Friday, January 29, 2016

Alternative thinking

I hope there's some sharp lateral thinking going on about the beleaguered BBC News Channel. It looks vulnerable to internal voices who think it should close, in favour of an online operation of mini-packages and a little light streaming. The proponents of this move favour this option rather than cutting their own budgets - and I suspect many are in the Newsgathering Catering Corps.

Newsgathering has grown like Topsy - or Halliburton - over the years, demanding more and more people to service more and more outlets. If you want to see how it plans, watch this video about setting up tv coverage of a piece of paper - the announcement of a Royal Baby. Enjoy the conversation, as at least five people discuss the framing of a single question off the back of a package.  And then watch the two videos below. Newsgathering also loves the long tail of online - packages which don't make network news still get an outing, with little quality control, and the producers and correspondents get a tick in the productivity ledgers beloved of the department.

The latest idea seems to be ease the assisted-broadcast-death of the News Channel by giving even more hours to BBC World News, an operation that has yet to say clearly if it's making a profit or not. And if the logic of dying 24-hour news channels is right, what right has BBC World to survive in the hard-nosed commercial portfolio of BBC Worldwide ?  If  international viewing figures are hard to split out, then advertising rates are public. $4800 will buy you a 30 second peak-time slot on BBC World News in Europe, famous for its democratic deficit. It falls to $650 in North America, where the big networks charge over $250,000 for peak, and $210 for Africa - hardly worth the processing cost.

Devolutionary pressures suggest the best option is for the News Channel to keep going and to do more deals with BBC2. BBC2 can be switched regionally; the BBC News Channel can't. BBC2 is the place to deliver whatever answer is produced to the Scottish Six question, and then answer it again for Wales and Northern Ireland. BBC News, which already shares the Victoria Derbyshire show with BBC2, should also share the Daily Politics - you can't imagine Andrew Neil wanting to miss a big breaking story.  That should produce some savings whilst Parliament is sitting.

And the News Channel is a showcase for good tv journalism that can't quite be levered into BBC1. The RTS nominations show that.  The Newsgathering tail must not be allowed to wag the dog - and the BBC shouldn't cede 24 hour UK tv news to Sky, yet.

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