digibyte - a final word on the BBC and digital

Stuart Lauchlan Profile picture for user slauchlan March 8, 2015
Ovum's Nick Thomas shares my scepticism about aspects of the grand digital ambitions of the BBC.

Last week I took a fairly scathing look at the BBC's ambitious plans to the be the digital heart of the nation. While supportive of the BBC in its quest to redefine its mission statement in a digital age, I was sceptical of some of the stated goals and whether they are realistic.

I was cheered then to see a similar scepticism aired by Nick Thomas of research house Ovum, who has particular concern around the personalisation vision articulated by BBC Director General Tony Hall, the self-styled shift from iPlayer to MyPlayer.  Thomas argues:

Even for those of us who consider ourselves digital evangelists, this thesis feels a little off. Are we really on a road towards a fully personalized media landscape? Is that what most consumers want, and does it underplay the BBC’s great strength in curating great content for a mass audience? Is it not the case that linear TV still has a huge role to play, even with young viewers?

He goes on to posit that the BBC may be exaggerating its existential threat:

Is it in danger of overplaying the decline in old-fashioned linear TV viewing? The decision to kill off the youth-focused channel BBC3, making it online only, is being positioned as a visionary strategic move (rather than, say, a messy attempt to divert funding to the more mainstream channels). The kids, the elders of the BBC seem to be saying, don’t watch TV.

But actually they do, even if they watch less of it than before. The assumption underpinning much of the BBC’s focus – that live TV’s share of overall video consumption among young audiences is in terminal decline – seems fundamentally flawed. The BBC seems too ready to concede on this issue: Live linear TV, which is the BBC’s great differentiator over its upstart Internet-based rivals – still has a role to play even for younger viewers. They certainly won’t be watching it on BBC3 after it is taken off air.


Can a data-driven BBC be the digital heart of the nation? And should it even try? (part 1)

Can a data-driven BBC be the digital heart of the nation? And should it even try? (part 2) 

Thomas also questions the assumption that in a multi-platform, multi-device, multi-content providers landscape, recommendation becomes the silver bullet of choice, the way to guide viewers to particular content. Ovum's own global survey of TV executives in 2014 cited content recommendation and discovery as their top priority, so the BBC is 'on message' here at least. But as Thomas notes:

No broadcaster or content provider has got the formula right yet, or moved beyond Amazon’s deceptively simple “other customers bought this” model. Could it be that content recommendation is – whisper it – a solution in search of a problem? (Not to mention a potential money-pit.) Consumers are happy to recommend and share via social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook that exist already. And while it may be unthinkable for some in the industry, it could also be the case that most consumers don’t care enough about most of the content that is available to them.

Overall, Thomas concludes that the BBC needs to play to its existing strengths to compete against the likes of Google, Netflix, and Amazon:

The BBC has massive advantages over those pretenders, notably daily engagement with millions of consumers in the UK and beyond, and an unrivalled track record for creating and curating great content. While the BBC must avoid fighting the last war, neither should it compete on the terms created by its new digital rivals either.

My take

What he said.

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