Thursday, October 18, 2007

More, Smaller, Just as Good

There's an apocryphal story about an American motor executive who got angry in a meeting about plant closures and sarcastically remarked "Hey, why don't we close them all down - then we can save some REAL money".

I'm reminded of this when I read of the BBC's latest adventure in downsizing.

THe BBC's lack of ambition is astounding. They have a monopoly position, are funded via a semi-compulsory license fee, have a track-record of producing some of the best TV and Radio of all time, and have one of the world's most-used websites.

Some of their greatest hits have come from small-scale work :-

* "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" was a BBC radio play
* Aardman Animations cut their teeth on creating a character called "Morph" for a children's TV programme
* "Whose Line is it Anyway?" was a BBC radio panel game

And if we just look at comedy - how about "The Mighty Boosh", "Dead Ringers", "The Goons", "Goodness Gracious Me", "Mitchell & Webb" and "The League of Gentlemen", who all started by making successes of radio shows before transferring to more glamorous media.

The plan of concentrating on "fewer, bigger, better" is madness. There is little creativity in big budget items. For every "Life on Mars" there are a hundred safe and boring Classic Costume Dramas. If the BBC raises the entry-level budget for programme-making they are going to become oh-so like ITV1, and that's not a good thing.

I'm all for "cutting fat", but Mark Thompson seems set on excising some of the muscle too.

And another thing : this idea of combining Radio and TV reporting is utter nonsense. Radio journalism is more than just TV journalism without the pictures, just as "Under Milk Wood" (another BBC success) was more than just a play in the dark. It was a "Play for Voices", which is an art-form in itself - just as valid as any other.

A radio journalist needs to paint a picture with words, and the picture is often deeper and clearer than the one that a TV camera would be allowed to capture. I'm not at all associated with the industry, and I can appreciate that. Why can't the Director General of the BBC ??

The management theorist Dale Dauten concisely summarises my message to Mark Thompson

Why are CEO's who slash jobs so proud of themselves? Instead of bragging about "cutting fat," they ought to be getting up before their employees and saying, "We did such a lousy job of planning and hiring that we have more people than work. And we are so broke and so dim-witted that we can't come up with any way to get more work. So our only solution is to send a lot of good people home. I am ashamed and I am sorry."


Kenny said...

Loved the label "clueless director general". And the rest is common sense but we all know that common sense is an oxymoron ergo...QED.

spice-the-cat said...

A very astute post and a pleasure to see someone who values the BBC as a cultural asset rather than the usual ill informed and small minded criticism that usually accompanies a mention of the organisation.

As a Brit living in Canada I still use the BBC as my main source of world news, whether it's the website, the BBC news channel or just streaming BBC radio channels via the internet.

All of those who wish to see the demise of the BBC should be aware that once the BBC loses it's influence there will be an speedy and inevitable decline in all the other news providers as they no longer have to compete with what is rightly regarded as the world's finest.

Suddenly you'll find the news delivery is heavily influenced by the station owner, by the advertiser or, most frighteningly, by powerful political forces.

The BBC (and particularly the radio stations) are mostly intelligent, innovative and a valuable part of what stops the UK from sinking into the commercial stagnation that is endemic on the North American continent and in commercially funded media in general.

Lose the BBC and you'll find the UK has lost it's last great cultural resource. Then get ready to accept biased news (like the Fox News Channel) and the same twelve songs rotated every hour for months on end (any commercial radio station)

Stan said...

Thanks for that - even over here there's already way too much emphasis on the main BBC1 TV station, which is why I found the "fewer, bigger, better" slogan so chilling. How can they not realise just how much of the BBC's edge lies with BBC News website, Radio 4, the excellent (a minority view I'm sure) digital channels and BBC local radio? If you want to see how bad it gets, look at what's on ITV1 any night apart from tonight (they've got the rugby on which kind of spoils my point).

chem_fem said...

I agree with you, but I'd rather watch a costume drama than an inane talent show, or dancing contest anyday......

ArcticFox said...

I thought most of the cuts were going to be in the London news dept.... have I been hoodwinked??


Stan said...

Hook, line, sinker and copy of Angling Times. Radio journalism is the hardest hit (not just London) but BBC Scotland, Factual and BBC children's are also going to take a pasting