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New BBC boss demands “genuine digital content”

There are many in the media world who consider the BBC’s approach to digital to be a model for many to follow. Certainly, American broadcasters seem to believe so, with both NBC and ABC launching their own proprietary apps that more than echo the BBC’s iPlayer model for digital streaming of content for a set amount of time after its free-to-air broadcast. And yet, for the new man in charge of the British Broadcasting Corporation, it’s no longer enough to ensure that existing content is shared across analog and digital outlets. In a speech today, new BBC Director General George Entwistle has asked for the British media institution to “create genuinely digital content for the first time.”

One day after taking over as the BBC’s Director General – the title for the individual chosen by the BBC Trust to act as editor-in-chief of the entire organization and make policy decisions regarding content and direction – Entwistle spoke from the Corporation’s New Broadcasting House in London, telling the staff of the BBC and the world at large that the aim of the BBC must become to promote creativity above all. “I intend to change the way we’re led to put the emphasis where it belongs – on creative people doing creative things; on our audiences and the exceptional quality of work they deserve,” he said during the address, adding that “Though our best is often brilliant – in some of our output, we do settle for less than we should. So I believe we owe our audiences a determined effort to raise the creative quality of what we do.”

As part of that shift in emphasis, Entwistle said, he’s planning an internal reshuffle that will drastically impact the BBC’s internal culture. “In around two years’ time, my aim is to have restructured the BBC – with fundamental implications for A&M [Audio and Music], Vision and Future Media [departments],” he said. “To be ready to create and curate genuinely digital content, we will need to integrate all three disciplines.”

Repeating that the BBC “need[s] to be ready to produce and create genuinely digital content for the first time,” Entwistle’s speech has signaled a new round of speculation as to what that phrase may actually mean; in an earlier Internet age, the BBC attempted to create content for online viewing solely, but cost cuts pulled back on that initiative considerably. Instead, the Corporation has focused on making its existing content available through both its website and the mobile iPlayer model in recent years. Now, though, Entwistle seems to be suggesting that original digital content is not only back on the menu, but the special of the day – but whether this means digital only content, and content that will be released for free (The BBC is, after all, publicly funded in the UK through the License Fee and isn’t officially a commercial company as such), remains to be seen.

One can only hope, as a former Brit now living in the US, that part of the BBC’s new digital future is an easier way to get BBC programming internationally. Can we finally get that Global iPlayer, please…?

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