Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Written Evidence

Memorandum submitted by Jason Antoniewicz

  The global nature of the internet, technological convergence and availability have given rise to new ways of experiencing more media content more conveniently than ever before. Consequently, many media consumers have adopted the new technology.

  Faced with widespread "unauthorised" access to content, the media industry began by reacting on the basis of fear, trying to enforce its rights. Now, though, it is trying to adapt. Adaptation will soon become the main and, possibly, the only focus as it becomes increasingly evident that the more practical and beneficial approach is to make unauthorised access unnecessary and capitalise on the market in ways that are realistic.

  Existing measures have proved to be inadequate. In fact, regardless of any measures the Committee may take within its current thinking, this inadequacy will remain. The restrictive approach, mistakenly seen as essential to "protect" the interests of content makers, is unworkable and will soon be anachronistic. Legislators should still consider the choice of some content makers to use restrictive methods, though this will never be effective and will become less of an issue as the market develops.

  Such a choice should not be available to the BBC, not least because of its "unique" role. The closed approach the BBC has adopted in its plans for the online provision of broadcast content limits access and has squandered the license fee. So far, there has been no effective safeguard or analysis of the Corporation's activities in this key area. Moreover, the Corporation is placing itself in a legal minefield where it cannot serve two gods in "digital Britain": the public and the content creators. With a different approach, though, it could serve both.

  To do this, the BBC should allow open access to content via open standards and software. Anything less compromises its belief that it should play a prominent part at the helm of "digital Britain". Anything less and "digital Britain" as a project will do more harm than good, especially in widening the "digital divide".

  To balance rights and expectations, while remaining realistic in the face of technological change, the BBC should abandon simplistic and outdated arguments about editorial integrity and instead carry advertising alongside online content to compete in the emerging global market.

  Barriers to this can be overcome—advertisers did not abandon TV with the advent of the VCR. Geographical restrictions would be self-defeating, since they would merely extend the life of the alternative, unofficial market. Flood that market with free, unrestricted, good quality, official products and the public will tolerate a few advertisements. This approach would stifle unauthorised access like no other method.

  The debate has been too narrow. The Committee needs to broaden its view and the BBC needs to be opened up. The limited nature of the information coming out of the Corporation leads to an ill-informed public, the knock-on effect being that the Committee's consultations are devalued. Additionally, the information that the BBC does offer is weighted in favour of "closed" systems, in tune with its own choices and the interests of its partners.

  What is worse is that this lack of openness and balance has had a direct effect on the workings of the Committee, which is why, perhaps, the White Paper fails to offer much in the way of critical analysis of the BBC's plans. While it states a preference for open standards over proprietary ones, the White Paper merely praises the BBC's recent work on broadcasting content online and fails to recognise the implications of the Corporation's "lock down" approach.

  Long before the scheduled review in 2016, the media landscape will reflect open standards more than restrictions, as happened with the development of the world wide web. A free and open model for broadcast media via the internet may appear radical, but it is not. It is just that the information available to the Committee thus far has not served it well.

18 April 2006

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