Archive for October, 2009

All change at broadcasting regulator

Wednesday, October 21st, 2009

Its been a long time coming but finally a combined broadcasting regulator for both the public and commercial sectors in Ireland has arrived. From this month the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland (BCI) becomes the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI). It is the same place and largely the same people but underneath a lot is changing as the new broadcasting act takes effect and brings the once divided worlds of RTE and the independent commercial sector closer. The BAI will replace the RTE Authority, the Ministerial appointed body which governs RTE and to which the Executive board of RTE reports. The current Authority will integrate into the new board of the BAI ( to be chaired by former RTE DG Bob Collins) and over the coming year we will begin to see changes as the regulation of both RTE and its competitors, like TV3 and Today FM, comes together. For most listeners and viewers the switch over won’t mean much. They shouldn’t notice anything different. For the organisations it will mean a bit of re-thinking as the changes roll through but that will be healthy for the sector. For the BAI, the emerging BAI, its a significant step-up in terms of operations and one can only imagine the amount of charts being drawn and re-drawn at the moment.
The new organisation also has a slightly bigger pot of funding with the new broadcasting act slicing 7% off the TV licence (was 5%) under the Sound and Vision Scheme. The change combines with a review of Sound and Vision and how it is operating and many in the independent sector, both TV and radio producers, will be following those changes closely and hoping that it leads to an electronic commissioning system like Proteus in the BBC which cuts out the acres of dead trees which are presently being created by Sound and Vision Radio and TV rounds where 4-6 copies of everything need to be supplied in paper form. One of the pressures on Sound and Vision is to remain committed to independent production and to enriching the creativity of the sector by supporting diverse and challenging projects which would not normally be made without the support of the fund. With pressures on budgets many in broadcasting stations are now using the fund to support internal production and are relunctant to support independent ideas as the funding goes to the independent producers who ultimately remain the rights holders. For the broadcasting and digital media sectors in Ireland to grow we need producers to have rights returned to them so they can develop, mature and ideally export their content internationally.
It is encouraging to see the significant level of funding the recent TV round awarded to Irish independent film and TV makers, We’re fortunate to be one of the 13 companies who, this time round, got a Yes for our Pat Falvey documentary project. We’ll be telling you more about that along the way. It is often a tough battle to get funding and in this case we got a yes on the second submission after we had re-worked the concept and taken on board the feedback from the review panel. Our broadcaster Setanta Ireland has also had a tough year and again its good to see two projects from this round going into Setanta as its in everyone’s interest to see a strong and vibrant TV sector. Sound and Vision, under the BAI, has the opportunity to ensure the fund makes outstanding programming but also to ensure that independent production houses grow. One of the real strengths the scheme offers independent programmer makers is that they remain the ultimate rights holders and can benefit from any long term exploitation of their ideas and work. A stronger intellectual rights basis is the key to the future growth of the creative industries as Neil Leyden from the Digital Media Forum has outlined in his proposal to create an IFSC type rights clearance house in Dublin. To assist that broadcasters, like RTE and TV3, need to recognise that its in everyone’s interests that producers gain more returns from their work and from any exploitation of their work. Without that independent production will remain fragile and under-resourced. A loss not just for the sector, in terms of ideas and creativity, but also for Ireland in terms of its creative future.

The BAI can assist this was supporting research on IP and the creative industries and by becoming a force which independently looks at the future of broadcasting, including online, and drawing on international case studies. One of the major advantages of the broadcasting regulation integration in the UK, which created OfCom, has been the commitment to research and media literacy. The opportunity here is that the BAI is more than a name change for the BCI but contains the potential to future proof the broadcasting and creative industries for the benefit of everyone in the country.

Social Media bandwagons

Tuesday, October 13th, 2009

We seem to be drowning in online, web and social media conferences, seminars and even summits. Yet very few of the events really inspire. One of the difficulties with the forest of events tagging themselves social media is that most of them are being run from a solely sales and marketing view of online communications and many are run on a sales basis looking at how people gain quick fixes from the convergence of content online and transfer their analogue thinking to a digital habitat. Its the wrong way to start the discussion and probably ensures people miss the nature of what is changing in an online world. For us the journey is a communications one where a Web 2.0 environment, where high speed interactive content meets high speed broadband, is build on relationships and trust rather than exploiting tools to leverage your product. One of the most basic things I try to do in our workshops is underscore the discussion about technology and trends with the fact that what people need to do when they start to see online as a place to do business is to change their mindset, change the way they think about communications and consequently sales, marketing and advocacy.

We had a sales executive in recently who wondered how quickly they would see a return from their online activities. I reminded them of how we build relationships and how we use them. We create an understanding, we exchange information, we build trust and then sometimes we ask each other for help. Translate that to a business relationship with clients or customers and its not wildly different. Social media is about flow, building relationships, maintaining them, feeding them (which is where content comes in) and establishing an understanding or what in business is brand loyalty.

In a digital media landscape of rapid and continuous change the key is to remain open to learning, to growing, to developing. The only thing constant is change the ancient Greek philosopher Heroclitus once said and that is at the core of social media but hand in hand with that is ‘the more things change, the more they stay the same’. In adapting to the new opportunities of interactivity and high speed blogging like twitter the principles of good communications remain the same. Know your audience, understand your message and know where your audience is so you match your message to them. Building strong interactive relationships takes time, but its not a matter of 12 hours a week as one supposed social media guru recently claimed, its about a little often. Feed your relationship, build it and it will grow.

A Tower Songs Happy Birthday for Rose

Monday, October 5th, 2009

I am clearly not destined to actually be at the PPI radio awards when we win something. Some years back, 2001 I think, I was then Head of RTE Radio and Head of RTE Radio 1, but when the station won the best station of the year award I was in my sick bed and had to get it all by text message on my phone. Any time since when I have gone it has either been in another capacity or like last year when ‘The Last Wake’ was short-listed - we didn’t win! But I am not complaining. Last Friday when our music documentary ‘Tower Songs’ was up for the music special of the year award I was once again in my sick bed with the flu, enjoying a quiet lemsip induced sleep, when the text came in that we had won. Sweet at any time and even sweeter for this project as it was such fun to make and record.
The strange thing was as I read the text messages from Lochlainn Harte, who edited the programme, and was at the awards for us, I suddenly remember what day it was and figured maybe it was all meant to be. When Lochlainn and I were editing Tower Songs just before its transmission for RTE Lyric FM my mother Rose who had been ill died and in the end the programme went out on Valentine’s Day -the day after her funeral. I asked Lyric Fm’s commissioning editor Olga Buckley if she would let me dedicate the documentary to Rose since Rose lived and died within a stone’s throw of Ballymun where Tower Songs was based and because of all things in life she loves a song more than anything.
So when the show went out it was dedicated to her memory. On Friday night when the text messages came in I realised it was October 2nd still and Rose’s birthday. It seemed apt - a birthday gong to remember her by and a chance to celebrate again.
My thanks to Niamh Kinane our researcher on Tower Songs and to everyone in Athena Media, Linda, Chris, Susan and Paula who helped with the production. To Dusty Rhodes who being so supportive during the final edits when he gave us time and attention and let Lochlainn finish it when I had to go to be at Rose’s wake.
So we’ll celebrate in an old fashioned style soon with some liquids other than lemsip and profound thanks to Ron Cooney and all the children of St Joesphs in Ballymun who made the project possible and showed the transformational power of music.

Sing on.