New BBC chief vows to re-invent content, not just re-purpose it

The BBC’s new director-general has vowed to merge TV, radio and online teams so that the corporation creates “genuinely digital content for the first time”.

The BBC is often thought of as an online exemplar. In fact, the big digital ideology of the the last several years has been making linear conventional broadcast material available on-demand, live and through multiple internet devices, principally through the iPlayer service.

But George Entwhistle, in a keynote delivered to staff as he replaced New York Times-bound Mark Thompson on Tuesday, said this practise has come to its natural limit; instead, he said, the BBC must now create content conceived for interactive platforms, not re-interpreted from older media.

In some ways, this may herald a return to the late 1990s and early  2000s, when the BBC, embracing the web as a third platform, published many kinds of text-based websites that were not dependent on broadcast services. Those projects have been cut over the last few years as video excitement grew and as the digital division adopted a 25 percent budget cut.

Entwhistle’s digital-native content is likely to be created for a richer and more multi-screen online environment than the last time the BBC followed such a strategy. So we may see a new era of inventiveness.

Here is the relevant excerpt from Entwhistle’s full speech

“The BBC is rightly thought to have done well in the early stages of the digital revolution. iPlayer has been feted for its superbly engineered platform, which set new standards in video streaming, and a user interface that made catching up on the TV you’d missed a pleasure. But while celebrating all that, the real key to iPlayer is the unmissability of the content it offers.

“Even in our near-miraculous coverage of the Olympics, I would say that we’ve taken – joyously – our capacity to present and distribute existing forms of content to their natural limits rather than innovate to discover genuinely new forms of content.

“Yet it’s the quest for this – genuinely new forms of digital content – that represents the next profound moment of change we need to prepare for if we’re to deserve a new charter.

“As we increasingly make use of a distribution model – the internet – principally characterised by its return path, its capacity for interaction, its hunger for more and more information about the habits and preferences of individual users, then we need to be ready to create content which exploits this new environment – content which shifts the height of our ambition from live output to living output.

“We need to be ready to produce and create genuinely digital content for the first time. And we need to understand better what it will mean to assemble, edit and present such content in a digital setting where social recommendation and other forms of curation will play a much more influential role.

“Now I believe an organisation run, for decades now, around the existing platforms and the content they define for themselves – radio and TV – is going to find it hard to get ready for that. A television or radio organisation can always be forgiven for obsessing only about the creation of television or radio.

“To be ready for the world into which a new Charter would take us we will need to change the way we’re organised.

“So, in around two years time, my aim is to have restructured the BBC – with fundamental implications for A&M, Vision and Future Media. To be ready to create and curate genuinely digital content, we will need to integrate all three disciplines – definitively. We need to ask people from all three to work more closely together in order to imagine ourselves into the space where a new kind of content is possible.

“I promise this won’t be a repeat of the bi-media experiment many of us lived through in the 1990s, where people who loved and were good at one thing were asked to do another.

“But it will mean a careful reconstruction of some of the output structures of the BBC. My initial view is that a genre-based approach will give us the right way forward.”