Need a decent Lighting pun here

Jane Lighting has won the top job at Channel 5. Story from The Guardian. I’m making a serious attempt to link to newspapers other than The Guardian for media stories these days but this would be easier if they weren’t all so badly designed and flakey! Come on guys! A string of 404s from The Independent, stories delivered in pop-ups at The Times, an impenetrable log in at The FT. Stories at The Telegraph are at least accessible but I can’t be sure they’ll still be there in a few months, thus neutralising the ‘outboard brain’ function of my blog.

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31p per day…

Steve Barnett is a media academic and a prominent defender of British broadcasting’s mythic quality and distinctiveness – and, of course, the licence fee. In his response to Barry Cox’s provocative free market demolition of the BBC’s protected status Barnett clings to the status quo. Since digital TV is a mess and analogue switch-off now in doubt, maybe we can leave everything exactly as it is:

“Should we really dismantle a whole regulatory and funding system in anticipation of technology take-up which is at best optimistic and at worst unfeasible?”

The tapestry of public service communications is worth defending but, if we’re going to sustain it into the digital and networked era we’ll need to do better than keeping our fingers crossed that it never happens!

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Barry Cox again

On the strength of Barry Cox’s first provocative and wide-ranging lecture on the future of television, I’m looking forward to the next three. I don’t agree with everything he says but this is thoughtful stuff and timely. Here’s some news coverage of his call for the abolition of the licence fee.

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Net aversion

Owen Gibson wonders why the ad agencies are still steering clear of the net.

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Carter gets it

How does 15 years working his way up the greasy pole in an ad agency followed by two years in the number two spot at a collapsing cable firm prepare Stephen Carter for the hot seat at Ofcom?

Carter’s job now is to rope together 600 people from five utterly different agencies – including hundreds of Radiocommunications Agency techies and inspectors, dozens of Oftel economists and analysts and the clock-watchers and nipple counters at the Broadcasting Standards Commission.

I guess the answer to my first question is ‘it doesn’t’. Although the regulator – and the legislation that sets it up – has had a pretty smooth ride so far, you don’t need to be ‘informed opinion’ to know that Ofcom and its new Chief Executive will not have it easy for long.

Foreign bids for ITV, Sky’s expected moves on Five, a fraught merger of the ITV companies, Channel 4’s fall from grace, the broadband mess, disputed mobile phone price cuts. All this and the continuing ad recession and plunging profits. I’m not taking bets but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Ofcom’s initial structure and personnel up for review within two years.

Profile of Stephen Carter in The Guardian,
The Ofcom names chief executive, BBC
Stephen Carter to head new UK media watchdog, FT
Industry insider beats rivals to the top job at media super-regulator, The Guardian

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How news is made

Matt Wells writes up last week’s Oxford Media Convention in The Guardian. He focuses on Tessa Jowell’s broad hint that Greg Dyke “can’t take the licence fee for granted” at charter renewal in 2006.

For me, this is a fascinating insight into the political management of news. If you’d attended the conference (as I did) you might easily have missed Jowell’s hint, made without fuss in the middle of a long speech, right at the end of a long day of debate containing at least half a dozen other interesting stories.

For the reporters present, though, this nugget quickly became the whole story. Presumably Jowell’s team – led by her top adviser Bill Bush who was at the conference too – briefed furiously to drive home the point that tough is the new cosy and the renewal of the Royal Charter is not a done deal. And so, almost casually, policy is made and communicated. Amazing.

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The Oxford Media Convention

The Said Business School at Dusk
My day in Oxford at the handsomely endowed Said Business School was fascinating – I’ve written a comment piece about it for The Guardian. Although billed as a conference on ‘public service communications’ in general, the meat of the thing was television and its fate once the Communications Bill is law and Ofcom up and running. If there was a dominant theme it was the clash of the old school, quality-obsessed producers (the luvvies) and the scary men with clipboards from the new regulator. The language of ‘quality’ sits uncomfortably with the largely economic language of the clipboardistas. The next year or so should be very interesting. Below this entry you’ll find some more of my notes on the event (illustrated with photographs from my camphone).

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Mark Thompson at The Oxford Media Convention

Mark Thompson
Mark Thompson is Chief Exective of Channel 4. His speech at the Convention was outstanding. His principle point was that the old, Reithian language of public service means little to contemporary audiences and that a new language is now required – one that acknowledges the ‘second order’ benefits of public service ‘merit goods’. These second order benefits are the indirect ones that ripple through society, making use of network effects as they go. For an example he used Jamie’s Kitchen, whose direct public service benefits may be uncertain but which, he claims, has created a new attitude to unemployment, apprenticeship and the obligations of employers.

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Ed Richards at the Oxford Media Convention

Ed Richards dodges the camera
Ed Richards is The Prime Minister’s priniciple adviser on media matters. He’s a famously shadowy figure (he actually tried to dodge out of the frame as I took his picture!). His presentation was a fairly robust defense of the Government’s record on new services and particularly its attitude to applications from the BBC. Critics accuse the Government of being too soft on Dyke’s BBC and too quick to grant the corporation entry to new sectors already well catered for by the private sector. He was one of the few speakers to actually mention the Internet (or at least ‘broadband’ which seems to be the respectable way to say ‘Internet’ these days) but when I cornered him about the exclusion of the net from Ofcom’s scope he held his hands up in the now rather tired attitude of “hey, the net’s too big and complex for regulation…”.

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