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BBC “on-demand Creative Future”

The BBC has announced a wide-ranging change in responsibilities at BBC Towers to fulfil the promises of its Creative Future review under the Director General, Mark Thompson.

People outside the BBC will no doubt either boggle at the number of people at the top table or wonder what the fuss is about: both views are valid.

The announcement seeks to streamline the responsibilities for content, commissioning and the technological and organisational resources to deliver. For “new media” business (used to seeing all content as digital from the outset, and by definition multi-use and multi-media) then this will seem sensible and belated. For people used to working in either focused business or highly matrixed businesses then the allocation of responsibilities will also seem like a no-brainer.

For people who’ve worked at the BBC (disclosure: I was Head of Online Operations back in the prehistoric days of 1998+), or people who work closely with the BBC then the sound of tectonic plates moving painfully will be clearly discernable.

The BBC was structured (despite its many restructurings) along the lines of people who owned the channel, people who made stuff, people who had money to get people to make stuff and people who owned the technology to allow the stuff that was made to get to people people who paid for it – ie viewers and listeners (and now ‘mousers and clickers’). Along the route the fiefdoms of News, Sport, Radio and TV guarded their content jealously. Latterly, while many of the silos were cracked and ostensibly working together, there remained a shortfall in achievement mainly due to lack of co-ordination, integration and systems to allow teams to work together, and others to access material created elsewhere.

This change signals from the highest level that the Corporation is now focused on putting money, resources, processes and ideas into delivering eduction, entertainment and information to the customer – across all channels.

The challenge (apart from the not inconsiderable cultural and operational ones) will be to retain the distinctive voices of the BBC channels via the Channel Controllers and exploit the capabilities of each medium. This is what the BBC has been doing for years, though, and a structure that provides improved visibility, direction and cohesion has to be welcomed.

The overall feeling though is a ‘so what?’. This reorganisation is no more than one would expect from a modern business, focusing (at last) upon the customer. That the BBC is responding to ‘web2.0’, social networking phenomena etc is commendable, but to what extent is the BBC driving these initiatives or indeed what has it to contribute?

There’s no need for the BBC to become the “myspace” of Middle England (although is an interesting new network in the US – a sort of Myspace for adults who like public radio – you can imagine this in the UK as a sort of space for Radio 4 listeners!). They certainly have a role in bringing the late majority to understand and use technological developments, but to be fair the late majority would arrive eventually.

Ultimately, the BBC’s uniqueness is its compelling content – hence the excitement over its promises to open its archives. I can’t help feeling that further efforts in this area would be to our (customers’) best advantage, while a great openness to commercial and third party partnerships would deliver the social networking, web2.0, innovation benefits without the angst of navel gazing, structure reviews and continual worrying over the commercial:government:funded interface.

To the extent that the new structure can deliver a freer way of working I welcome it. Other than that this is one for historians of the Corporation, or who are writing PhDs on organisational structures.