Make it easy for your audience to find and watch your great shows.

3. Take some of the budget spent on advertising to create a email service where one can register your interest in specific genres and get a weekly mail highlighting what you might be interested in across TV, Radio and online.

4. Take a good idea from the internet – tags, and use them to help people find and understand shows that might be of interest. Use them on the net, publish them in Radio Times, convince Sky and Virgin et al to add that functionality to EPGs, hey even convince your creative promo makers to include them on-screen.

5. As off-peak shows get ‘downgraded’, don’t just make more mass market shows more cheaply. Other channels all aim shows at the same mass market, commercially attractive demographics, why not look and see what audiences are under-served, and serve them by reflecting their issues and concerns (on whatever platform). These can be low cost, but hopefully with high ‘Appreciation Factors’. Strong ideas for formats ARE important, but making sure a community is served is more important. Think of these as ‘mini-channels’, like BBC Seniors, BBC Rural, BBC Gay or BBC citizenship for immigrants which need shows. Diverse programming is more than casting certain types in EastEnders!

Now the above points still stand in our current world where the vast majority of audiences are still in the world of linear (and even multi-channel) TV, without or even with PVRs. But the world IS changing ...

So the other good news this week was that BBC's iPlayer is launching months ahead of expectation on July 27th and you can see some screengrabs at digital spy.

This does negate some of the above arguments about scheduling, but only for the tiny minority who have the ability, or the inclination, to go online and watch on computers (streaming across the home is still a very geeky, often clunky and very rare thing).

Its a shame the BBC Trust put restrictions on its use, but I'm looking forward to not missing what could be my favourite shows.

Today's blog was slightly shorter as I have a bad 'mancold' :(


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