Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Kick out the Jams?

There is a very interesting discussion about whether the BBC is stifling innovation on TechCrunch, and follows some typically bold comments from TechCrunch commentator Michael Arrington on "dissolving the BBC". Separately, but relevant to the discussion, the BBC has also decided to suspend BBC Jam, its online education service.

I think this is a very interesting and valid discussion. The trouble is it tends to descend into the pro/anti BBC factions, which potentially obscures the central point of the discussion - is the remit of the BBC in the digital age sufficiently clear or robust? Where should and shouldn't the BBC be allowed to invest in producing services, and how does that impact the independent market in those areas?

In the case of Jam, the BBC has a well established pedigree and role in the children's educational content market in the UK. But does that mean it should be providing it as a service at the UK tax payers' expense, I'm less convinced. I know the BBC claims to have a process (referred to by someone on the video) for vetting whether it should be engaging in different market spaces, but who is this accountable to? Seemingly not to independent regulation, or to the tax payer? Largely it seems to be accountable to itself, and that is what causes concern. In this sense, Jam is definitely the thin end of a rapidly growing wedge.

My personal view is that this is a complex not a simple issue. Services like Jam can add a lot of value in the market, often to parts of the market that have limited choice in reality. That can be a boon, but it also comes at a heavy price - collectively to those funding the BBC, but also in stifling innovation, often in markets where that innovation is desperately needed. I'm sure it impacts venture capital investment in competitive organisations, but it also helps to validate a market space that may spawn better solutions.

Let's keep the debate about the issue of remit and market impact, not about whether paid advertising is nice to watch ... I'm sure we all have a similar answer to that!


1 comment:

Donald Clark said...

Reasonable approach. The problems seem to exist on different levels:

1. It was always a risk going head to head with the private sector. The initial pressure was intense and, as it turns out, prophetic.

2. The BBC don't partner well, and resisted sharing the pot until they were told to use subcontractors - which they agreed to, under pressure.

3. The initial content was awful. I reviewed both initial offerings - they were an unusable mess.

4. The management seems to have broken the rules of consent laid down by both the government and the EC.

5. They've spent half the budget (£75 million) and have little to show for it.

It started out on the wrong foot - a mixture of coercion and flying in the face of commercial reason. It then failed to deliver usable content. To compound matters, they seem to have flouted their initial promises to Government and teh EC, and spent far too much on far too little.