Friday, 11 October 2013

BBC Future : Tony Hall unveils his vision for the BBC

BBC Director General Tony Hall unveiled his new vision earlier this week. Perhaps it didn't get quite the attention it should have thanks to the "Powerpoint Presentation" style of the speech. Full text here. You can almost see the bullet points and autocue prompts beeping across the screen......

In realspeak,  it amounts to an awareness of new forms of technology.  "More than 9 million devices accessed BBC Sport Online on transfer day. 40% of requests to the iPlayer now come from mobile devices – 40%. A couple of years ago the figure was just 6%. We had one and a half million requests for our sitcom Bad Education before the first programme had even been broadcast. What a great opportunity this is. And we’re going to embrace it just as we embraced television, just as we embraced the internet. Just as we created Freeview and the iPlayer. We are going to reinvent what we do, bit by bit, step by step, to serve this new audience."

True : The BBC embraced television very early on and innovations like i-player and international online broadcasts  What Tony Hall says is that they're going to expand i-Player to reflect the changing ways people connect to the media. No more "listening to the radio" but accessing content on other devices whenever it suits the listener/viewer. Some shows to go onto i-Player plus even before they go on regular media.  

How does this translate for the Arts, especially classical music ? "I want", says Hall, "for BBC Music to be a brand that stands proudly alongside BBC News or BBC Sport." ......"We’ll make sure that the arts don’t disappear into niche channels by bringing more landmark arts shows back to BBC One and also to BBC Two."  This IS significant because the arts are part of normal life. Thousands must have followed the BBC Proms simply because they can on TV at prime time. The downside might be that this kind of viewer might expect something populist rather than art for art's sake. But still, there was once a time when audiences accepted upmarket rather than dumbed down. It's scary that kids today, according to another recent report, are less educated than their grandparents.

Hall also announced the launch of The Space, the BBC's joint venture with the Arts Council of England. When this was first launched in July 2012, I hailed its potential. (read more here) "The potential for is umbrella for the arts of all kinds. Strength in numbers, economies of scale. I don't know if thespace is experimental or permanent but it's a good idea. It could be a treasure trove. If the French and Germans can do such things, why can't we?"

The BBC has bigger archives than any other arts institition in the world. If these were made available, it would be like unlocking the biggest gold mine the world has ever seen. A decade ago, the BBC wanted to open its back catalogue. Record companies didn't want the compeition.  With links to other bodies like the National Theatre,  the British Film Institute and so on, The Space could become the flagship of British arts. The prospects are dazzling. Tony Hall doesn't mention many specifics apart from hinting at new commissions and ventures, but in theory The Space could do for British arts what i-Player has done for the BBC.

The 2012 launch of The Space mwas an unmitigated disaster. First the name, so bland and forgettable that it showed up lower on google than a completely separate arts venue with a similar name. Serious rebranding needed, and a professional marketing strategy. The original Space was created by techno geeks with no insight into the arts whatsoever.. Items were included just because they happened to be available : no broad vision, no basic insight into what's happening in the arts world. Thetre needs to be real vision, and genuine understanding of the arts in their broadest form. A good business principle : getb the product right and the rest will follow.

Part of the reason the original Space failed was because the Arts Council England isn't a visionary organization. There's no vision in the British arts in general. That's why we have disasters like the management of the South Bank, fiddling about with short term sales targets, losing the raison d'être for its very existence. So we're stuck with the piecemeal thinking of a horrifyingly expensive rebuild, pushed through by questionable methods. Please read my Band aid or Surgery? and National Theatre slams South Bank Proposals. If the Arts Council did proper policy planning, we might not be in this situation. For once, I agree with Richard Morrison, who sugeested pulling the South Bank down and starting from scratch.

Where is real leadership - and vision - going to come from ? As continuity announcers used to say "Over to you, BBC".

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