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Beware the BBC

September 10, 2015

We all love BBC programming and most of it we see in this country through BBC America.  That’s the part of the BBC that licenses selected programming produced for broadcast in the UK.  Brits get to watch that programming inside the UK by paying the annual license fee for TV and radio, a license fee that pays for substantial amounts of production.

The BBC recently announced that it’s planning a new music service.  According to Compete Music Update (our favorite industry news source) the BBC reported that:

[BBC] have developed a digital music proposal with the music industry, which builds on BBC Music’s Playlister. It would make the 50,000 tracks the BBC broadcasts every month available to listen online, for a limited period. Audiences would be able to access this music via playlists curated by the BBC, and they would be able to build their own playlists based on the music they hear and love on the BBC”.

“Through this digital music offer, we would reinvent our role as a trusted guide, in partnership with our audience and with the UK music industry”, it adds. “Together, the BBC and its audiences would curate music in new ways, enabling the discovery of more of all the music we play across the schedules of our many radio stations and TV channels”.

The BBC is pretty good at licensing its own programming, but I’ve had some odd experiences with what passes for commercial urges at the Beeb.  A few years ago, I had a meeting with one of the senior technical folks at the BBC about trying to help them commercialize the BBC programming on file sharing networks like Bit Torrent.  He didn’t seem to understand that BBC programming was all over Bit Torrent and that was bad.  Not just bad for him, but bad for the British residents who pay their annual license fee with the understanding that uses of BBC programming outside the UK should be compensated.

The Beeb executive asked me why this was a problem.  After repeating the fact that seemed self-evidently true–that the BBC is being ripped off by Bit Torrent just like anyone else–I paused to get a reaction.  He said, “Yes, the BBC brand is well represented on Bit Torrent.”

He clearly had no idea what I was talking about.  You know, property rights, John Locke, etc. Surely the Beeb has a show about it.  One of the hundreds of shows it produces that air once, perhaps.

In this context, I fully understand why CMU is reporting that Geoff Taylor of BPI may not be exceptionally sanguine about the BBC properly licensing its music player.

“If the BBC is going to launch such a service, then it needs to bring the industry with it. The starting point for some of the BBC’s suggestions around how such a service might work, involved launching such a service but paying no money for it – and I just don’t think that’s viable … There will have to be a sensible deal behind it if it’s going to happen”.

Note–“if it’s going to happen.”  There’s a certain finality in that phrasing that the BBC probably just doesn’t grok.  Why? Maybe it’s the entitled nature of the BBC–mostly because nobody has ever called them on the Beeb’s failure to clear properly the vast amount of programming “in the vault” so it can be commercially exploited (which might–might–reduce the annual fee to the British people).

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