When the British electorate voted for a Conservative government, to replace the previous Tory-Liberal Democrat coalition, there were a few predictions of doom for the funding of pubic services in the UK.
For the BBC, the result confirmed that their role, size and funding will be firmly in the sights of the new administration – though I imagine that would also have been the case with a Labour-led coalition. The BBC is saying it will do its own proposals on its role ‘in the internet age’, as it quaintly calls it.
Yesterday I went for the day to Digital Shoreditch, a week long series of talks, meetings, panels about this ‘internet age’. TV seemed very out of place in this online world of apps, services, sites. Friday was the ‘Live’ day, about content and there was a huge range of talks – I think I went to about a dozen in all.
The BBC’s Will Saunders showed a great clip from a year ago about the new short-form video world we were entering, made for a BBC seminar.
If that short-form is too long for you, there’s always Vine – which isn’t meant for oldies like me, I know, but is still a real mystery. One of the top Viners on this US-dominated platform is Brent Rivera. He has good hair at least.
Will also talked about BBC Taster, a site for users to test and rate online content – a taste of things to come?
and also showed a quick run through of the first 90 years of the BBC in its Where Next? campaign from last year. Good question.
The BBC absolutely needs to think about its role as a public service media provider (rather than broadcaster) – and in truth is probably doing more of this thinking, experimenting and planning than other PSBs. And of course that future is online, with content open for viewers/users to interact with – and make themselves. I think if we called it Peoples Broadcasting rather than Public, it might seem less forbidding.
The evening finished with a few beers and music.
The BBC might think God only knows what we’d do without it – but in a world where everybody is making their own choices online, and the license fee is ‘under review’, it’s soon going to be easy enough to opt out. I reckon it’s in all our interests to think about what to do with it.
Comments, ideas, questions all welcome, you could even send me a video…
The UK General Election is tomorrow, May 7th.
One of the issues in the Conservative manifesto is the pledge to hold a referendum about whether the UK stays in the European Union.
But it’s barely featured in this election campaign. The London correspondent of German paper Die Welt has noticed this, but I haven’t seen much else.
I went to the BBC yesterday and they were finishing a giant map of the UK in the courtyard. You can’t really see the rest of the world as you’re hemmed in by the walls of the courtyard…I guess we’re too attached to little Britain
There are lots of domestic issues in this election – much the same as every election – but it’s a globalised world and Britain needs to recognise the opportunities of that. Australia has the same challenges of course.
The following day, Friday May 8th is Victory in Europe Day – the day to commemorate the coming together of Europe after the war. So the election result will be announced on that morning. I’m not talking about commemorating war, but recognising the peace, and the Europe that was constructed out of the ruins of that war.
On the evening of May 7th, BBC is showing its commemorative season about the end of the war, starting with a series by Steve Humphries of Testimony Films, called The Greatest Generation. About the people who built the welfare state and the society we now benefit from in Britain. Some very stirring stories here, and a trailer below.
Steve’s also co-written a book he gave me when I saw him a couple of weeks ago in Bristol.
It’s a good reminder of what we might just have said farewell to if we vote in the current government again, like Ken Loach’s The Spirit of 45 documentary from 2013
Just in case you were wondering which way I’m going to vote, here’s Cassettboy‘s party political broadcast not on behalf of the Conservative Party
Elections are where public broadcasters really have a role to play. The BBC’s audience barely remembers this Greatest Generation – BBC2 channel head Kim Shillinglaw pointed out that as the average age of BBC2 audience is in their 50’s, they grew up on punk rock. Bit of a stretch to say that all of that audience wants programmes with attitude, but I know what she’s getting at.
Speaking of attitude, ‘young person’s channel’ E4 is cleverly switching off for the day tomorrow to encourage people to go out to vote. Darren’s the man in control of the switch.
So if you’re in the UK tomorrow and registered, don’t spend your day trying to watch E4 – please go out and vote.
See you on the other side.
I know It might be a bit late to do some predictions for 2015, but here they are anyway. Some thoughts on what I’m looking forward to in 2015. If they exist already, please send me a link!
Something that uses the visceral thrill of stunt bike descents and builds a proper story around it. Clips like this one
Something that explains modern France, Now more than ever. A version of this article would be good.
A character as good as market trader Roger Barton in the Indus series ‘The World’s Greatest Food Markets‘, my fave doc series of recent months.
A new title for ‘The World’s Greatest Food Markets’ – I’m a bit of a title fanatic, and this one didn’t draw me in.
An Asian presenter fronting a regular international show. Australia could do with more Asian faces
For lots more programmes from Channel 4 to live up to their great Born Risky tagline
After all the war docs from 2014, and the new swathe of them in 2015, how about something equally compelling about more peaceful achievements?
A series from the Tumblr generation – like TruTV are trying to do. Kudos to them for doing a full reboot of the channel
A way to get people who watch live sport to watch docs about sporting stories. They never seem to!
An Anime- K-Pop-factual mashup. I went to Seoul for the first time in the autumn, for Docs Port Incheon, and also met Korean producers at the ATF in December. But outside arthouse movies and kids cartoons Korean content is not well known in the West. So how about combining the two biggest genres in Korean pop culture?
And can we all think of a new word instead of ‘arts programmes’ so that programmers don’t keep saying they’re niche and cutting the slots? We all need creativity in our lives. Something to do with Going Out, or Dazzle – anything but Arts!
See you soon, so much media, so little time…
Back to Copenhagen after a week in London. I spent it catching up with production companies, distributors, and going to a day at the Televisual Factual Festival. Well moderated panels on Specialist Factual, Popular Factual, and how to make docs in danger zones, an interview with Ralph Lee of Channel 4, and a room full of remote cameras to demonstrate using a ‘rig’ set up. Quite a few people that I knew, but even more that I didn’t. Great to be reminded by everybody’s clip reels of what had been on, and working, in the past months. Peter Hamilton’s recently done a good overview of the UK non-fiction market, well worth a read (and I’d recommend subscribing, too).
While there was plenty of discussion of the difficulties of operating in the UK – particularly as a smaller company – the view from the stage was still that there was a big market for a range of UK produced content, particularly factual, that new ideas were sought and would get through, and that producers were well placed to take advantage. The BBC, Channel 4, ITV and Five all seemed to be in the same space for factual. Internationally, British content is doing well too – there were some big winners at the International Emmys last night. I know this is a rosy view and it’s really hard to get commissions – there are so many good ideas out there.
I met some new indies who’d set up in the great indie start-up craze as Televisual called it – amongst them Andrea Miller & Jerry Foulkes of Sunnyside productions, Fenia Vardanis of Melina Media. And companies from Bristol like Testimony, the ever-expanding Icon films, and Tigress who have all carved out a healthy part of the market without having to join the London shark-pool.
And they’re competing in a market with some big players. Discovery & Viacom have bought All3Media and Channel5, Endemol, Shine & Core Media have merged, and Warner has completed a rebrand of the production companies it bought through Shed. On the horizon is the move of BBC in-house production to be a standalone independent company, able to work for other broadcasters as well as the BBC. But if it has to carry BBC overheads and staffing arrangements, I can’t see how it’s going to compete.
All public broadcasters are having to change – mostly by downsizing – and my new colleagues at SBS are facing cuts announced last week – those for the ABC are much larger. But in truth the changes now imposed on the ABC have been happening for many years in the UK sector. It’s not just about saving money, it’s driven by changes in how the creative industry wants to work, and the ways audiences want to watch. The best result would be a more balanced ecosystem of independents and inhouse, and content that people want to watch and use.
Some of that public service ecosystem is on show this week at the IDFA Forum, Festival and DocLab – public service content in all directions, and all of it coming from independent producers working with or without broadcasters. I’m not saying it’s all made for the small screen, a lot of doc films see themselves in opposition to television and see their natural home as the cinema (and good luck to them).
The challenge for Australian broadcasters is to keep a focus on this public service content, rather than chasing ratings or focussing on the now not so new platforms. SBS itself has a real challenge to keep history, arts, social documentary, international themes on the channel. The opposition in Australia has so many battles to fight – about climate change, the environment, immigration policy, cuts to Science R&D funding, that broadcasting and the creative sector maybe don’t get enough attention. But as an outsider to Australia, it needs work.
My London week was rounded off by a Saturday night party for Anne Morrison, who’s left the BBC and is now Chair of BAFTA. She’s managed so much in her 33 years at the BBC, from 18 years running various factual departments, to driving the Nations and Regions strategy (how to move production and commissioning out of London and into the English regions and Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, which I worked for Anne on). And most recently the BBC Academy, the BBC’s training organisation. (You should check out the material that’s available for free on their website, particularly the Journalism section).
It was great to see old colleagues, both from the BBC and the independent sector. The quality television programmes produced in that room really captured a lot of my past, and I felt pretty proud to be a part of it. But I couldn’t help feeling we were the lucky ones to have been able to work in such a well-supported organisation.
Thanks for reading till the end, feel free to share, comments welcome below.