Tag Archives: television

Michael Grade whistling to keep his spirits up

The inner workings of the BBC news operation are a mystery to me (although I did get a peep into the newsroom a while ago which was very exciting) so I find myself wondering about the orgins of this item on yesterday’s Today programme. The premise is that Saturday evening primetime TV in Britain is enjoying a renaissance thanks to big live and drama franchises like X-Factor and Doctor Who. Can’t really argue with that – Saturday night TV has been brilliant for several years now and the ratings reflect that – but is it strictly news? I mean, what’s the trigger? Did something happen? Was something announced? Or did someone in the ITV press office pitch an interview with Michael Grade to the Today editors who then sought a premise for the item?

The interview itself is interesting and Grade’s always good value, although his case, which is that this represents some kind of reprieve for broadcast TV, sounds a bit thin. Let’s face it, the Saturday evening revival is almost certainly a blip in the inexorable decline of broadcast-model media produced by a burst of creativity and investment from the BBC and ITV that probably can’t be sustained (especially not by ITV during the nastiest decline in ad spending in decades). Our collective realisation that broadcast TV has real and enduring strengths in live and ‘event’ programmes will not save the medium from ultimate irrelevance – although it might defer it.

So, back to my question, how does a story like this, connected only obliquely to current events, wind up on air in Today’s peak hour? What’s the process?

What is Speechification?

Here are some words I wrote to prompt me in a meeting that Russell and Roo and myself went to at the BBC yesterday. It was like the nicest pitch meeting you’ve ever been to. Lots of important and interesting people from the Internet side of the BBC asked many questions and made many suggestions: a really open and positive reaction to what we’re doing with BBC stuff at Speechification and Watchification. Thanks especially to Jem Stone and to Sophie Walpole for putting it all together.

What is Speechification?

It’s curation. For years now visionary-types have been saying that pretty soon people will be curating media. Well, we’re actually doing it. The world’s just been waiting for a large enough and accessible enough bank of content to play with. So we roam the corridors of the BBC’s archive selecting the stuff we think is really excellent, unusual or important and putting it on display at Speechification.com.

It’s cheeky. We definitely push at the edges of what it’s OK to do with BBC content and we do this not because we’re pirates or vandals but because we want to exert some gentle pressure on the corporation’s leaders to do the right thing about rights, access, archiving etc.

It’s shareholder activism. Greens who want to influence the behaviour of smokestack corporations buy a handful of shares and show up at the annual general meeting to heckle the board. We don’t own shares in the BBC but we’re licence fee-payers so we’re at least stakeholders: opinionated, supportive stakeholders.

It’s a celebration. The BBC’s speech output is one of the glories of British culture. I don’t want to sound smarmy but listening to an evening of great programmes on Radio 4 is a privilege: the kind of condensed emotional and intellectual experience that leaves you smiling without knowing exactly why. We want the world to know about this stuff.

It’s unofficial PR for the neglected stuff. Mark Damazer is on record as saying that Radio 4 doesn’t do a good enough job of marketing its own output. He’s dead right. More than once we’ve featured programmes at Speechification that go out at ungodly hours, don’t have any useful information at bbc.co.uk and weren’t important enough to warrant a press release. We’re often the only people to write about a show anywhere. For these shows we’re an unpaid marketing department. We should bill them.