This was published this morning on my Digital Circle Ning blog which is only available to members.
Every so often the full membership of the BBC Trust meets in Belfast. This is one of the out of London meetings shared by Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland. In addition to meeting BBC staff, they meet with other stakeholders and interested parties to garner opinion and thoughts about the BBC and how it operates and the view from the Nation.
This morning I had breakfast with the Chair Sir Michael Lyons, the local chair Rotha Johnston Trustee for Northern Ireland plus others from UTV, News Letter, Screen NI, Ulster Museums and Invest NI. Yes, the discussion was wide ranging from commissioning to how Northern Ireland is presented on screen (factually and in entertainment and drama), is there sufficient balance between News and Business coverage, what is the role of BBC Online’s news Service?
When people sit in a room and discuss BBC commissioning, the focus always falls on television commissioning. Perhaps because it has the biggest budget, perhaps it’s because it has the most people working in it. My criticism – which was accepted – was that the BBC does not have a strategy for engagement with the digital content industry, not just BBC Northern Ireland, but in the BBC as a whole. Officially 25% of the BBC Future Media budget should go to external suppliers. In Belfast it did from the year that rule was introduced (I was managing the budget and worked with a bunch of suppliers). I expect that it still does. But there is a bigger challenge. The big budgets are found in what is called Network production in television and in radio. The big budgets are in London and we (the DC industry here) need to be engaging with the BBC to access those budgets, prove our creativity and compete with any other supplier in the UK.
But the BBC has a partnership responsibility here.
BBC in London believes that it is approachable and open to ideas. As a Nations producer and editor within the BBC, approaching London Central was difficult enough. From Belfast as an external supplier, it remains almost impossible.
But I also think we restrict ourselves in what we are supplying and what we are expected to supply. Yes, it should be web sites and technology platforms. But it must also be content – what I (and they) call Editorial Content.
And it needs to be sustainable.
I know that Peter Johnston Director Northern Ireland and Rotha Johnston (no relation) the Northern Ireland Trustee are both keen on developing a business and supply modal here. I know Alistair Hamilton of Invest NI shares that intention.
But we need some leadership, a road map and a sustainable conversation. Digital Circle will engage, and engage constructively.