Robin Cook said last week that whenever he is interviewed by the
BBC these days he never knows where it will end up being used; the main
news, News 24, or on a BBC web site. Even if the interview took place
before cameras, that didn’t mean soundbites would not find their way on
to radio. A couple of years ago I suspect his observation would have
been different, a ratty tirade about the way programmes from the same
organisation competed with each other for exclusive material.
The Foreign secretary’s remarks illustrate the way in which valuable
content is being reshaped, reformatted and spread before a variety of
audiences, easily crossing old media boundaries. I experienced this a
few days ago when I was interviewed on the relatively new Bloomberg TV
channel. The business service is broadcast via satellite in four
languages, and is also used as part of a dealing room tool, on
subscription, for City brokers. The TV component - people like me
talking on their subjects - occupies the top right hand quarter of the
computer screen. The final product is very similar in look and concept
to Microsoft’s web TV offering.
I was interested to note where the spending was going: not a cameraman
in sight, but the producers and presenter were well briefed, while the
freelance make-up lady had been trained at the BBC and knew her
These are simple examples of the first fruits of the so-called
’convergence’ of electronic signals, telecom and broadcasting rapidly
taking place as digital compression grows roots. It is such a pervasive
influence, economic and culturally, it explains why there is such a huge
debate about how new parameters, or regulations, should be framed.
It was the key reason for last week’s European Audiovisual conference in
Birmingham, which partly sought reactions to an EC green paper on future
media/communications regulation, a theme to be developed next month by a
Parliamentary Select Committee. The Government will also consult heavily
this summer. But I’ve noticed that the advertising/PR community doesn’t
seem to be very involved so far.
It’s clear that common minimum consumer protection standards covering
content are needed. And it is now obvious there are too many competing
regulators. Further, the range of investigation underway in Brussels
suggests a degree of uncertainty about what is permissible, a factor
slowing up investment. If digital radio frequencies can be used to carry
data, satellite channels spread radio services, phone lines carry TV,
and the internet does all of these, separate licensing bodies are
As an interim first measure I think it inevitable that Europe will have
to accept the V-chip, so consumers can decide what (legal, but adult)
material to lock away from children.