First, Steve’s short lecture in which he described openness as
An uncomplicated, generous use of license fee funding to generate content and code, as well as sharing the way we make it
He quickly rejected the commonly held notion that because the license fee paid for the BBC’s output it therefore it should all be freely available in all formats as “an unimaginative heat death for the economic value of the BBC”.
In describing why openness should be important to us, Steve pointed out that public value is a big deal at the BBC
“the BBC is not a business, it is a machine for the production of public value … Open organisations make more effecient use of resources … while businesses are typically good at concentrating capital and talent but inefficient at maximising public value.
It’s partly about “liberating the archive for the nation’s benefit” but while “this is not about raiding the content library … I think the conclusion will be that we can liberate access to some content for free, or at trivial cost.”
“Since Ross/Brand, there are catastrophic levels of caution at the BBC”
Steve concluded with some challenges, including the question of what to put at http://open.bbc.co.uk.
Next, a panel session. Joining Steve on the panel were
- Emily Bell (Guardian)
- Ian Douglas (Telegraph)
- Jim Killock (Open Rights Group)
- Tony Ageh (BBC)
It was lively, with some fascinating insights and opinions expressed.
Emily Bell – The BBC is so big that it’s very easy for it to roll over in its sleep and kill a few people with its tail.
Nick Reynolds – When there’s no consensus, we don’t want to talk about it at all. All big institutions avoid disagreeing in public.
From the floor (Michael.. missed his surname) – “people talk about ‘new media’, ‘future media’, but it’s just digital media. Having a department called future media is an open sore, and it’s embarrassing. Digital is open. You talk about openness, but when it’s digital you need to build relationships, not try to control your content.”
Steve – I’m also a school governor, and you’re told you have to be a critical friend. The BBC needs lots of critical friends.
Tony, talking about middle management – the bit in the middle is the problem. It’s the bit that won’t thaw. But they’re also the ones who actually get fired, who get criticised and who get the blame for perceived failings.
I was watching the openbbc tag on Twitter, as other people took live notes, so I noticed Tom Dolan when he expressed a view that “entertainment and comedy suffer really badly if you increase the openness”. And to underline his point, wondered whether “It’s time to start each episode of EastEnders with the doofdoofers, and then show that none of the sets join up in real life.”. Since Tom wasn’t in the room, I lobbed his point at the panel for him. Steve thought that the richness of just what’s in filing cabinets alone would make it worthwhile to do something. It doesn’t have to be everything. while Emily pointed out that it’s theatre – when you’re putting on a play you don’t want to see the guy putting the set together. Openness doesn’t mean you have to involve the audience at every point in the creative process. For what it’s worth, I agree with Emily.
One of my favourite quotes, which had my typing frantically, came from the ever thoughtful Tony Ageh:
We’ve never involved ourselves in the DRM issue, which we should have done. We don’t own much of the iPlayer code, but the bits we do own we should open. We don’t have significant contribution to the technical space which produces our media in the way that previous generations did. … Not just TV episodes. Content, information, millions of BBC Copyright still images, histories of localities … our brands could be made available for certain audiences in certain ways … all of which can allow self actualisation and stimulate a creative nation.
A useful and thought-provoking session.