The BBC is a major resource which faces interesting challenges moving forward. It is funded through a license fee, basically a national tax on TV ownership. How applicable is this model in a digital world?
The BBC is actively positioning itself for the future. It is a digital pioneer, and it is making a strong case for its role 'building public value'. It remains to be seen whether the case is strong enough.
In June 2004 it produced a major document Building public value [pdf], which argues for the need for public funding. The argument is essentially a public sphere one, that public ownership and funding is required to secure a service which supports broad-based learning and awareness in a complex digital future.
Earlier this year the BBC spoke about Creative Futures, how to operationalize some of what it had earlier discussed. Here it noted the clear move to a third age for TV and radio, one of on-demand programming. The first age was limited linear programming; the second was a growth in linear programming, with a choice among many channels and the introduction of digital. Of course, this move from pre-fabricated delivery to user assembly within local environments is familiar to us from more general discussion in a network environment.
Confusingly, this third age is part of the second digital wave.
But that's only the start – we're less than five years from fully individualised, drag-and-drop TV and radio stations. ....
More radical interaction, content generation and the pooling and sharing of that content across communities are all fundamental parts of the second wave. [BBC - Press Office - Mark Thompson RTS Fleming Lecture]
Jim Collins has recently argued that public sector organizations should measure themselves in terms of superior performance, distinctive impact, and lasting endurance [Good to great and the social sectors]. The BBC, I think, can argue that it is doing well against the first two of these metrics; the question is whether this translates into support which generates success against the third.
What is interesting about the case that the BBC is making is that is very similar to the one that public libraries would make, and maybe need to make more strongly. The BBC is claiming a role as a central plank in the construction of a digital Britain, extending learning and development opportunities to all.
(p.s. the focus on Bulding Public Value further points up the travesty that is BBC America.)