BeebCamp gave me a new idea for how the BBC could work

I went to BeebCamp today – an ‘unconference’ for people involved in all things digital at the BBC and (this time) some influential and interesting outsiders.

Can you spot me? (Thanks to RainRabbit on Flickr for this)

Can you spot me? (Thanks to RainRabbit on Flickr for this)

Sadly, I had to leave early for personal reasons but I got to go to sessions on “The Games Challenge – Making Things Fun” and “Building the Datadesk at the LA Time” and “What Happens When (and if!) Mobiles and Desktop PCs Swap Roles” and one on “Piracy”.  They were all interesting but, in the one on Piracy, I had what feels like a big thought that I want to write about before I go into detail about what happened at the sessions.  So here goes… please let me know what you think…

Pre-pay BBC

Imagine this very simple concept: Each year you pay your license fee to the BBC in exchange for programming that you own and control the destiny of.  YOU decide what gets made because YOU decide which ideas, programmes, themes, seasons, etc you want to invest in.  This could be done via an online marketplace that let’s you manage the money in your account and that links you to what other people are doing with the money in their accounts.
The thinking came out of a discussion on piracy where I pointed out that Bandstocks (which I’ve blogged about before) has partially found a way around piracy of music by effectively creating a ‘pre-pay’ model where listeners who really want new music pay for it to be made and then share in the profits (if any) should the music become successful.  Sure, people can pirate the music later, but the artist gets paid up front if the users really want to hear their album.  There’s no guess work by A&R men – you know the album will sell because listeners have already registered their demand with votes and with their own cold hard cash.
People pay the license fee with their cold hard cash, too.  Hopefully because they care about commercial-free content public service content (and possibly because they can be prosecuted if they don’t) – but let’s focus on the first part.

Every year households all over the UK ‘invest’ a fairly large sum of money into the BBC in exchange for a portfolio of content and services across TV, Radio, Web, Mobile, etc that should “inform, educate and entertain” them (probably more than they invest on average in cash in any other company – but I’d have to check this).  But, once they’ve paid it, they have no control over that portfolio.  In fact, they have less direct control than they do if they invested in shares in a corporation because they can’t sell their stocks later. 

Once the funds come in, people like myself, spend loads of effort researching, planning and strategising about what that portfolio should be – we do nothing short of our best to try to “build public value” with the funds we get.  And yes, I honestly believe, most of us do try our best to do this – so this isn’t an attack on anyone inside – I work for the BBC, believe in the BBC and think it does a great job given the giant task it has on its hands.

That said, not allowing our audiences to have at least a level of direct control over what programming gets made seems outdated in the digital age.

I’m imagining a digital marketplace where editors, producers, directors, etc “float” ideas to the public and where anyone who’s paid their license fee can choose to allocate a portion of the funding they’ve pre-paid to us.  This could be at the level of specific programmes (after reading a brief posted by a commissioning exec), for an entire service (if say, they really love 6Music – like I do) or even an entire genre (if you just can’t get enough cookery programming).  Those who don’t have access to PCs or mobiles could acccess the system using paper postal surveys.

Programming would have to reach a certain threshold to go into production and larger areas would need a certain amount of funding to continue.  Those areas that received enough funding to go into production and to operate, would do just that.  New areas could be considered by the public and invested in if they were deemed worthy enough.

Would this water down the quality of our content?  It could.  And that would be a disaster; but I suggest that we would only allow ideas that clearly deliver public value and were true to the BBC purposes and values into the system in the first place to avoid this.  Yes, we still need commissioners and editors to perform this function – I’m just proposing a more direct and accountable connection with audience members.

If we knew every programme had an eager audience before it was made, would we ever have another ‘flop’?  I’m not sure the idea is that good but think about this… if audiences loved (and I mean really loved some programming), I’d suggest we give them the opportunity to invest over and above their license fee if they want to.  I can imagine plenty of fans of particular programmes who would love to be able to pay a bit extra to get an extra episode of their favourite programmes – and just imagine the affinity this would build between the fans and the content.  Just imagine the hype fans would create around progamming/content they’d had a direct influence on financing.

Don’t get me wrong here – I’m not suggesting this would allow audiences to decide whether to pay a license fee but rather that they have more control as to how the fee is used.  I also recognise that a large corporation has many overhead costs and operating costs that audiences would not have visibility of or ever choose to invest in so realise a ‘penny for penny’ approach wouldn’t work – but this could be overcome by a point system or something similar.  The ability to allow audiences to see how their money had been used and the direct impact they’ve had on the content would also strengthen the accountability and transparency of the BBC to them; effectively opening the company up to a much greater degree.

Crazy talk?  Maybe.  But I’d love to know what you think.

As for the other talks at BeebCamp…  Here were my highlights:

The Games Challenge: Making Anything Fun

This was hosted by staff from Six to Start and helped us work through the challenges and opportunities of making ‘anything’ fun.  We took on Funerals, the Middle East, Health and Safety regulations, commuting and taxes.  And, sure enough, were able to find a way of making each of them fun so, yes, you can make almost anything into a game.

Building the Datadesk at the L.A. Times

In this session Eric Ulken said: “Journalists gather loads of data, use what they need to write the story, then throw the rest away.  I tried to figure out what we could do with all of that extra data.”  The results were the datadesk at the L.A. Times and he showed us some cool examples of what he’s doing.

What happens when (if?!) ‘mobiles’ and desktop PCs swap roles?

This is a session I ran – based in a question that I honestly don’t know the answer to but am very curious about after having read it in Fjord’s predictions for mobile in 2009 (see my previous post on that).   We didn’t, of course, come to a conclusion – but the conversation raised some interesting points which I’ve tried to gather here.

The conversation kicked off with people talking about he pros and cons of storage of assets in ‘the cloud’ and the desire for ownership of assets.  A great point was made that this was an “over 25 model” for looking at this in that anyone under the age of 25 wouldn’t even think about physically owning media (cheers to Alex Murray for that thought).

 Thinking along the lines of download vs. broadcast models for media then lead us into seeing a third dimension to this paradigm which is the ability to upload.  Uploading, the group seemed to agree, allows for a different level of creativity and participation which meant that information in ‘the cloud’ could only really meet its full potential to be socialised.  Someone summed this up really nicely (I thought) by saying, “It’s about what I can do on the device that I can also share.”

Conversation then turned to the idea of portable devices being the centre of users digital lives because they’d contain a portable, central profile that would identify you to other non-portable devices.  A key point here, was that to reach the full potential of this promise interoperability will be needed and the group seemed to still feel like that was a way off.

12 responses to “BeebCamp gave me a new idea for how the BBC could work

  1. Pingback: BeeBCamp2 - The Morning After « Just Another Meme Vector

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  3. interesting idea… I’m about to start working at CBS interactive, and they couldn’t be farther from this kind of thinking, it’s all about their TV shows with ad bumpers anywhere on the web.

  4. “Would this water down the quality of our content? It could. And that would be a disaster; but I suggest that we would only allow ideas that clearly deliver public value and were true to the BBC purposes and values…”

    Yes the technology would enable democratisaiton of programming, but the value of the BBC is *in deciding* what does bring value to the culture. Otherwise, we already have the Web for this kind of open marketplace programming. No need to turn the BBC into something that is already there, we have netvibes/loveFilm for putting our cold hard cash.

    I would also have serious concerns about the public actually having the time, skill or desire to get on and make decision for what they want <- lest we want 14 year old girls (and their dad’s credit cards) making programming decisions for us? Let alone how a sixty year old is going to get on the web?

    Love the enthusiasm for new innovation though! Keep ’em coming 🙂

  5. Pingback: Jason DaPonte: BeebCamp and new ways of working at the BBC | Editors' Blog

  6. I was very inspired by the Bandstocks model when I read about it on your blog before. As long as it doesn’t kill the artistic initiative, I think it’s a brilliant tool to acheive direct commercial communication between artists and tv channels and their audiences. And a way to get around the piracy issue as you said.

    A compromise to combine viewer democracy with skilled commissioning could perhaps be to let the viewer invest their license fees in BBC channels rather than individual programs?

  7. Jason,

    Really interesting idea. Given the Government’s focus on moving services online and empowering constituents with choice, it would make sense to see the BBC do something similar.

  8. nickreynoldsatwork

    It’s a terrible idea. I’ll have to write a long blog post explaining why. But among other things it would not bring innovation to the mainstream, and would reinforce some of the BBC’s already bad habits.

    Watch out for that blog post.

  9. Pingback: “A New Idea For How The BBC Could Work” …Not « Nick Reynolds At Work

  10. nickreynoldsatwork

    Long blog post now finished:

    I wish I’d been to Beebcamp…

  11. Pingback: Maybe what your news organization needs is a ’spontaneous bashing together of ideas’ | What’s New in News

  12. Pingback: Customers or Shareholders? – Sir Michael Lyons talks about the BBC « Jason DaPonte’s blog

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