A speech by Stephen Fry that really everyone should read.
Archive for the 'BBC' Category
A post deriding the BBC’s reliance on Siemens has made a few waves, being picked up on Daring Fireball and Kottke.org. Unfortunately I think it’s being rather unfair to Siemens.
I worked at the BBC from 1998 to 2000, in the Internet Ops end of things, just before the whole outsourcing to Siemens happened – in fact many of the people who were outsourced previously reported directly to me.
When I worked there the architecture consisted of a bunch of Sun E450s running Solaris and Apache, with Perl CGIs. HTML was coded by hand, in a variety of editing tools from Notepad.exe to the horrendous WYSIWYG tools that were available then. There was no content production or management system, and no infrastructure for any sort of dynamic behaviour, other than CGIs written in Perl, which my team had to individually check by eye, line by line.
I am unsurprised that this situation is still the case. The BBC as an organisation was utterly incapable of dealing with change, and there was no appreciation of technology at a management level. There were some attempts to introduce new infrastructure. While I was there BBC Online tried and failed to (1) purchase Vignette (which they thankfully failed to do, since it’s awful – but only because of the ludicrous price Vignette were asking), and (2) build their own CMS (well they hired a third party agency to build it), which failed completely at huge cost.
The real cause of all the problems, I think, was a failure of leadership at the highest levels. Nobody in BBC Online had the capability or the motivation to engage properly with the architecture problem. For those who did try it was the end of their BBC careers – the culture there is focused entirely on blame, either avoidance or casting of. In my time there I rarely saw an agenda for a meeting, and there were certainly never any minutes! My god, you’d not want to be caught in the presence of a decision, you might get blamed for it later.
The continuing failure of the BBC to achieve the stuff that most Internet publishers could do in their sleep was appreciated by those involved, but it was blamed on personalities and individuals. They missed the organisation’s continual failure to appreciate technology as core to their enterprise, rather than some bit of facilities you can ignore. Technology is central to the BBC’s business, if only they’d be willing to engage with it and lead as they are capable of.
Back to the original post. The author contends that had the BBC been running the architecture it would have managed to update it. Well, certainly not the BBC I worked for – they’d still bickering over deckchair positions.
The BBC have, for reasons that seem rather opaque, decided to use a particularly grim form of technology for their iPlayer. It uses DRM to stop the content viewed from being shared, which also stops it working on most platforms – it will only be available for Windows. This all seems pretty retrograde, especially when pretty much all BBC output is available for free download from UKNova. What precisely are they trying to protect?
Anyway, now the BBC Trust is going to meet the OSC to discuss it. I hope the Trust shows some teeth here, and tells the BBC where to get off. We’ve already paid for all this programming, so why on earth can’t we just watch it when we want?
The BBC is, after all, going to DRM stuff it distributes over the internets. Weird decision really, since they don’t DRM it went transmitted any other way. Still, it’ll keep UKNova in business. They seem to have everything the BBC ever made, unDRMed in nice friendly torrent format.
The choice of Windows Media format is just as irksome, as it works pretty poorly on free platforms, because Microsoft won’t license it for free linux players. Thay means the players have to utilise clean-room reverse engineering and all sorts of horrible hacks (like copying DLLs from windows boxes onto your computer) to decrypt them. It’s all amazingly lame when there are perfectly good open video formats available.
Boo BBC, you have failed.
Please, everyone go the the [BBC Trust consultation](http://www.bbc.co.uk/bbctrust/consult/open-consultations/ondemand_services.html) on the new on demand service, and respond. Make sure you complete question 6:
> “How important is it that the proposed seven-day catch-up service over the internet is available to consumers who are not using Microsoft software?”
If they decide to provide Microsoft-only access to their content it would be an unmitigated disaster. The questionnaire only takes 5 minutes to complete, and your answer really could make a difference.