A laudable idea

Boing Boing has a post urging people to take part in the BBC’s Consultation about On Demand Services. A laudable idea except Boing Boing’s post is entirely about getting people to say that the proposed service shouldn’t solely use Microsoft products. I’m certainly in favour of avoiding Microsoft (and if the BBC avoids RealPlayer too, even better) but sending Boing Boing readers to the consultation with only this issue in mind, and telling them the form “takes 5 minutes to fill in”, really isn’t helping the BBC or licence fee payers.

Out of twelve questions only one concerns the issue of open formats. And to answer any of the questions in a useful manner you’ll need to at least have browsed the BBC Trust’s Provisional Conclusions and Consultation document. Without doing so you don’t know what it is you’re agreeing or disagreeing to. It will take you more than just five minutes to read this and then say anything useful. I hope some of Boing Boing’s readers have taken the trouble to do this, rather than simply flood the corporation with lots of “Microsoft products suck”, “DRM sucks” and “give me everything free” rants.

It’s a shame the BBC didn’t make the first page of their consultation site a little clearer — eg, “Read this document then answer these questions” — rather than waffling on for several paragraphs (a paragraph on a website seems like a page in a book to me).

And I do wish the questions didn’t keep referring to “consumers”, eg “How long do you think consumers should be able to store BBC programmes on their computers before viewing them?” Why ask this question like you’re asking “does he take sugar?” I’m a consumer, everyone completing the consultation is a consumer, ask me how long I want to store BBC programmes for, not what I think is best for all those funny little common people on the high street.

I won’t bore you with all my responses to the questions. However, there’s one idea I had a while back which I was reminded of. One of the questions is about whether audio downloads of classical music should be allowed — it could broaden the potential market, introducing new listeners, but could also harm existing sales of recordings. Here’s the idea. If the BBC was to do this on any scale it should coincide with a new radio, or maybe TV, programme. A landmark series, prestigious, brilliant, long and engaging, introducing a new audience to classical music. For many people, including me, classical music is a foreign world. I can happily listen to it but I only ever feel I’m scratching the surface and don’t know how to get any further into it.

Start from the basics, with each episode focusing on a theme, or a composer, or an individual piece of music. Look at How Music Works with Howard Goodall for a great example of how to make these things comprehensible and engaging. Hell, get Goodall to do it, along with whoever directed his series. Accompany each show with a free download of the music that’s discussed in the show. I bet you there’s an audience for this, who would like to understand this foreign world, and it would certainly introduce new, and younger, listeners, maybe more than making up for any reductions in existing classical music sales. There’d be enough material for the series to run for years, but even the earliest episodes should always be available online, so anyone can start their education at any point in the future. And when the BBC has done that it can tackle jazz.


  • Reading through all the PDFs, it seems that the BBC Trust did consider this option - limiting DRM-free classical music downloads to coincide only with major programming - but they couldn't decide how this would be defined, and so gave up and said don't bother doing it at all.

  • Cracking idea about the Howard Goodall, Phil (and an even better one about the Beeb releasing a series on jazz!)

  • My response to the classical music question was along slightly different lines. Classical music production in the UK is subsidised. It's not a free market. Everyone's paying to keep orchestras running, and the BBC's orchestras are funded more transparently than other recipients of subsidies. If classical downloads are problematic, then so are the Proms, or the BBC's commissions, or their orchestras.

    Anyway, R3 has already shown its willingess to take brave steps in this regard, with its Bach and Beethoven and Wagner series. It might annoy the purists, but they get pretty good treatment already. And downloads at 128kbps are not going to be treated as a replacement for CDs by anyone already interested.

    [I miss the days of simulcasts: while it's trickier to sync digital and analogue sources, I'd love to see experiments in cross-media broadcast between R3 and BBC FOUR.]

    On the general point: BoingBoing can really be arses at times.

  • Awesome idea - I missed most of the R3 series downloads. I'd love to sign up to a series as easily as I set my Sky+ to record the Howard Goodall series. I find myself browsing download sites for stuff after I see a documentary - would be great to have it simultaneously delivered.

    And yes, Goodall should do Classical and Jazz - he'd be a thousand times better than the stupid Stephen Fry book/series (I love Fry, but this was crap). Don't lace classical music with comedy to make it 'accessible' - treat it like a cryptic crossword, something that is daunting at first but infinitely rewarding when someone has the patience to explain the structure and reveal the riches within it.

  • Absolutely agree that BoingBoing's hobby-horse politics risk squandering a genuine opportunity to contribute to the shape of the Beeb. And the "consumers" line annoyed me, too.

    On a different note, the Guardian offered something that sounds close to what you describe above: a series of lecture recitals on Beethoven piano sonatas by Andreas Schiff:

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Saturday 3 February 2007, 12:40pm

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  • 10:53pm: Back from seeing 'Venus', very entertaining.
  • 6:26pm: Finished work stuff for the day. On to putting in a week of Pepys, who is leading a more exciting life than I.
  • 1:30pm: Spending this sunny winter day inside, staring at pixels, working.
  • 12:39pm: Putting off work by blogging.