Wednesday, April 20, 2016

I'll see your paper...

There are clearly back channels in the Charter Renewal process between the BBC and the DCMS. But with the White Paper now promised in the second half of May, it can't be long before it goes to print in more than draft form, and the channels close.

So I'm getting anxious about a range of new papers coming from Auntie, which you might interpret as attempts to get some retaliation in first.

Yesterday we had the Trust-commissioned research on what Joe Public thinks, if at all, about Government-appointed non-executive directors; later the same day, a new think-piece emerged from the BBC, with a foreword from DG Lord Hall, about 'distinctiveness', particularly in terms of BBC1, Radio 1, Radio 2 and BBC Online.

There's some pin-head dancing on distinctiveness and distinguishable. And, generally, the BBC tests distinctiveness by asking the audience for their assessment. But Lord Hall does propose two new-ish tests - "that every BBC programme or piece of online content should aspire to be the best in that genre, and that overall the range of programmes in every BBC service or online product should be clearly distinguishable from its commercial competitors."

Note: aspiration in the first test. Forget The Night Manager and Shakespeare stuff.  Is, for example, Can't Touch This on BBC1 the best in the genre of physical humiliation of volunteers in Lycra ? Is Homes Under The Hammer the best in genre of programmes that fill space cheaply with a format unchanged since 2003 ?

In the second test, we move away from individual programmes to "range of programmes" (I thought the direction of travel was to assume channels were toast, and we're all going to create our own schedules in the MyBBC of blessed memory/non-delivery.... ).  So a range can be, apparently, distinctive because it carries both Homes Under The Hammer and Happy Valley.

The paper pushes once again the BBC's investment in drama. I don't know about you, but I've got more weekly strands to catch up with, across BBC1, BBC2, BBC4 and ITV than my brain can handle at the moment. That's without Sky Atlantic, Neflix, Amazon Prime etc (which I don't have). The BBC can't really argue that the UK licence-fee payer has an underprovision of quality in this genre - and it may be banging on about it in case Whittingdale, Vaizey or Ofcom attempts to change this piece of the broadcasting ecology.

The distinctiveness paper is weakest on BBC Online, but we are promised that the results of the Online Creative Review, launched in November, are just around the corner..

This Online Creative Review will be clear about what the BBC will not do online. It cannot be all things to all people. The internet is a vital marketplace for products and services, businesses and organisations that the BBC cannot hope to – nor seek to – compete with.

One last niggle. Isn't the sentence "What is distinctiveness" a question, requiring a question mark ?

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