26 May 2013

Pace of change defeats BBC "tapeless" project

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BBC abandons Digital Media Initiative BBC abandons Digital Media Initiative BBC/RedShark


The BBC has announced that it's abandoning its Digital Media Initiative. This massive undertaking started in 2008 and was suspended in 2012 without being implemented. Costing £ 98M, the BBC Trust  claims that the project has resulted in "little or no assets". What happened, and what's a better way to plan for the future?

The idea, we understand, was basically to equip the entire organisation to deal with a tapeless broadcasting environment.

You can read more about this in the links at the end of the article. I'm not going to analyse it in detail. I just want to mention what I think they missed, and how they could perhaps avoid this mess the next time, if there is one.

Shaky ground

First, any large corporate attempt to design a system for just that organisation is on shaky ground from the start. Even though the BBC might think that it knows itself better than anyone, it is in reality no different from hundreds of broadcasters around the world who are on a roller-coaster ride to nowhere that is actually specified anywhere. In other words we can't predict the future - and this is truer today than it has ever been, with ever shorter technology cycles.

The fact is that, apart from specialised areas like post production, where very large, high resolution files are handled, generic IT equipment and techniques are able to give better results at the enterprise level than complex, bespoke systems. What's more, the market is driving change faster than any single organisation can keep up. Even Facebook had to buy Instagram, Yahoo bought Tumblr, and Microsoft bought Skype.  Of course these were acquired as much for their users as their technology but the fact is that even if you're dominant in your field, upstart young companies can outsmart you almost overnight, and so your best bet whether you're the world's biggest social media network or the BBC is to look at what's happening globally, and buy in technology that's already out there, and already working. Don't waste time developing it yourself.

Use standard interfaces

Secondly, don't attempt to build vertically integrated systems if you're a broadcaster. Just make sure that your equipment and systems use standard interfaces and protocols and buy the "best of breed" at each layer. At the top level, use XML-based systems that can talk to a wide range of services and data types. You can taylor your workflows to your organisation at lower levels but that still doesn't mean you have to build bespoke equipment and software in-house because there are plenty of suppliers of very high quality products at all levels.

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David Shapton

David Shapton was the Editor In Chief of RedShark Publications from 2012 to 2020. He is now a Managing Partner and Content Architect at Zazil: a UK,  Boston and New York based integrated PR and Content Marketing agency. www.zazilmediagroup.com

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