I think Robert Andrews got it right in the Comment in Paid Content.
The timing has been unfortunate. While comments fly about Brand/Ross which public and decision makers alike seem unusually well briefed and have opinions, the BBC Trust announced their findings on that on the same day they published their provisional conclusions on tghe BBC’s proposal Local Video.
The Newspaper Society have been among the loudest opponents of Local Video. While the Local Video service would in the short term reach around half the population of the UK, in the slightly longer term as broadband up take improves, it would reach almost all the UK’s population.
“Ultra Local” video was being bandied about as a phrase of opposition. But while that sounds awfully like a BBC reporter on every street corner, that image is very far from the truth. I had some input into the earlier drafts of the proposal before I left the BBC this summer. The idea was most definitely not “Ultra Local”. Northern Ireland for example would have been divided in to two parts; essentially east and west of the Bann (Derry to the west and Belfast to the east). There would have been I expect no more than two or three stories a day from each part. The audience would have had broadband access to News (hardly Ultra Local), Sport, Traffic and Weather.
We all pay a licence fee – we don’t like it but we are required to do it. So it is the job of the BBC to provide a service to everyone – using whatever platform they can.
Newspapers don’t do video. OK they sometimes host video content, but I’ve not seen anything that comes close to broadcast television. And the video I’ve seen often misses the point of non-linear programme content; the inclination is to produce a three minute bulletin once or twice a day. In the age of 24-hour rolling news this is positively 1950’s broadcasting.
Yes, sales of newspapers are decreasing and that is not good for anyone. Yes many newspapers established a web presence before the BBC. But then the web was a new home for text (and some images too). Some newspapers were and are visionaries (first the Daily Telegraph who got to the web ahead of the pack and now the Guardian who lead with the digital strategy).
There more sources of news we have, the better. The greater the variety of opinion, the better. It’s not good that the BBC become so dominant in providing news that other sources are drowned out. But look how ITV ran from news when Ofcom reduced the requirement. The BBC and ITV news are required to provide a impartial coverage in their broadcasting. That extends into the web news provision. Newspapers are not required to be imaprtial. This extends into their web provision. Just read the coverage of this debate on newspaper web sites — if you can find it. If you can’t there will be a juicy anti-BBC comment on Brand/Ross.
I don’t want the BBC to be the only provider of local news on the web. But I believe it should be there along with newspapers and everyone else who wants to provide their own local news.
The BBC Trust’s job is to represent us the audience. In their announcement on 21 November they say:
“The BBC Trust has refused permission for local video because it would not improve services for the public enough to justify either the investment of licence fee funds or the negative impact on commercial media.”
Yes there would be a significant cost in the short term and in that they are right. But in the longer term, the wider distribution of BBC content to a greater number of license fee payers would have (cost per head: a favored BBC measurement) been reduced and there would have been a better investment in future audiences for the BBC.