[opendtv] The Beeb Shall Inherit the Earth

  • From: Bill Hogan <billhogan1@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: OpenDTV <opendtv@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Fri, 20 May 2005 11:47:51 -0700

Everyone may find the following article very interesting.  Bill Hogan

URL: http://www.wired.com/news/culture/0%2C1284%2C67552%2C00.html

The Beeb Shall Inherit the Earth By Cory Doctorow

02:00 AM May. 18, 2005 PT

America's entertainment industry is committing slow, spectacular suicide, while 
one of 
Europe's biggest broadcasters -- the BBC -- is rushing headlong to the future, 
innovation rather than fighting it.

Unlike Hollywood, the BBC is eager and willing to work with a burgeoning group 
of content 
providers whose interests are aligned with its own: its audience.

The BBC's news website is the first mainstream news-gathering organization in 
the Western 
world to solicit and give prominence to photographs and reporting provided by 
its visitors.

Professional photographers spluttered at the presumption of the BBC to use 
efforts. But the BBC is doing its job: engaging the audience, and picking the 
best from 
all worlds, commercial and public alike.

The BBC isn't perfect. It's a public broadcaster known as much for hidebound 
as nimbleness and foresight. Its internet offerings have always been 
forward-looking, but 
paranoia over its public image has led it to restrictive policies on things 
like outbound 
linking. Until recently, the otherwise stellar BBC News site hardly linked to 
apart from other BBC pages.

Stef Magdalinski, a hacker-agitator-entrepreneur, responded with a guerrilla 
called Wikiproxy, which rips all the news stories coming off the BBC news wire 
and mixes 
them by linking every proper noun to its corresponding Wikipedia entry. Of 
course, this 
burns to a crisp the old BBC policy against linking to external sites.

Rather than sue, the BBC created BBC Backstage, a service for remixing the Beeb 
launched last week.

With Backstage, BBC's online department takes all the goop in its 
system -- breaking news, editorials and conferences -- and exposes it as a set 
of standard 
programming interfaces. Anyone who can hack a little Perl or Python can mix 
these into any 
kind of service they can imagine.

The crowning glory of the Beeb's openness is the Creative Archive.

The Creative Archive is an attempt to digitize all the programming the BBC has 
commissioned, clear the copyrights and post it online with a Creative 
license. This will allow Britons to download the BBC's content, distribute it 
noncommercially remix it into their own films, music, gags, projects and school 

It's a shame that Auntie couldn't find the political will to use a proper 
Creative Commons 
license, but this is the kind of reversible error that I expect the BBC to 
correct soon 

Meanwhile, the BBC has shown itself to be awfully clueful with its announcement 
that the 
Creative Archive will not employ useless, consumer-hostile digital rights 
technology of the sort that Movielink and Apple's iTunes Music Store waste so 
much time 
and money on.

Take digital TV. Practically every country in the world needs to come up with a 
for the "analog switch-off" -- the day when the analog TV towers go dark, 
leaving only 
digital TV behind. To get there, citizens need to get new digital receivers, or 
having their TVs stop working after the switch-off. In most countries, the 
switch-off will 
be sometime before 2010.

In Britain, the BBC led the charge with something called Freeview, a system for 
transmitting 30 free digital TV stations and 20 free digital radio stations to 
nation's analog TV sets.

A digital receiver sits on top of the TV, attached to a set of rabbit ears, and 
as many channels as most Americans get on basic cable, for free, forever.

Britons have embraced Freeview in spades, and the United Kingdom will likely 
effect the 
first major analog switch-off as a result. Quite a payoff, considering the 
billions that 
the analog TV spectrum can be sold for in a market of spectrum-hungry mobile 

In the United States, the "solution" was the doomed broadcast flag. The Federal 
Communications Commission decided the way to get Americans to junk analog sets 
was to 
offer high-definition programming.

But Hollywood wouldn't open up its high-definition coffers unless the FCC gave 
it a veto 
over the design of digital television receivers.

These companies -- who tried to ban the VCR -- wanted to be in charge of all 
television apparatus (including PCs), forever.

How this was supposed to result in an American analog switch-off is beyond me.

Hollywood tried this kind of blackmail on the BBC, too.

In 2003, when the BBC switched off the encryption on its satellite feeds, 
allowing anyone 
who bought a receiver (including the French and Belgians) to watch free 
satellite TV, the 
studios went nuts, saying that they would lose licensing revenue from 
continental Europe.

Hollywood swore it would boycott the BBC: No movies for you!

The BBC stood fast -- after all, anyone with a camera can be a filmmaker, but 
to be the 
BBC, you need 29,000 employees and 78 years of history -- and when the studios' 
year wrapped up, they came, hats in hand, to the BBC, asking if they couldn't 
please have 
some of the money they were accustomed to for satellite licensing.

The greatest irony here is that it takes a publicly-funded broadcaster from a 
cozy liberal 
democracy to teach America's lumbering, anti-competitive Hollywood dinosaurs 
what a real, 
competitive offering looks like.

© Copyright 2005, Lycos, Inc.

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