Down With Channel Controllers?

In the aftermath of BeeBCamp, Jason DaPonte had a cool idea. The BBC is a public service broadcaster, right? It exists to serve the public, rather than make a profit, and it is funded directly by the public, through the licence fee. So wouldn’t it make sense that the public should decide what goes on the tube?

Here’s Jason’s pitch (but you’d better read the full version in his own words):

Imagine this very simple concept: Each year you pay your license fee to the BBC in exchange for programming that you own and control the destiny of.  YOU decide what gets made because YOU decide which ideas, programmes, themes, seasons, etc you want to invest in.  This could be done via an online marketplace […] where editors, producers, directors, etc “float” ideas to the public and where anyone who’s paid their license fee can choose to allocate a portion of the funding they’ve pre-paid to us. This could be at the level of specific programmes (after reading a brief posted by a commissioning exec), for an entire service (if say, they really love 6Music – like I do) or even an entire genre (if you just can’t get enough cookery programming).

Sounds to me like this means replacing – or at the very least supplementing – the channel controllers with live community surveys, whose results have binding effects on funding allocation.

It is democratic. Instead of having just one person deciding what goes on, say, BBC2, (who voted for them, right?) you’d have a channel webpage where people can look at all the pitches for programmes and series and vote on which gets their slice of the licence fee. Only programmes with enough fans putting their money in would get made. Simple.

Jason’s right – it would be very difficult to imagine the BBC broadcasting flops in this kind of model. But it’s also very difficult for me to imagine the BBC broadcasting some of the more serious, less popular programmes like Iran and the West or, indeed, just about anything on BBC 4.

But I’d say this content is important, despite its low audience figures, and clearly serves the public interest. What do we do about that?

I’d say widespread, constant community polling is a great thing and should happen. But I don’t think the number of viewers who are prepared to pay for something should dictate whether it gets made or not. It should be – and is – relevant to programming decisions, though. At the moment, broadcasters base their strategy on BARB ratings that extrapolate who’s watching what from a survey base of a few thousand people. If anyone in the public could feed in, broadcasters would get much broader (and therefore better?) data.

There’ll always be a channel for direct-vote, public-funded programming of  the type Jason is recommending. I can easily imagine the day when people who make shows like this put out part one, wait until it accrues a few thousand hits, and then say “We’ll only put out part two if you pay us X amount.”

Now, there’s a cool model for independent producers . . .

2 thoughts on “Down With Channel Controllers?

  1. Good Post, Philip. And I agree – I wasn’t advocating a total overthrow of the current way that scheduling and commissioning work – merely a conceptual way of making it more accountable. I’m the first one to advocate the value that editorial minds bring to ideas, channels and content. But, what I’d like to see is to see audiences have more direct influence. To this end, I advocated being able to pledge ‘points’ or ‘shares’ to a channel or genre (helps your point about Radio 4 and allows for content that the editors in those areas think would be surprising, challenging and distinctive).

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