Found while searching my Gmail archive for a long lost chart…

…I’d forgotten I wrote this. It was done for a booklet given to all senior managers attending a BBC Leadership conference at a posh Salford hotel in Feb 2007.

Learning to Stop
Tom Loosemore
Project Director BBC2.0

We should have closed most of the websites on bbc.co.uk long ago. I believe the reasons behind our failure to do so are institutionally lethal.

Granted, we’ve built a handful of spectacularly successful, much-loved websites, of which we should be rightly proud. But our busy webservers also play host to thousands of smaller sites, most of which actively damage the BBC brand. A third of our websites score so poorly in terms of quality that a commercial business with similarly poor perception would go bust within a year. Yet we leave them up.

This failure comes with hidden costs, over and above the money we spend on these sites. Firstly, they damage our reputation for quality. Secondly, they confuse our users – we have six climate change websites. Finally, the resources they suck up restrict our freedom to exploit better opportunities.

And the more I’ve tried to understand how we let bbc.co.uk get so bloated, the more I catch whiffs of what I fear is an institutional malaise. We don’t stop doing anything unless confronted by hard, external constraints – the scarcity of spectrum as represented by a schedule, or a Foreign Office demanding Arabic TV but refusing to pay for it.

We could get away with this attitude with RPI +1.5%. That left enough slack to keep doing everything we’d always done, and also develop the new services our audiences were demanding. That luxury has gone.

Unless we learn to stop we will under-invest in future services – our best hope of staying universally relevant amid the most profound revolution in media consumption since Marconi, if not Gutenberg.

It is hard to stop doing things. It’s hard to deal with the fallout – from staff, unions, irate opinion formers, a frothy press and audiences angry at having their service closed.

But it’ll be harder still to explain to our grandchildren why we failed one of the few civilising institutions Britain has left.

Let’s be brave enough to stop.

What a sanctimonious, pompous prig. I’d forgotten how angry I was with the BBC by the time I left.

The conference was most memorable for late night whisky with Tony Ageh & Will Lewis. IIRC Tony insisted to the then Editor of the Telegraph that it was the latter’s public duty to become BBC Director General. Funny. The rest of the shindig was usual bollocks.

Back to the powerpoint.

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Elegant imbalance, courtesy of Lord Carter

Early most mornings you’ll find me hunched over a copy of The Times, enjoying the friendly atmosphere in Hornsey’s renowned Green Hill Cafe. The regulars call me ‘The Cyclist’. This pleases me enormously.

This morning, midway through his paper, said cyclist soured the atmosphere with an involuntary outburst. The cause? A comment piece on p50 by Baron Carter of Barnes, former boss of ad agency J Walter Thomson, cable company NTL & communications regulator Ofcom. He was also – briefly – a Minister in the previous Government, hence his enoblement.

The Times granted Lord Carter about 600 words in which he explained, in soothing faux-expert terms, why the market for access to Internet in the UK was ‘unbalanced’, with its underlying economics ‘under stress’, and about to suffer a ‘Big Squeeze’ with ‘rising demand for content… colliding with reducing economic returns’.

Here are the key passages:

Communications companies occupy a market where a growing proportion of their traffic is intemet-based, while most of the revenue is still derived from voice telephony. That imbalance could worsen with the combination of unlimited usage plans, the accelerating transition from all things physical to all things digital, and the imbalances on the content revenue and transport and distribution costs associated with internet usage.

The coalition Government has an opportunity to create a policy framework for the next-generation digital marketplace. Areas requiring attention include market definitions, pricing mechanisms and the unnecessarily sensitive topic of net neutrality to balance legitimate access to an open online environment, with the need for service providers to differentiate between quality and of [sic] service, the investment returns available in this market, the conditions for consolidation and the issues of rights and rights management.

Read between the lines. Note the semantics; the elegant spin. There’s an ‘imbalance‘, which could ‘worsen‘. The topic of net neutrality is ‘unnecessarily sensitive‘ and needs to be ‘balanced‘ by the ‘needs‘ of ISPs. Throughout the piece, he talks of ‘superfast broadband’, not ‘superfast Internet’.

In translation: “Now, now, Minister. Don’t listen to that geeky Sir Tim Berners-Lee chap. If you want superfast broadband, you’ll have to let telcos ditch net neutrality.”

This is dangerous tripe. The Internet trumps other closed models of networks because its do-your-best-to-treat-all-packets-equally model acts as a critical catalyst for innovation, and comprehensively outcompetes closed, more managed networks – despite the latter offering a better theoretical ‘quality of service’.

UK consumers, citizens and companies will not get the full benefit of superfast broadband access unless it *is* superfast Internet access. Other countries’ Governments know this.

Yes, next generation Internet access will cost money; it will require investment. Lots. But the answer is crystal clear: charge end users for the amount of Internet bandwidth they actually use. If they use lots, at high speeds, charge them more.

Ditch the delusional, marketing-led, cul-de-sac of ‘unlimited’ Internet access. Just imagine electricity and gas companies offering ‘unlimited’ deals, and then ponder why telcos are facing a ‘Biq Squeeze’.

But this doesn’t explain why Lord Carter delivered his mandarin-friendly missive in today’s Times. What has he got to gain? The clue comes at the end of the piece:

Stephen A. Carter, CBE, is chief strategy and marketing officer for Alcatel Lucent.

I suspect Alcatel-Lucent thinks it will make more money selling expensive traffic-shaping, walled-garden ‘quality of service’ kit to telcos than it will if they were stick to offering clean, pure, superfast Internet access.

Stephen Carter is a very smart man. I just wish he was on the side of the Internet.