If anyone doubts the potential of public
broadcasters in the new media world, they should listen to the bleating from
the Murdoch empire reported in last week’s Financial Times about the BBC’s Creative Future,
which aims to change the BBC from a broadcaster, and in fact completely remake
itself. The concept has been described by the BBC as “beyond broadcast”.The BBC
will largely leave its media behind, and adopt an entirely new model.

The BBC website rebuild will aim to make it
the “premier destination” for unsigned bands and podcasters, relying very
largely on user generated content. It’s not surprising that News Limited is
upset. This is a direct challenge to the core business of Myspace.com, the
hugely profitable youth-oriented web property Rupert purchased last year. James
McManus, executive director of News International, has accused the BBC of
having “blatantly commercial ambitions” – all subsidised by the taxpayer.

The BBC will launch a massive new range of
broadband services, personalised radio content and “snack” news and current
affairs.

The relevance locally is that if the ABC
gets any new funding at all in the budget, it is likely to be for new digital
content – both online and on the digital television channel ABC 2, which is
about to have its heavy “genre restrictions” lifted, meaning it should be able
to fulfil more of its potential. The ABC website has slipped from top place
recently, but is still right up there in the top five. New content could make a
big difference.

The other great advantage of public broadcasters,
of course, is their archives, which are a taxpayers resource beyond compare.
The BBC plans to take full advantage, with its entire program catalogue
becoming available online for the first time, with a video-on-demand service.

Rupert should probably put a sock in it.
The truth is that public broadcasters – including both the BBC and the ABC –
were exploiting the potential of online possibilties long before Rupert had his conversion
experience
, and started to play behemoth catch-up. Now the BBC is trying to make sure they
stay in the game.

On the other hand, there are ethical issues
with publicly subsidised organisations competing with commercial online
businesses, and Rupert isn’t the only one likely to feel the sting. There is
our very own Australian grown Podcast Network
for example, and a lot of other smaller players, not all of them for profit,
aimed at launching new talent in film, music and new media.

Peter Fray

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Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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