Permanent link to archive for 7/5/04. Monday, July 5, 2004
Scripting News dinner in NY on Thursday?

I have this habit, I meet with bloggers on Thursday nights.

I have to feed this habit. Help help. I feel a Thursday coming on. ;->

So who will host? I'm in NYC. We need a conference room that can hold about a dozen people (not sure how many people would show up). A projector I can hook my laptop to (a ThinkPad). Live Internet, WiFi preferable.

What you get in return? A small amount ofpublicity; a few bloggers will learn how to find their way to your place. Afterwards we go out for dinner. Something Jewish, or Chinese, or Roumanian?

I'll be in NY for at least a couple of weeks, maybe more. Can we do this as a regular thing? I'd like to give it a try.

# Posted by Dave Winer on 7/5/04; 1:19:25 PM - --

Email on the BBC question

Grant Titmus:

In reply to what you mention about the BBC website I have a few things about the BBC that you may not know, not being in the UK as I am.

The BBC is a publicly funded organisation (i.e Tax payers money through a TV Licence requirement) they have to justify everything they do to the government in order to recieve their funding each year. If something that the BBC produces is though to have a higher economic cost that social benefit to the country then it must be stopped. Therefore the BBC website is under scrutiny, does it represent a worthwhile investment for the Bristish people as a whole. The few portals mentioned are ones that are of obvious interest to a monority of the population but offer no real worth to the rest of the UK population.

The article mentions the BBC online division having to try and have 25% of its funding come from private sources by 2006. We can both see that this is some target for them to achieve, however what we really need to know is whether the BBC news archive comes under BBC News, in which case it would not be under threat, or if it was BBC Online, in which case it would be a consideration of the board to make a pay-per-view service on articles. In my thinking it is run by BBC Online, which is a seperate entity to BBC News and therefore the loss of free archives is possible.

By my reading of the article it seems as if the 'valuable resources' which one would expect to be the news and others, are to be kept under the original BBC remit of 'provide[ing] a home for licence payers on the internet and act as a trusted guide to the new media environment'. By making Licence payers pay again to view information they alread feel they have paid for would be agaisnt the remit. How the board take this however your guess is as good as mine!

Hope this enlightens you, if I have just spouted nonesense that your already knew then feel free to mail me and tell me i'm an idiot, otherwise you could mail me and tell me that you found it useful, either way I don't mind.

Matt Deegan:

The UK Secretary of State (for Culture, Media and Sport) commissioned Philip Graf to conduct an independent review of BBC Online in August 2003. The BBC finds most of its 'new' activities are independently reviewed by the government. The report was delivered in May 2004, and has just been published.

More on the DCMS review
here, and the BBC's response here.

The main reason for the review is to juge whether the BBC has had an adverse affect on the online market, stunting its growth etc. ie its hard to make money off the internet when your main competitor has infinite resources, keeps developing new (unrelated to its other broadcasting activity) sections and then giving it away all for free. The BBC also hasn't really helped itself by promosing to only spend £21m a year and then spending over £100m.

Generally its come off pretty well, and will just have to close a load of sections that are unrelated to existing activites, and will probably introduce more independent commissioning, so little companies will make some of the BBC's sites thus helping the content creation commmunity.

I've got friends at online, and it's something that they've been planning for, for a while and have been gradually restructuring over the past 12 months.

Simon Speight:

I've only been reading for a few weeks now.  I'm embarassed to say I'd not come across your site(s) before now, but if its any consolation for the amount of crap you took for it, all the fuss surrounding your issues at introduced me to you!

Anyway, after a quick compliment (I enjoy reading - its more personal than most, and the style makes a welcome change from the majority of people who feel the need to write an essay in each blog entry) I thought I'd come back to you on the BBC web story you found.  No doubt others of my fellow Britons will have mailed you by now to explain the slightly odd story about the BBC web sites having to justify their existence but I thought I'd lend my opinion too.

In case you haven't been told/weren't aware, the BBC is funded in a rather unusual way - by the form of a compulsory tax that gets called a TV "license".  Anyone who wants to own a TV (or any device capable of receiving TV images, which includes PC cards these days) has to pay this license.

This has a few rather interesting effects on the output of the BBC.  Firstly - no adverts!  That alone is nearly worth the license fee itself.

Second, you have a corporation that isn't interested in making a profit.  Consequently, most people in this country would say they believe news from the BBC more than from the independent channels (I know I do).  Arguably this factor improves the quality of everything which is produced as they are as close as you can probably get in this day an age to producing art for art's sake (the best reason in my view).

However, the last major factor is that the compulsory nature of the license fee causes a significant portion of Britons to complain (I think its a national pass-time to be honest).  Some use the argument that as they're already paying lots to Sky or whoever else supplies their TV feed, why do they have to pay again?  (The fact that Sky charges a whole lot more and then has the nerve to put things on pay-per-view seems to escape them.)  This complaining nature means that the BBC  constantly has to justify itself.  It has a board of Governors whose job it is to be a go-between between the BBC and our government.

(This doesn't make them answerable to the government however - recently they fell out big style when a report by a BBC journalist related to the Iraq war ended up leading to the suicide of a leading civil servant and the resignations of the two top people in the BBC.)

Personally, I think the BBC web sites are some of the best I've ever come across.  As you noted, their news site is superb (as is access to their archive), and what is also nice is that they reach from an International level down to my home city (visit to see what I mean).

(For more detailed and probably more accurate information on this, visit and check out the links at the bottom of the page, particularly "About the BBC", "How the BBC is run" and "License Fee".)

Unfortunately, a large portion of our population seem to have become rather too comfortable with capitalism and cannot comprehend something that is run as a public service.  As I've said, I think the BBC is one of the best things that's ever come out of our (increasingly insignificant) country and it isn't something we should be looking to curtail.  I'm quite happy paying my license fee if this is what it is paying for.

To reassure you however, I cannot ever see the day when any BBC web output is pay-for.  I think it goes massively against the BBC's remit (none of their TV channels are pay-for - they have investments in other companies that produce pay-for TV but all channels labelled "BBC" are free to air) and the outcry would be huge!

Anyway, I should probably be getting on with my day job.  Hope some of the above helps explain this strange little country I'm very proud to call my home!

Take care, and thanks again for making a web site I enjoy reading!

Tim Watt:

You wanted to know further background to the story about the review of the BBC site.

Of course the reason for the review basicly comes down to money, and suggestions of unfair competiton from commercial rivals.

Like many things here, the funding for the BBC is an anacronism but generally works. It comes from a licence to own a TV (about $200 a year) but pays for BBC TV, radio, digital TV and BBC online.

It also has a profit making publishing operation and worlwide marketing operation.

So there is a whole host of conflicts - most people pay the tax for TV and there is strong pressure on the BBC for ratings to justify its funding (arms length from government)while at the same time also supposed to provide content of quality that rivals are not capable of providing through the commercial market.

So, bizzarly, the BBC has to  be populist to justify its funding to the goverment, rather than directly to its viewers. This was the BBC's softspot as it's 10 year round of funding is up for review when they were in conflict with Tony Blair over Iraq - basically they were right over WMDs but had to back down under pressure.

Commercial TV sometimes complain that the BBC is too 'populist' if it takes ratings from their shows while they also are often unhappy when there is subsidised cross promotional activity (eg BBC magazines and web content) that they contend is unfair competition.

Such accusations (post dot com boom) aren't heard much now about the online content however, more about the cost to licence fee payers.

The massively expensive expansion in the digital TV services is where they maybe more reason for critism but this may pay off in the future.

So it all comes down to money really - and justifying UK licence fee payers for overseas users of the websites to use the BBC for free.

But as you say, its great content, if very sprawling and confused.

When I was in New Mexico four years ago it was the best way to keep up-to-date with happening back home...

As well as news, I now princally use the site to listen to music, sportcasts, on demand my local radio station on my iMac in preference to my stereo (though I wish they'd improve the sound quality and make it so I can hear it through iTunes rather than Real player).

So (although I haven't read the The Graf report mentioned in the story I wouldn't worry that you'll have to start paying for content - I thought there archive was going to be opened up? But maybe it could do with reorganisation.

# Posted by Dave Winer on 7/5/04; 6:47:18 AM - --