Bend it like Gardner

Regular readers know that I’ve taken my fair share of shots at CBC.ca. But can you blame me? This is a place where “the BBC does it this way” gets the last word in too many discussions.

Comparing the CBC to the BBC is natural, and I’ve done it myself, but not entirely fair, for many reasons, and don’t get me started on that. But our fetishization of Britain’s public broadcaster has always struck me as embarrassingly colonial.

Of course the BBC has much to teach us, but doing what they do because they’re the BBC is not always the best way to solve problems. Especially when it comes to the web.

The omnipotent Joe Clark tipped me off to this blistering post by former BBCi’er Tom Coates, where he wonders what happened to the many great plans BBC new media announced over the years, to much fanfare.

The Creative Archive, making the entire BBC archives downloadable?

The iMP, the BBC’s own P2P application?

BBC Backstage, allowing webheads to repurpose content for noncommercial use?

The BBC Programme Catalogue, allowing text searches on all programs?

All of them unfinished, on hiatus, or dropped. With few explanations.

Tom lays the blame squarely at the feet of Ashley Highfield, director of new media, an uncannily Galipeauesque figure who has thousands of webheads under him, is a great champion of “bbc.co.uk 2.0,” but can’t seem to find the “Rotate” button on flickr.

Last Wednesday Highfield was promoted to Director of Future Media and Technology in an effort to make the BBC “the most creative organisation in the world.”

Just look at this crazy diagram of the restructuring!

But here’s the interesting thing about it: there’s no “TV” or “Radio” department at the BBC anymore. They’re replaced by “Vision” and “Audio & Music,” divorcing the content from the platform. This means you might watch video on the telly, your computer, your cell phone, or a billboard. Throw in “Journalism,” and that’s the whole of the BBC.

Sounds nice and simple. Or does it? The BBC’s own report on the restructure breaks down halfway through, becoming an existential series of unanswered questions:

Will we stop talking about radio news and television news? Or radio drama and TV drama? Will they become audio drama and video drama instead? Or just drama?

They also got rid of their “New Media” department. Individual websites will now be built by the programs themselves.

Astute CBC employees may recognize this structure. This is what we do. And we all know how that turned out. As Paul Gorbould writes in the very good article, CBC.ca prehistory, what happened was

There was an explosion of interesting and diverse web content and experimentation, but it appeared as a motley collection of seemingly unrelated sites, characterized by brand confusion and internal political divisions … Far from being user-friendly, CBC.ca was organized according to the territorial battles of the day.

A mess so convoluted that it took 5 years to fix. And they still aren’t done.

I can’t help but read all of this and wonder if, when it comes to the BBC, we haven’t been worshipping false idols all this time.

Our clowns are clearly just as good as their clowns, for one.

Maybe the message here for the BBC is to shut up and stop promising what it can’t deliver?

After all, the CBC does it that way.

10 comments:

  1. Blistering Barnacles
    Posted August 4, 2006 at 11:46 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    That’s good news Ouimet, rant on…

  2. Ouimet
    Posted August 3, 2006 at 10:14 am | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    Interesting reading, bods. Thanks.

    BB, thanks for reading, and thanks to you and the others who emailed me to tell me to keep going.

    Don’t mind me, I think about quitting every few weeks or so. But who am I kidding? I’d be back at it within a month. It’s too much fun.

    I figure I won’t stop til they fire me or give me the Order of Canada.

  3. Blistering Barnacles
    Posted August 1, 2006 at 7:41 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    “I’m considering giving up the blog and starting something else….”
    Ouimet, please carry on the blog (or at least something else on the airways). Your humorous and often caustic opinions are a welcome shot in the arm. We need that when others are shooting themselves in the foot or other appendages I could mention…

  4. Bods
    Posted August 1, 2006 at 4:11 am | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    Just to let you know, programme teams have done their websites for years in the BBC – the New Media department is more about central infrastructure etc.

    The New Media department isn’t so much ditched as morphed into Future Media and Technology.

    If anyone’s interested in what the department does, here’s my take on it.
    http://www.planetbods.org/blog/2006/07/23/bbcnewmedia.live
    (yes I work there ;)

  5. Matt
    Posted July 29, 2006 at 2:13 am | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    Radio 4 is good.

  6. Ouimet
    Posted July 25, 2006 at 8:18 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    Thanks for reading, Frank.

    But I’m on no crusade, and to be truthful, I’m considering giving up the blog and starting something else. Maybe I’ve taken it as far as I can.

    “Blighty.” Wish I had remembered that word yesterday. I would’ve thrown it in.

    Speaking of which, this post is getting a lot of visits from the UK, and from within the BBC itself.

    So if the BBC reads Teamakers, you know it’s good!

  7. hugh
    Posted July 25, 2006 at 3:00 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    hmm… I certainly have been guilty of some fetishization of BBC – but for me it was mostly because of the content they made available. also, they seem to have good ideas about direction. I have no idea if this is the case for cbc.ca – but it appears not to me. but, CBC will live or die on its content.

    in all this tizzy about web 2.0, that can get forgotten … but I want good CBC content made available to me the place where I consume most of it, online (& for free, pls).

    I would like to see many other things too (eg, as mentioned here before, funding for showcasing the best DIY media made by canadians – audio & video podcasts; and even more radically for building this capacity, but that’s a sidelight).

    But really all this dizzy love of web2.0 and the new media webby user-generated bloggy etc landscape matters *only* if CBC continues to produce good stuff. news. documentaries. sports. drama. comedy. even good reality TV, why not? but if CBC does NOT produce good stuff, it becomes another “portal” of little relevance.

    the mode of transmission is important in that it gives better access to the stuff. the stuff, tho, must be good.

    My impression is that the australian broadcast corp is doing the best online stuff. little fanfare, just putting as much great content online as they can.

    THAT’s a good strategy. (at least from the perspective of the audience)

  8. Anonymous
    Posted July 25, 2006 at 8:15 am | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    Inflated notions of the BBC come from seeing and hearing only the very best of it, that which is exported. Watch the service while in Blighty and you soon realize that the bulk of the programming is very ordinary … and worse. CBC needs to provide far fewer hours of programming over its services so should aim higher. Should and could, if the programmers were in possession of any wit,wisdom or taste.

  9. CBC Frank
    Posted July 25, 2006 at 6:29 am | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    Ouimet, I must thank you for still keeping our management in your crosshairs.

    Since there is virtually NO accountability from our managers, and the Auditor General will never be privy to the many skeletons in our corporation’s closets, we need some platform to expose at least what we see.

  10. Anonymous
    Posted July 24, 2006 at 9:59 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    It’s never been obvious to me that an online presence is even inside the cbc’s mandate. God knows the other services have suffered to pay for it.


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