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Category — Broadcasting

Poetry at Relay for Life

I love Shake­speare, but I’ve nev­er real­ly thought of per­form­ing any.

How­ev­er when we were prepar­ing for the Relay For Life of Sec­ond Life Telethon, sev­er­al mem­bers of the team were invit­ed to record a series of poems to be played dur­ing the Lumi­nar­ia cer­e­mo­ny (one of the most mov­ing parts of the event).


Lantern release dur­ing the Lumi­nar­ia cer­e­mo­ny — image by Beq Janus

The Lumi­nar­ia Cer­e­mo­ny occurs at every Relay For Life event, whether in the organ­ic world, or as in our case, in a vir­tu­al world. As the sun sets, lumi­nar­ia lin­ing the track light up the night. A hush falls over the crowd that had been over­flow­ing with cel­e­bra­tion. Par­tic­i­pants, sur­vivors, and care­givers then gath­er to remem­ber loved ones lost to can­cer and to hon­our those whose fight con­tin­ues. The cer­e­mo­ny in Sec­ond Life includ­ed a won­der­ful addi­tion­al fea­ture: the releas­ing of illu­mi­nat­ed Chi­nese lanterns into the night sky (see Beq’s pic­ture above, tak­en in front of her amaz­ing Esch­er build that you can just make out).

The offi­cial com­men­tary is car­ried by T1 Radio, and they read a list of names, between which they play pieces of music. Now, they have a licence to play com­mer­cial records, but we don’t, so this year they kind­ly gave us a run­ning order and tim­ings and we were able to deter­mine what was to go in the slots occu­pied by music in their cov­er­age, so we could “opt out” to our own audio pro­gram­ming. This was the pur­pose of the pre-record­ed poems. Mem­bers of our team put these record­ings togeth­er with pro­duc­tion music (main­ly by Kevin MacLeod, see cred­it below) to cre­ate a series of real­ly beau­ti­ful sequences, which I will hope­ful­ly be able to link to for you short­ly where they’ll have full cred­its — they’re being assem­bled into a series of short videos accom­pa­nied by images of this year’s campsites.

One of the two pieces I chose to record was this speech from Pros­pero in The Tempest:

Our rev­els now are end­ed. These our actors,
As I fore­told you, were all spir­its, and
Are melt­ed into air, into thin air;
And, like the base­less fab­ric of this vision,
The cloud-capped tow­ers, the gor­geous palaces,
The solemn tem­ples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inher­it, shall dissolve;
And, like this insub­stan­tial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our lit­tle life
Is round­ed with a sleep. (IV.i.148–158)

In addi­tion to send­ing the voice-only record­ing off to the guys for incor­po­rat­ing in the sequence, I found a piece of music [Vir­tutes Instru­men­ti, Com­posed and per­formed by Kevin MacLeod ( Licensed under Cre­ative Com­mons: By Attri­bu­tion 3.0] and ran it under the voice record­ing. As it will nev­er be used for any­thing, here it is, and I hope you like it:

Pros­per­o’s Speech with music — click to play

August 1, 2013   No Comments

75 Years of BBC Television

Wednes­day 2nd Novem­ber saw the 75th anniver­sary of the open­ing of the BBC Tele­vi­sion Service.

To com­mem­o­rate the event, the BBC held a spe­cial cel­e­bra­tion at Alexan­dra Palace, where the Ser­vice opened.

Orig­i­nal­ly, the inten­tion was to hold a spe­cial Open Day on the 2nd, at which mem­bers of the pub­lic would be able to vis­it the stu­dios and see audio-visu­al pre­sen­ta­tions. How­ev­er this was even­tu­al­ly moved to Novem­ber 5–6, leav­ing only an inter­nal BBC event hap­pen­ing on the actu­al day.

I man­aged to obtain an invi­ta­tion, for which my thanks to the ebul­lient Robert Seat­ter, head of BBC His­to­ry, and tech­nol­o­gy jour­nal­ist Bill Thompson.

The invi­ta­tion said “3:45 for 4pm” and as a result I found myself in the Alexan­dra Palace Tow­er end car park well in time for the off, giv­ing some time to take in the views over the city, expe­ri­ence the con­tin­u­al wind and enjoy some dra­mat­ic skies over this “Palace of the Peo­ple” locat­ed at the high­est point in North London.

When the BBC decid­ed on Ally Pal­ly as the site for the new BBC Tele­vi­sion Ser­vice in the wake of the Sels­don Report in 1936, the place was already decay­ing some­what. It’s a process that has con­tin­ued since BBC Tele­vi­sion left here sev­er­al decades ago, and although the team now fronting the Trust that runs the site today is incred­i­bly, and impres­sive­ly, enthu­si­as­tic and upbeat, there is no way it can be oth­er than an uphill strug­gle in these aus­tere times. But you can’t say they aren’t try­ing hard and I wish them every success.

The BBC still main­tains active offices in the block under the mast. But instead of enter­ing through the doors there, adja­cent to the GLC blue com­mem­o­ra­tive plaque on the wall, we were motioned into an entrance along to the left, up a met­al ramp and into what had orig­i­nal­ly been the Trans­mit­ter Hall. It may be not­ed that this was prob­a­bly not the first, but pos­si­bly the last, time that any­one had the bright idea of plac­ing a pair of pow­er­ful VHF trans­mit­ters and a pig­ging great set of trans­mit­ting anten­nae right next to a set of tele­vi­sion stu­dios full of sen­si­tive equipment.

Inside, the room had been dec­o­rat­ed with pan­els against the walls, each car­ry­ing infor­ma­tion and images of some aspect of Ally Pal­ly TV his­to­ry, and a free-stand­ing pho­to dis­play of his­tor­i­cal images, main­ly pro­vid­ed by the Alexan­dra Palace Tele­vi­sion Soci­ety. A jazz quar­tet played suit­able 1930s style music; servers glid­ed among the assem­bled invi­tees dis­pens­ing water, orange juice or Prosecco.

We had the chance to min­gle and chat, and I was very pleased to meet TV cook Zena Skin­ner, who prob­a­bly coined the phrase “Here’s one I made ear­li­er” — though in her case she real­ly had made it ear­li­er, her­self; I also met Pro­fes­sor Jean Seaton, the BBC’s Offi­cial His­to­ri­an and Pro­fes­sor of Media His­to­ry at the Uni­ver­si­ty of West­min­ster; and talked briefly to John Tre­nouth, Tech­nol­o­gy Advis­er to the BBC Col­lec­tion, whom I met dur­ing his time at what is now the Nation­al Media Muse­um in Bradford.

In the cen­tre of the room, a make-up table and lights were set up, where var­i­ous young women were being made up using the colours required by the Baird System.

When the BBC Tele­vi­sion Ser­vice was estab­lished, the Gov­ern­ment required two tele­vi­sion sys­tems to be used. On the one hand was the all-elec­tron­ic Mar­coni-EMI sys­tem, which offered 405 lines, and on the oth­er was the Baird electro­mechan­i­cal sys­tem which deliv­ered 240-line tele­vi­sion. Ear­ly on, it became evi­dent that the Mar­coni-EMI sys­tem was sig­nif­i­cant­ly supe­ri­or, but it had been Baird who had tire­less­ly pro­mot­ed tele­vi­sion as a con­cept, and lob­bied the GPO over licens­ing and the Gov­ern­ment to leg­is­late for a Tele­vi­sion Ser­vice. Baird high­light­ed the fact that his was a British inven­tion – though it could equal­ly legit­i­mate­ly be claimed that the Mar­coni-EMI sys­tem was British. Almost cer­tain­ly the Gov­ern­ment deci­sion, a typ­i­cal British com­pro­mise, was made at least in part to avoid sug­ges­tions that they were turn­ing down a British inno­va­tion, the deci­sion man­dat­ing the use of both sys­tems on an alter­nat­ing basis for six months before a choice was to be made before the two. The prob­lems expe­ri­enced with the tech­no­log­i­cal dead-end of the Baird mechan­i­cal scan­ning sys­tem result­ed in the deci­sion — in favour of Mar­coni-EMI — to be made after just three months.

Baird Tele­vi­sion actu­al­ly used two sys­tems. The fun­da­men­tal fea­ture of both was a “fly­ing spot scan­ner” in which, almost com­plete­ly counter-intu­itive­ly, the scene was scanned with a spot of light and pho­to­cells col­lect­ed the light reflect­ed from the sub­ject. The “Spot­light Stu­dio” used noth­ing more than this; the Inter­me­di­ate Film Tech­nique used a con­ven­tion­al film cam­era, exposed film from which was then passed imme­di­ate­ly through devel­op­er and high­ly poi­so­nous cyanide-based fix­er (par­tic­u­lar­ly nasty when it got loose), then scanned with a a fly­ing spot actu­al­ly under water. The fly­ing spot scan­ner was very sen­si­tive to red light, so if you were appear­ing in the Spot­light Stu­dio, you need­ed the spe­cial make up: black lip­stick, blue eye-shad­ow and a pale white face. Very neo-Goth. You checked it by look­ing through a red gel.

This was the make-up that was being applied to the young ladies at Ally Pal­ly on the 2nd. Appar­ent­ly the idea had orig­i­nal­ly been that BBC Lon­don would be send­ing a crew up to cov­er the par­ty, but they had pulled out and the job was left to an enthu­si­as­tic team from BBC News School Report.

Mean­while, we were treat­ed to wel­com­ing pre­sen­ta­tions: by the PR gen­tle­man from the AP team, and from Robert Seat­ter, who encour­aged us to relin­quish our glass­es and pro­ceed upstairs to Stu­dio A.

There were two main stu­dios at Ally Pal­ly orig­i­nal­ly, one above the oth­er. Stu­dio A was the Mar­coni-EMI stu­dio, while direct­ly above it was the Baird stu­dio, Stu­dio B. You can’t go into B today, because it’s rid­dled with asbestos and things are like­ly to fall on your head. But Stu­dio A is acces­si­ble. At one end of the room is a tableau rep­re­sent­ing the pro­duc­tion of the mag­a­zine pro­gramme Pic­ture Page, which ran from 1936–39 and 1946–52 and was ini­tial­ly pre­sent­ed by Joan Miller.

Around the room are assem­bled old TV sets, and var­i­ous exhibits in the room itself includ­ed an EMItron cam­era, which John Tre­nouth of the Nation­al Media Muse­um in Brad­ford kind­ly removed the lid of so we could have a look at the innards (sans tube).

In Stu­dio A we were treat­ed to a cou­ple of brief audio-visu­al pre­sen­ta­tions, the first assem­bled main­ly from clips from the film doc­u­men­tary Tele­vi­sion Comes To Lon­don, which was made to tell the BBC Tele­vi­sion Ser­vice sto­ry in 1936. Rebec­ca Kane, the MD of Alexan­dra Palace Trad­ing Ltd, intro­duced Michael Aspel, a news­read­er at AP dur­ing the peri­od when BBC Tele­vi­sion News was based here, to cut the cake.

And what a cake it was: made in the form of an old bake­lite tele­vi­sion with a pic­ture of Alexan­dra Palace on the screen, deli­cious­ly thick icing and suc­cu­lent innards. Very nice.

After that, we all wan­dered around Stu­dio A and chat­ted to each oth­er. I got into an amus­ing dis­cus­sion about the way in which the Tele­vi­sion Ser­vice closed down at the start of the Sec­ond World War, on Sep­tem­ber 1st, 1939 – about which a num­ber of myths have arisen, most of which are incor­rect (includ­ing the per­pet­u­a­tion of the main myth in Alan Yen­to­b’s Imag­ine doc­u­men­tary, re-shown on Wednes­day) – see The Edit that Rewrote His­to­ry on the Trans­d­if­fu­sion Baird site, which includes a num­ber of arti­cles on tele­vi­sion pri­or to 1955.

And then we grad­u­al­ly sloped off home.

See also:

The birth of tele­vi­sion: the “Baird” microsite at Transdiffusion

75 years on from BBC tele­vi­sion’s tech­nol­o­gy bat­tle — a nice piece by John Trenouth

BBC Cel­e­brates 75 Years of TV — Nick High­am vis­its Alexan­dra Palace











November 5, 2011   No Comments

Queuing Theory and radio playlists

Here’s an inter­est­ing ques­tion. Well, it’s inter­est­ing to me, and maybe some­one who knows about Queu­ing The­o­ry can help me solve it.

Imag­ine you cre­ate a radio sta­tion playlist by select­ing a num­ber of albums (that meet a par­tic­u­lar theme, say) and give you the total run­ning time you want, and then you ran­dom­ize the order of all the tracks on all the albums. A Rule set­ting in your play­out sys­tem does­n’t let it play the same artist more fre­quent­ly than once an hour (ie the “Min­i­mum Artist Sep­a­ra­tion” is 60 min­utes). If the sys­tem’s about to play a track that would break that rule, it moves it down the playlist until it does­n’t break the rule, recog­nis­ing future appear­ances of the same artist (or it removes it an puts it back in the pool). If it can’t move the artist far enough away, it gives up and tell you that it can’t do it.

Is there a for­mu­la that will let you know for a giv­en total run­ning time of playlist (giv­en an aver­age num­ber of tracks on an album, of aver­age run­ning time, and assum­ing each album is by one artist to keep it sim­ple) how many dif­fer­ent artists you will need to give you a high prob­a­bil­i­ty of the Rule nev­er failing?

That’s the ques­tion: here’s the background.

If you decide to run a suit­ably licensed Inter­net Radio sta­tion, some­thing you run into fair­ly quick­ly is a set of claus­es in the Dig­i­tal Mil­len­ni­um Copy­right Act (DMCA), which define how often you can play pieces of music by the same artist and from the same album. In addi­tion to appear­ing in the DMCA, and thus in the terms of the licens­ing arrange­ment with Sound Exchange in the USA, you’ll find sim­i­lar claus­es in the Phono­graph­ic Per­for­mance Lim­it­ed (PPL) Web­cast­ing licence in the UK.

Here’s how Live365 puts the require­ment in their rules for broad­cast­ers:

In any three-hour period:

  • you should not inten­tion­al­ly pro­gram more than three songs (and not more than two songs in a row) from the same recording; 
  • you should not inten­tion­al­ly pro­gram more than four songs (and not more than three songs in a row) from the same record­ing artist or anthology/box set.

As far as I know, there are no play­out sys­tems out there that actu­al­ly allow you to put these rules in and then makes sure you don’t break them. What we need is a set of check boxes:

Album sep­a­ra­tion: Max­i­mum X songs from same album per Y hours. Max in a row: Z
Artist sep­a­ra­tion: Max­i­mum A songs from same artist per B hours. Max in a row: C

Nobody cur­rent­ly does this. Why not? Any licensed inter­net sta­tion needs to fol­low rules of this type. Cur­rent­ly SAM Broad­cast­er comes clos­est, with the Playlist Rules dia­log shown at the top of the page.

It’s more com­mon to have some­thing more sim­ple. MegaSeg is a very nice Mac­in­tosh-based play­out sys­tem – the one I use – and get­ting bet­ter all the time, but apart from its lack of offi­cial FLAC sup­port (in com­mon with SAM – but luck­i­ly with Megaseg there’s a workaround in the form of the Xiph Quick­time plu­g­ins), one of its few cur­rent fail­ings (due to be addressed in the next release) is that the only set­ting that you can use to help meet the DMCA require­ments is “Artist Sep­a­ra­tion”. So you can define the min­i­mum length of time between plays of the same artist, and that’s it. Set­ting this val­ue to 60 min­utes will stop you break­ing the sec­ond DMCA require­ment, at least, although it’s a lit­tle crude: you have to rely on the fact that most albums are by one artist and man­u­al­ly select mate­r­i­al accord­ing­ly to meet the album rep­e­ti­tion rule.

Once you start try­ing to build playlists that don’t play an artist more than once an hour, you quick­ly dis­cov­er that you need more artists than you thought. Hope­ful­ly it’s pos­si­ble to build a for­mu­la to help you know how many artists you need, and about how many tracks by each.

Any ideas?

June 12, 2010   1 Comment

On Delia Derbyshire for Ada Lovelace Day

Today, March 24 2010, is Ada Lovelace Day, the day when we cel­e­brate women in sci­ence and tech­nol­o­gy and their achieve­ments – typ­i­cal­ly by blog­ging about them. You can find out more about Ada Lovelace Day at the Find­ing Ada web site, but here’s the basic gist:

Ada Lovelace Day was first cel­e­brat­ed in 2009, when over 2,000 peo­ple blogged about women in tech­nol­o­gy and sci­ence and the event receive wide media cov­er­age. This year the hope is to get 3,072 peo­ple to do the same. Ada Lovelace Day is organ­ised by Suw Char­man-Ander­son, who writes:

“Augus­ta Ada King, Count­ess of Lovelace was born on 10th Decem­ber 1815, the only child of Lord Byron and his wife, Annabel­la. Born Augus­ta Ada Byron, but now known sim­ply as Ada Lovelace, she wrote the world’s first com­put­er pro­grammes for the Ana­lyt­i­cal Engine, a gen­er­al-pur­pose machine that Charles Bab­bage had invented.”

And there’s plen­ty more where that came from.

The mar­vel­lous logo shown above was cre­at­ed by Syd­ney Pad­ua and Lorin O’Brien and appears on the for­mer’s won­der­ful 2D Gog­gles com­ic web site.

Delia Der­byshire

I’ve been inter­est­ed in elec­tron­ic music for decades, and I sup­pose one of my great­est influ­ences was the BBC Radio­phon­ic Work­shop, sad­ly dis­band­ed in March 1998 dur­ing the era of the BBC “inter­nal mar­ket” under Direc­tor-Gen­er­al John Birt, when depart­ments had to oper­ate at a prof­it or close. This result­ed in absur­di­ties like it becom­ing cheap­er to nip down the street from Broad­cast­ing House to HMV in Oxford Street to buy a CD con­tain­ing a piece of music to use in a pro­gramme rather than obtain­ing the track via the BBC Record Library.

Delia Der­byshire (1937–2001) was born in Coven­try, my home town, and com­plet­ed a degree in math­e­mat­ics and music at Gir­ton Col­lege Cam­bridge. In 1959, she famous­ly applied to Dec­ca to work at their record­ing stu­dios in Broad­hurst Gar­dens, West Hamp­stead and was turned down, being told that they did­n’t employ women.

After a stint with the UN in Gene­va and with music pub­lish­er Boosey and Hawkes she joined the BBC Radio­phon­ic Work­shop in 1962, which, in those days before syn­the­sis­ers and sam­plers, was main­ly exper­i­ment­ing with musique con­crète tech­niques, involv­ing record­ing sounds from ordi­nary objects like rulers and lamp­shades and play­ing them back at dif­fer­ent speeds back­wards and for­wards, edit­ing them togeth­er into pieces of music. Below you can see Delia describ­ing her work in this respect.

Most elec­tron­ic music of the time was fair­ly abstract, but as the job of the Work­shop was to pro­vide inci­den­tal and theme music for BBC tele­vi­sion and radio pro­duc­tions, their out­put tend­ed to be a lot more melod­ic and acces­si­ble. Der­byshire is prob­a­bly best known today for her real­i­sa­tion – which amount­ed to co-com­po­si­tion – of Ron Grain­er’s theme for the Dr Who tele­vi­sion series which launched in 1963. How­ev­er one could argue that some of her oth­er work was more sig­nif­i­cant in artis­tic terms, such as her music for Bar­ry Bermange’s work on the BBC Third Pro­gramme. Over­all she pro­vid­ed themes and inci­den­tal music for over 200 radio and tele­vi­sion pro­grammes in the eleven years she worked at the BBC.

She also worked on oth­er projects out­side the Work­shop, includ­ing co-found­ing the Kalei­dophon stu­dio with David Vorhaus and fel­low Work­shop mem­ber Bri­an Hodg­son. The best-known work by this group (known as White Noise) – their first – was the sem­i­nal pop­u­lar elec­tron­ic music album An Elec­tric Storm (1968) released on Island Records. The trio also record­ed mate­r­i­al for the Stan­dard Music pro­duc­tion music library, Delia com­pos­ing under the pen-name “Li De la Russe”.

Hav­ing been away from the music scene for many years, her inter­est was rekin­dled in the late 1990s and she was work­ing on a new album when she passed away as a result of renal fail­ure while recov­er­ing from breast cancer.

You can read a fuller account of Delia Der­byshire’s life and work in this Wikipedia article.

BBC Radio 4 logoRecent­ly Mark Ayres, BBC Radio­phon­ic Work­shop Archivist, has been going through the col­lec­tion of her mate­r­i­al held at Man­ches­ter Uni­ver­si­ty. BBC Radio 4’s Archive On 4 series is pre­sent­ing a pro­gramme on this work, Sculp­tress of Sound: The Lost Works of Delia Der­byshire, which goes out on Sat­ur­day 27 March 2010 at 20:00 GMT.

March 24, 2010   No Comments

Time to start work to save the BBC

The British Broad­cast­ing Cor­po­ra­tion is in my view the best broad­cast­er in the world, and today it’s under attack from com­mer­cial rivals and politi­cians (pri­mar­i­ly in the Con­ser­v­a­tive Par­ty) backed by those same rivals (notably mem­bers of the Mur­doch fam­i­ly). The BBC, in response, is propos­ing its own cut­backs in ser­vices. It’s the thin end of the wedge.

Unfor­tu­nate­ly, the cur­rent Direc­tor Gen­er­al, Mark Thomp­son, who got the job in the wake of the Gilli­gan débâ­cle, and his col­leagues at the top of the Cor­po­ra­tion, have his­tor­i­cal­ly seemed to lack a back­bone as far as stand­ing up to crit­ics of the Cor­po­ra­tion is con­cerned. Instead of fight­ing back, in fact, the BBC and the BBC Trust seem to be tak­ing the view that when threat­ened, you should throw in the tow­el and do what the oppo­si­tion demands, how­ev­er con­tra­dic­to­ry, ill-advised or short-sight­ed. The like­ly result, it seems to me, is the emas­cu­la­tion of the Cor­po­ra­tion and the degrad­ing of a mag­nif­i­cent insti­tu­tion, the envy of the world.

In addi­tion, offer­ing to make cuts is the thin end of the wedge. Just as the skim­ming off of the licence fee to fund dig­i­tal switchover pro­vid­ed a prece­dent for skim­ming for oth­er pur­pos­es, so a deci­sion to make vol­un­tary (or invol­un­tary) cuts pro­vides a prece­dent for more cuts. We already know the Tories want to dis­mem­ber the BBC, and this is just start­ing their dirty work for them.

The Mur­doch fam­i­ly, con­scious that the world of news­pa­pers is chang­ing dra­mat­i­cal­ly, want to try and halt the tide of change rather than going with it and see­ing what new inno­va­tions they can come up with. It’s rather like the record com­pa­nies try­ing to hold back change by mak­ing their cus­tomer the ene­my. Both will fail. How­ev­er, the Mur­dochs may cause exten­sive col­lat­er­al dam­age before they realise this, and nowhere is this of more con­cern to me than in the case of the BBC.

Thus it is that today the BBC Trust has pub­lished a Strat­e­gy Review for pub­lic con­sul­ta­tion. It rec­om­mends clos­ing BBC Radio 6 Music and the BBC Asian Net­work, reduc­ing the con­tent of the BBC Web Site — one of the most pop­u­lar in the world — by 25%, and oth­er mea­sures. You can find the actu­al review itself here. You can also read the com­men­tary of the BBC Chair­man, Michael Lyons, on the review.

We licence pay­ers have the abil­i­ty to com­ment on the pro­pos­als, and I rec­om­mend that you do so. This can be done via an online sur­vey which asks a series of ques­tions based on the proposals.

If you are con­cerned as I am about the pro­pos­als, I also urge you to sign the peti­tion at Peti­tions have swayed the BBC in the past. There is also a peti­tion at 38 Degrees.

I thought I would include here my answers to the ques­tions posed in the Online Con­sul­ta­tion ques­tion­naire. I hope you find them of inter­est. I’ve also writ­ten some addi­tion­al com­ments on the sit­u­a­tion in the Trans­d­if­fu­sion Medi­a­Blog.

BBC Strat­e­gy Review: My Response

The BBC’s strate­gic principles

Do you think these are the right principles?

The only thing I am con­cerned about is “Doing few­er things”. Why do few­er things? In par­tic­u­lar the web site is a mar­vel­lous resource and worth every pen­ny. The BBC should be doing unique things that nobody else can be both­ered to do, and the web site is one such. Radio 6 Music is another.

The BBC needs to offer qual­i­ty and orig­i­nal­i­ty, and the web site, Radio 6 Music and the Asian Net­work deliv­er these.

Should the BBC have any oth­er strate­gic principles?

The fun­da­men­tal Rei­thi­an prin­ci­ples of “Inform, Edu­cate and Enter­tain” still work well in today’s envi­ron­ment. The BBC has a duty to deliv­er these to the pub­lic that pays for it. That means adopt­ing new tech­nolo­gies and new deliv­ery meth­ods, and giv­ing them the fund­ing they need to do the job well.

The BBC is in a lose/lose sit­u­a­tion in that if it pro­duces pop­u­lar pro­gram­ming, com­mer­cial rivals will moan that it sti­fles com­pe­ti­tion. If it pro­duces high-qual­i­ty and orig­i­nal pro­gram­ming that attracts rel­a­tive­ly few view­ers and lis­ten­ers, peo­ple will say it’s wast­ing money.

Thus the BBC needs to unequiv­o­cal­ly com­mit itself to qual­i­ty and orig­i­nal­i­ty and make it clear that by mak­ing the pro­grammes the com­mer­cial com­peti­tors will not make, it is bound to lose view­ers and lis­ten­ers, and that this is an inevitable con­se­quence of such a strat­e­gy. Thus crit­i­cism of the size of view­ing and lis­ten­ing audi­ences must be ruled as irrel­e­vant and this must be made per­fect­ly clear.

Pro­posed prin­ci­ple: Putting Qual­i­ty First

Which BBC out­put do you think could be high­er quality?

There are broad areas where a chan­nel or sta­tion could offer “high­er qual­i­ty”, but pri­mar­i­ly by drop­ping pro­gram­ming of a low­est com­mon denom­i­na­tor nature. One could argue that gen­er­al enter­tain­ment pro­gram­ming with very expen­sive celebri­ties, for exam­ple, or real­i­ty shows (were the BBC to con­sid­er doing them in the future), can be left to the com­mer­cial sta­tions. That does­n’t mean that the out­put of the BBC in these areas is not of “high qual­i­ty”, but that the types of pro­gram­ming them­selves are not orig­i­nal or of high quality.

Offer­ing you some­thing special

Which areas should the BBC make more dis­tinc­tive from oth­er broad­cast­ers and media?

Celebri­ty chat shows and real­i­ty TV are not dis­tinc­tive. Any­one can do them.

Fac­tu­al pro­gram­ming is a par­tic­u­lar area where the BBC already is dis­tinc­tive, and this can be improved by tak­ing advan­tage of the fact, for exam­ple, that there are no com­mer­cial breaks, and thus no per­ceived need for inces­sant recaps. The audi­ence can be treat­ed as intel­li­gent and giv­en a well-paced sto­ry, with­out hav­ing to be remind­ed of past points all the time or tak­ing three steps for­ward and two back on each subtopic.

The BBC Web site and its range of ser­vices is dis­tinc­tive and unlike any oth­er offer­ing, with its broad spec­trum of news, com­ment, infor­ma­tion and blogs. This needs to be devel­oped fur­ther and take full advan­tage of new technology.

Sta­tions like Radio 6 music, Radio 3 and Radio 4 offer dis­tinc­tive pro­gram­ming and music that can­not be heard else­where. Radio 3 is noth­ing like Clas­sic FM, for exam­ple. There should be more spe­cial­ist pro­gram­ming not less.

In gen­er­al, the BBC is not being dis­tinc­tive when it pro­duces pro­gram­ming sim­i­lar to that found on com­mer­cial sta­tions and chan­nels. The BBC’s strengths include fac­tu­al and doc­u­men­tary pro­gram­ming, high qual­i­ty mod­ern and peri­od dra­ma, link­ing into new tech­nol­o­gy such as the web site and iPlay­er, and music radio that escapes from the mainstream.

The Five Edi­to­r­i­al Priorities

Do these pri­or­i­ties fit with your expec­ta­tions of BBC TV, radio and online services? 

Yes, they do.

Pro­posed prin­ci­ple: Doing few­er things and doing them better

We wel­come your views on these areas.

Clos­ing Radio 6 Music and the Asian Net­work are in direct con­flict with the goal of “Offer­ing some­thing spe­cial”. While one might argue that ulti­mate­ly there should be no need for an “Asian Net­work” as a sep­a­rate enti­ty, we are not there yet.

How­ev­er in par­tic­u­lar when con­sid­er­ing Radio 6 Music, this kind of ser­vice — a ser­vice that a com­mer­cial broad­cast­er would not con­sid­er offer­ing — is exact­ly the kind of thing the BBC should be doing and clos­ing it runs con­trary to pre­vi­ous­ly-stat­ed criteria.

In addi­tion, radio is cheap — you could close BBC 3 and save a dozen spe­cial­ist radio stations.

The BBC Web site is also fine as it is. I enjoy the breadth and depth of cov­er­age, which is unmatched by oth­er oper­a­tors, not because the com­pe­ti­tion is sti­fled but because the com­pe­ti­tion sim­ply can­not be both­ered to do it this well.

I do not regard lim­it­ing the scope of the BBC web site as being in line with prin­ci­ples of excel­lence, orig­i­nal­i­ty or pub­lic ser­vice. We pay for the BBC and we have a right to the best pos­si­ble ser­vice from it.

Arguably, nobody could do a web site bet­ter — it is one of the most pop­u­lar in the entire world. Restrict­ing its scope comes across as a knee-jerk response to crit­i­cism and not in line with stat­ed strate­gic goals.

I would like to see BBC local radio remain local­ly gen­er­at­ed as far as pos­si­ble. There are plen­ty of peo­ple who would vol­un­teer to pro­duce and present local­ly-based pro­gram­ming out­side dri­ve time giv­en access to BBC resources, for example.

I do not have par­tic­u­lar views on oth­er areas men­tioned in this section.

Pro­posed prin­ci­ple: Guar­an­tee­ing access to BBC services

If you have par­tic­u­lar views on how you expect BBC ser­vices to be avail­able to you, please let us know.

I do not have any par­tic­u­lar views on this sec­tion at present.

The BBC archive

Please tell us if you have views on this area.

The BBC is the great­est broad­cast­er in the world and it has a his­to­ry of pro­gram­ming stretch­ing back to the 1920s. In the past dread­ful sac­ri­fices have been made in the name of cost-effec­tive­ness that have result­ed in price­less cov­er­age of inter­na­tion­al events, unique dra­ma and oth­er pro­gram­ming being irre­triev­ably lost. Much of BBC cov­er­age of the Apol­lo XI mis­sion was taped over for example.

Main­tain­ing a com­pre­hen­sive BBC Archive is vital going for­ward and the mis­takes of the past, result­ing in irre­triev­able loss of our cul­tur­al her­itage, must not be repeat­ed in the future. We need to save the unique pro­gram­ming and out­put for our­selves and for future generations.

In addi­tion to being archived, pro­gram­ming should be avail­able to the pub­lic online and/or via viewing/listening envi­ron­ments like those offered by the BFI.

Pro­posed prin­ci­ple: Mak­ing the licence fee work harder

If you are con­cerned about the BBC’s val­ue for mon­ey, please tell us why.

I have no spe­cif­ic views on this beyond sug­gest­ing that as far as salaries, expens­es and sim­i­lar areas of expen­di­ture are con­cerned, I expect the Cor­po­ra­tion always to be aware of cost and to nego­ti­ate the best pos­si­ble deal. I expect con­tracts and expens­es, for exam­ple, to be at lev­els gen­er­al­ly regard­ed as stan­dard in the industry.

Pro­posed prin­ci­ple: Set­ting new bound­aries for the BBC

Do you think that the BBC should lim­it its activ­i­ties in these areas?


Just because your com­mer­cial com­peti­tors say you should or should­n’t be doing some­thing does­n’t mean that you should lis­ten to them or that they are talk­ing sense.

Clos­ing 6 Music reduces the out­put of unique orig­i­nal pro­gram­ming and runs counter to oth­er strate­gic goals. It also saves only a tiny bit of mon­ey in real terms.

Reduc­ing pur­chas­es of over­seas dra­mas is not a valid deci­sion if you are intent on offer­ing audi­ences the best. There are some areas of dra­ma where no UK pro­duc­tion can match the qual­i­ty of pro­gram­ming made over­seas, notably in the USA. Deny­ing BBC view­ers high qual­i­ty con­tent sim­ply because it was­n’t made here is absurd.

Equal­ly, there are areas where the BBC is sec­ond to none, and I am sure the Cor­po­ra­tion does its best to sell these shows over­seas and thus facil­i­tate addi­tion­al ser­vices with­out requir­ing an increase in the licence fee.

Reduc­ing the scope of the BBC web­site makes no sense at all in terms of qual­i­ty of ser­vice cri­te­ria. The web site as it stands offers a unique ser­vice that is unpar­al­leled, not because com­pe­ti­tion is sti­fled but because nobody can be both­ered to try. It is a unique ser­vice, just like, say, the Guardian’s online offer­ings. In dif­fer­ent ways, I am hap­py to pay for both.

The BBC sets the stan­dards here and in many oth­er areas. Because the BBC had an orig­i­nal, bril­liant idea does­n’t mean to say that they have to give it up because the com­mer­cial boys did­n’t think of it them­selves or see how they could make mon­ey from it.

I see no rea­son why the BBC should restrict or reduce its local offer­ings. Nobody else is going to do it, what­ev­er they say. There is lit­tle or no mon­ey to be made there but there is a ser­vice that can be pro­vid­ed. Pub­lic ser­vice is part of the BBC’s remit. I do not have views on oth­er pro­pos­als in this section.

Should any oth­er areas be on this list?

I would seri­ous­ly con­sid­er whether BBC 3 meets cri­te­ria for qual­i­ty and orig­i­nal­i­ty. The few orig­i­nal pro­grammes would be entire­ly appro­pri­ate on BBC 2 or per­haps BBC 4 for example.

My fun­da­men­tal view is that there are no areas of ser­vice that the BBC pro­vides that I am not hap­py to pay for. How­ev­er if you are intent on mak­ing cuts, then clos­ing BBC3 would save quite a num­ber of radio stations.

March 2, 2010   4 Comments

& Simpson">“Only Remembered” — Coope Boyes & Simpson

In this video, lead­ing British folk musi­cians Coope Boyes & Simp­son pro­vide the music in their unique and mov­ing acapel­la style with the song “Only Remem­bered”, as we view aspects of the unique exhi­bi­tion by the Uni­ver­si­ty of Oxford’s First World War Poet­ry Dig­i­tal Archive in the immer­sive 3D vir­tu­al world of Sec­ond Life.

The exhi­bi­tion sim­u­lates aspects of life in the trench­es on the West­ern Front dur­ing the 1914–1918 war and presents work by the “War Poets” of the period.

As vis­i­tors explore the sim­u­la­tion, they can lis­ten to the voic­es of vet­er­ans recount­ing their expe­ri­ences of the war, view orig­i­nal film footage and pho­tographs from the time, and learn about life on the West­ern Front, encoun­ter­ing some of the most pow­er­ful poet­ry in Eng­lish lit­er­a­ture by see­ing the orig­i­nal man­u­scripts, turn­ing the pages of the poets’ war diaries and let­ters, and lis­ten­ing to readings.

The video is tak­en from the 10 Novem­ber 2009 episode of the TV series Design­ing Worlds, a week­ly live show cov­er­ing design and design­ers in vir­tu­al worlds, pro­duced by Prim Per­fect mag­a­zine and Treet.TV.

“Only Remem­bered” (Bonar/Sankey/Tams Voice Pub­lish­ing) is used by per­mis­sion and is tak­en from the album Pri­vate Peace­ful The Con­cert (No Mas­ters NMCD24) by Coope Boyes & Simpson.

For more infor­ma­tion, read this arti­cle on The First World War Poet­ry Dig­i­tal Archive in Sec­ond Life.

November 14, 2009   No Comments

“Radio Drama At A Distance” OpenTech presentation

opentechOn 4 July I was pleased to be able to give a pre­sen­ta­tion at Open­Tech, held at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Lon­don Union, Malet St, on how to cre­ate radio dra­ma when the par­tic­i­pants are geo­graph­i­cal­ly sep­a­rat­ed. The tech­nique employs VoIP tech­nol­o­gy (Skype in this case) and the pre­sen­ta­tion includes an overview of tech­nol­o­gy choic­es, how to get the best results, and plan­ning, per­for­mance and pro­duc­tion tips. Hope­ful­ly it will be use­ful to oth­ers inter­est­ed in devel­op­ing new approach­es to the won­der­ful field of radio drama.

The pre­sen­ta­tion is informed by my expe­ri­ences work­ing with the Radio Riel Play­ers, a group based in the vir­tu­al world of Sec­ond Life around the radio sta­tion Radio Riel.

This pre­sen­ta­tion is now a Slide­cast, includ­ing not only the slides but also the audio of my pre­sen­ta­tion, cour­tesy of Sam and David at Open­Tech. Yes, there are some minor sync issues, but not dis­rup­tive ones!

For a more detailed descrip­tion of the pre­sen­ta­tion, please see this page.

July 5, 2009   No Comments

“Beeching-style” BBC enquiry? You must be joking

ITN news­read­er Alas­tair Stew­art calls for ‘Beech­ing’ inquiry into BBCGuardian

ITN news­cast­er Alas­tair Stew­art attacked the BBC at a CBI NW region din­ner last night, sug­gest­ing that it would ben­e­fit from a “Beech­ing style enquiry” to assess whether its ser­vices are all real­ly “nec­es­sary and viable”.

A “Beeching”-style enquiry into the BBC? You must be jok­ing – look at the dam­age Beech­ing did that will hit us even hard­er as we enter the age of cli­mate change. Tak­ing the coun­try’s major assets and will­ful­ly destroy­ing them is not an answer to the ques­tion of why peo­ple aren’t watch­ing the competition.

Call­ing for a “Beech­ing-style” enquiry is equiv­a­lent to call­ing for a hatch­et job. In fact the sug­ges­tion is very reveal­ing of true intent.

Only some­one work­ing for a com­pet­ing media pro­duc­er could think of such a thing. Go out and do a bet­ter job than the BBC and then you can talk from a posi­tion of strength instead of one of des­per­a­tion. Make the invest­ments in new tech­nolo­gies, inno­v­a­tive pro­gram­ming, stuff that isn’t dumb­ed-down to the low­est com­mon denom­i­na­tor. Make some inter­est­ing pro­grammes that are worth watch­ing. And yes, cov­er the news better.

Every­one and their friend who still works on a news­pa­per wants to get at the BBC, but it is still doing a bril­liant job. It just lost its nerve back in the days of the Hut­ton Enquiry. Yes, every­one has some­thing to say about the licence fee — it’s the worst way of rais­ing mon­ey for PSB except for all the oth­ers — but by not being a tax it is not so much able to be influ­enced by a gov­ern­ment annoyed at crit­i­cism. We need ring-fenced fund­ing for qual­i­ty broad­cast­ing to ensure it does­n’t all go the way of ITV — down to the bottom.

Yes, we also need oth­er PSB providers, doing inno­v­a­tive things. We have at least one, in the shape of Chan­nel 4 with its remark­able devel­op­ment ini­tia­tives like 4ip, but we need more. Is top-slic­ing the answer? No. Unfor­tu­nate­ly there’s a prece­dent for that so no doubt we’ll see more, but at least keep it in the PSB arena.

We need a BBC that is free to make the pro­grammes and deliv­er the ser­vices that com­mer­cial oper­a­tors can’t, or won’t, pro­vide. Look at the world-lead­ing BBC web site; the world-lead­ing BBC doc­u­men­tary and fac­tu­al pro­gram­ming; the pop­u­lar BBC News chan­nel. These all offer amaz­ing val­ue at half the price of a dai­ly news­pa­per and half the price of an aver­age Sky subscription.

Of course there will be areas of the BBC that can be improved. I have no doubt that a bit of trans­paren­cy would go a long way — a process already start­ed. How about trans­paren­cy on the com­mer­cial side? No doubt we would like the Cor­po­ra­tion to pay less for celebri­ties — which is fine as long as every­one else does the same and it’s not in breach of con­tract. There’s room for improve­ment for sure — but a slash-and-burn dis­mem­ber­ment is not even slight­ly an answer.

Being unable or unwill­ing to com­pete is not a good rea­son for diss­ing the oppo­si­tion. It sounds a lot too much like sour grapes.

July 3, 2009   1 Comment