In his first interview since becoming chief technology officer of what is now known as BBC Engineering, Matthew Postgate told the Financial Times “It’s my job over the next five years to put in place the production foundations to be internet first.” The widely-reported article appeared in the FT under the headline “BBC shifts focus to ‘internet-centric’ programme delivery”. In an update to a post on the BBC web site he later attempted to clarify his position.
“At BBC Engineering, when we talk about taking advantage of internet technologies or being ‘internet first’ we aren’t talking about the BBC doing more with online content or only putting content and programmes online,” he wrote. “My role is to make sure that the BBC’s technologies that underpin everything we do — from our newsroom infrastructure and new in-the-field production and editing tools, to how we keep the BBC on air and online — are set up in the best possible way, and take advantage of new internet-based technologies.” So that’s all good.
The BBC recently renamed its former Future Media and Technology divisions as Digital and Engineering respectively.
Future Media was once Online and then New Media but soon that was no longer new. The future has apparently now arrived and everything is digital, including television, which makes the term seem rather redundant. At least Television and Radio are no longer Vision and Audio, as they were briefly rebranded. Perhaps they will one day merge, when somebody realises that media production is now generally digital.
As for technology, that will now be known as engineering, as it once was in the BBC, in the days before the interweb. Apparently, “engineering is something that you do, whereas technology is something that you buy”.
The BBC span off its former Technology subsidiary to Siemens in 2004 and contacted its services back in a ten-year agreement worth almost £2 billion. It now says it is moving away from such large, long-term contracts with a single supplier, to multiple shorter-term contracts with a number of specialist companies.
The corporation outsourced the development of its ambitious Digital Media Initiative to Siemens in 2008. The contract was later cancelled and development was brought in house, consuming at least £100 million before it was canned, along with the former chief technology officer, John Linwood, who subsequently won a case for unfair dismissal.
His successor, who previously ran BBC Research and Development, said the corporation had learnt lessons and there was no longer any aspiration to embark on very large projects, instead “thinking about technology” — or presumably engineering — “as a more agile and iterative process”.
The current chief technology officer, or perhaps he will now be chief engineer, is still committed to moving the BBC archive online, a process that has been ongoing for over a decade, and moving production from tape to files.
He also suggested that the BBC was likely to be screening programmes in 4K, four times the resolution of current high-definition broadcasts, as standard by 2016.