Future Media at the BBC

The BBC in-house newspaper, Ariel, is no longer published on paper – the last print edition was last week. I’ve written for it for many years, but until recently my columns were behind the firewall. I plan to post some old ones here, but thought I’d start with the final column I wrote for ‘Leading Edge’

New Forms in the Media Ecosystem

We are living in a society that is as dependent on access to and engagement with computers, digital data and fast networks as the one I grew up in was on electricity and the one before it on oil – although of course we still depend on both of them, and seem have added computers to the mix rather than replaced what went before.
The patterns of my daily life are increasingly defined by the capabilities of the digital tools I engage with and I find myself reliant on internet access and my smartphone as I negotiate home, work, family, friends and my engagement with culture at all levels.

Most of my media consumption relies on IP – the Internet Protocol – instead of broadcasting, to the point that when our Freeview TV stopped working we didn’t get it fixed for weeks and I hardly noticed, yet if Twitter is over-capacity I get withdrawal symptons within minutes.

I realise that my experience is far from typical, but as an inveterate early adopter and experimenter I think I make a useful subject for study for anyone trying to figure out tomorrow’s media landscape.

It is a shifting landscape, as all of us at the BBC know well. We’re seeing new media forms emerge from the old, grafting digital characteristics like immediate feedback and direct engagement onto analogue entertainment genres, bring news in an instant and offering direct access to newsmakers without the filter of the reporter or editor, and reshaping our assumptions about what happens in the classroom and what education is for.

But what is happening is not ‘convergence’, if that is understood as the coming together of all different forms of creative expression into a bucket of bits labelled ‘content’ that can be delivered over the network to any screen or any device.

Instead we’re seeing new forms of media life evolve, each specialised to survive in a particular niche, all competing for attention in a world that can seem saturated with stuff demanding to be watched, listened to, discussed or reviewed.

Only some of these new forms will flourish, and we’re in the middle of a period of discovery and experimentation as exciting as the early years of the BBC’s television service seventy-five years ago. Unfortunately we can’t tell in advance which ones are going to succeed, which poses a major challenge for anyone engaged in building tomorrow’s BBC.