I demand sensible on-demand

Thanks to Elliot I was pointed at the BBC Consultation on their proposed on-demand service
Being a licence payer (who in the UK isn’t?) I thought I should put my twopeneth in – but in reading the supporting documents and the phrasing of the questions I became increasingly annoyed. I’m not sure what about this piece of Institutional Stupidity got me so riled up because to be honest right now we seem to be living in the age of Institutional Stupidity and I’d sort of promised myself to try and rise above it all for fear of negative psychological and physiological effects. There was something about the framing or the viewpoint of both the documents and the questions in the consultation that struck me as so ass backwards that I was forced to write rather long and probably quite patronising answers to each question. I’ll spare you the gory details but this is what I wrote for Q12 (which was for general / other comments)

I would like to point out that the apparent frame of reference for both the proposal from the Board and the amendments from the Trust seem to be anti-technology and overly restrictive. In particular;

  • Both seem to ignore that fact that the current on-demand proposal places restrictions that aren’t present in any other form of technology (such as VCR, DVDR, or PVR).
  • There seems to be an implicit assumption that whatever restrictions can be agreed can then be enforced in technology (presumably through some kind of DRM system). This is simply a technical fallacy.
  • The proposals seem to ignore the fact that many BBC programmes are already available on-demand through various file sharing systems. While this activity is considered illegal the BBC on-demand system will not reach it’s real potential for success unless it provides compelling reasons not to use file-sharing and doesn’t annoy and disenfranchise it’s audience with petty and frustrating restrictions.
  • That the only devices accessing this content will be desktop or laptop computers – setting back the technological world view about 5 years. By using a DRM and patent encumbered format and choosing to make the content available only through the iPlayer application, the BBC seemingly ignores the potentially huge audience of mobile phones, ipods, and various other PMP devices (personal media players).
  • The BBC seems overly concerned with the effect an on-demand service might have on other commercial offerings or existing business models. Does the BBC worry about the potential damage the development of high quality drama series may have on the film industry or commercial drama production? Does the BBC purposefully cripple it’s productions by employing less qualified technical staff and selecting less talented actors, writers and directors in order to prevent itself from competing with other forms of commercial entertainment?

The effects of a new media or distribution technology are impossible to predict – how many times has the death of radio been predicted, from the rise of TV in the 60s and 70s to MTV and other music channels in the 80’s, internet radio in the 90s and ipod and mp3 in the early part of this century. Yet radio is still going, changed and adapted by these other new services but none the less still viable.

  • In my opinion the main concern for the BBC should be the provision of a public service to the people who fund the service, i.e. UK TV licence and tax payers. I feel the majority of licence payers will feel that BBC created programmes are theirs to watch as and when and on whichever device they feel appropriate. Any on-demand service that wraps content in restrictions and DRM – which in their construction are anti-consumer – will simply lead licence payers to either stick with existing technology, which has no such restrictions, or force them to use file-sharing systems.
  • In my opinion the BBC needs to go back to the drawing board and start with a clean slate in designing an on-demand service. Instead of letting the old 20th century world of broadcast and physical media distribution distort their view of an on-demand service, the Board and the Trust should instead think forward 10 years to a world of myriad devices, continuous high speed access to the internet, and a planet full of people making their own (unrestricted) entertainment. The challenge for the BBC is to think why anyone would want to access on-demand services from the BBC when the average person will be overwhelmed by the choice of media available to them.