The BBC announced this week it’s plans for coverage of the London 2012 Olympics. Thanks to a dedicated Olympics Player, users will be able to access every single event online and by the press of a button.

Four years after the impressive Beijing Olympics the BBC has capitalised on the growth of technology and the rise in smartphone ownership to ensure that audiences never miss a moment.

Broadcasters have been living in fear of the fragmentation of the television market place, but because the BBC is tax-payer funded it has been able to take a leap and use technology that will put the audience truly in control.

For advertisers the segmentation of viewership has signalled confusion, forcing many to relearn how to reach and promote their brands to potential customers. Television, let’s not forget, is still the most dominant media when wanting to engage with an audience. But this is changing. Today, corralling people together is more difficult as more channels allows people to watch what they want to watch.

The BBC is using these Olympics to test out social features that will enable viewers to learn, comment and share about the event and athlete they watch.

By focusing on a platform agnostic belief, the BBC is putting the Olympics in the hands of the user, weather they are at home, work or travelling.

And if you are outside the UK overseas and want to see how it works then now is the time to get that VPN network up and running.

The Olympics, in your hand. Wherever you are.

Senior media and communications executives met in London this week for the 2010 FT Digital Media and Broadcast conference (#ftmedia10).  At the heart of the debate were the questions of how the sectors were emerging from the global recession and the impact of online and social media on the creative industry and its revenues.

WPP Group Chief Executive Sir Martin Sorrell launched the opening salvo by questioning companies that, from an advertising perspective, were being over-optimistic about social media.  Sir Martin described social media as a phenomenon that was “personal” and therefore “not suited to being invaded by adverts.”  He was right.  This phenomenon is personal and it works because it’s based on conversational marketing that’s more suited to public relations than advertising.

Answering a question that I put to him about if he agreed with Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s comment that privacy was no longer a ‘social norm,’ Sir Martin said that “privacy was still the norm” and that this was one point with which he disagreed with Mark on.  “People are still concerned by it and the invasion of it,” Sir Martin added.  We should remember that privacy is individuality.

This opening day coincided with one of the speakers’ key policy announcements.  Mark Thompson, the BBC’s Director General, had been forced to bring forward by a week the results of the much-anticipated strategic review into the corporation.  Thompson outlined to the conference the plans that he was putting forward for consultation.

I was thankful that while we were in a panel discussion on ‘The Future Of News,’ before Thompson arrived, friends at the BBC tweeted me to let me know that Mark was first on Five Live and then on the BBC News Channel.  I also received a link to the following blog by Pete Ashton, which in my view nailed it with regards to what Thompson is aiming for.

While Strategic Review is aiming to slim down the BBC, detractors will keep giving it flak to avoid commentators questioning why their own companies are not performing as well as they should be.  A contact at the BBC tweeted me a private message that stated the obvious, “Part of the fun is that the BBC will always get flak for whatever it does from someone.” Pete Ashton’s blog post said it well by highlighting how the “BBC spent a decade or more figuring it out and, surprise, they’ve kinda successful at this digital / internet game.”  And that is why I applaud the BBC.

So the Auntie is going on a self-imposed diet and will be focusing on: 1) best journalism in the world, 2) Inspiring content that brings knowledge, music and culture to life, 3) Ambitious UK drama and comedy, 4) Outstanding children’s content, and 5) Events that bring communities and the nation together.  These sound like the corporation’s key strengths, but will the cutbacks satisfy its critics?  Will it hell.  But here is the problem, apart from the reaction to the BBC’s own 6 Music DAB station – which is wrong (#saveBBC6music), a slimmed down Auntie will emerge stronger, tougher and more focused on delivering great content.

In fact, in his speech, Thompson stated without any ambiguity, “one day, the web may be the principle platform for all the BBC’s services.”  Ten years ago the BBC went online.  Today, commercial news outlets are still trying to see how to make online work for an audience that is reluctant to pay.

Before Mark Thompson’s arrival New York Times Chairman and Publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr, Financial Times CEO John Ridding and Google’s MD Matt Brittin had been discussing the future of news.  All the talk in the lead up to the conference had been about paywalls, would they or wouldn’t they work?

Ridding confirmed that readers were willing to pay for content by stating that the FT had “40 per cent year on year growth” with regards to subscriptions, while Brittin said that “British content [journalism] had a reputation for quality.”  But of course Brittin represented the outcast of the industry after Rupert Murdoch threatened to pull News International content out of Google’s News and it’s search.  Of course Brittin was well armed and highlighted that the search mammoth “send over 4 billion hits a month to publishers websites,” a fact that news publishers cannot ignore.

The Apple iPad was also talked about with comments from the panel about it’s potential for generating revenue.  The FT’s Ridding noted a word of caution by highlighting the risks of subscription fatigue amongst readers.

At this point you start to see what I’d noted for some time, how the media landscape was changing and how the various communications sectors were battling for survival.  Convergence is the word that sprang to mind.

For production companies it is about maximising revenues that can be reinvested elsewhere.  Yes, broadcasters are shop window from which historically they have made money, but with this stream’s drying up forcing many producers to become creative and look to use social media and other networking tools to make money.

Producers such as Endemol know that in today’s multi-platform world the audience is no longer just on television, and they are not just a viewer.  Thanks to user-generated-content and the various online tools people today are producers, promoters and marketers.  A point that is also relevant to the audiences that PRs and journalists are working to engage and influence.

The conference set out a world that is very different to that of a few back.  Consumers are more demanding and want content on the go.  They also want to be able to communicate and share, both opinion and content.  Social media is having a profound effect on how companies interact with consumers, how newspapers and media outlets get stories and how the customer is served.

Today, we live in a world where the audience wants ‘quality’ content that is either “free or cheap” and, as VivaKi’s Rishad Tobaccowala said, “the half life of data is minutes” as everything becomes “real-time”.

So there, go figure how to crack this one and bring the audience onside.  What I do know is that as a PR we need to learn quickly how to navigate this changing media landscape.

The Government yesterday released its interim Digital Britain report.  No surprises on the content of the Green Paper– broadband for all, improving how television content is distributed online and cracking down on illegal file sharing.

The disappointing aspect about the interim report is that for a fast changing industry its recommendations are already outdated, so working to get every household on a minimum 2Mbs line by 2012 will be like having a 56Kbs dial-up account today.

The report ignores the fact that bandwidth is already running out in Britain, especially as the BBC’s iPlayer continues to prove that people want to watch television (for live or recorded content) online.  Other broadcasters such as ITV and Channel 4 are readying themselves for the launch of their own content online, a partnership that also includes the BBC.

Recent figures, which I put in my last post on Digital Britain, confirm that shoppers are shunning the high-street for the improved prices that the net offers.

Lord Carter may say that while 2Mbs is the minimum speed that he wants everybody to have, speeds of up to 100Mbs will be available.  Good point, but high speeds will be there at a cost, a substantial cost, which will put consumers and businesses off from these packages.  Not just that, but he leaves the option open for an indirect tax on net users to counter online copyright piracy.

The Government said that it wanted to spend its way out of the current recession by investing in public sector development – new schools, hospitals, etc.  What it should have done through this interim report is commit itself to upgrading Britain’s bandwidth.  Doing this would send a clear signal to business that the internet can be used as a further channel through which it can do business.  It would also enhance the creativity that makes Britain a leader worldwide in the media, communications and creative industries.

I ask the question, now that we know where the Government wants Britain to be in 2012, where will Asia Pacific and the rest of Europe be?

This report wants a lot, but makes no recommendation on how these ‘wants’ should be met.  It offers no strategy and no solution.  It is a typical politcal report with no direction or ambition.  Exactly what you would expect.

Heston tucks into a Little Chef special
Heston tucks into a Little Chef special

Channel 4 are currently running a great fly-on-the-wall documentary on Heston Blumenthal’s attempt to rescue the once iconic Little Chef roadside restaurant chain.  The ‘Big Chef Takes On Little Chef’ programme appears to give an insight into the challenge that Heston faces in reinventing this once great roadside diner.  The show captures everything, some things that must have PRs for Little Chef running for cover.

Founded in 1958 Little Chef grew to become the name for food on the road.  Many people have memories of eating a fry-up there.  For some it was a great break from a long road trip.  Yet with little money being invested in updating the look and menus throughout the 90s Little Chef restaurants ended in administration in January 2007 before being rescued by private equity group RCapital.

The new owners bought the chain and the brand for £10 million in the belief that nostalgia alone would net them a profit.  Yet as you drive past Little Chef restaurants today they still look confused and tired.

Enter three Michelin star holder Heston Blumenthal.  Viewed by some, especially Little Chef MD Ian Pegler, as a celebrity chef.

Heston tackles Little Chef Ian Pegler
Heston tackles Little Chef Ian Pegler

Watching the programmes you just have to wonder if this is a PR stunt by Little Chef to net them some much needed exposure.  If it was then they should feel like they’ve thrown the brand out of the frying pan and into the fire.

Reality TV can be a great way of securing plenty of exposure, on many occasions great exposure.  Yet, Reality TV thrives on conflict and unscripted drama, areas that PRs should keep clear of.  Under no circumstance should they put anybody from their company or client in a situation that would make viewers squirm, especially if there is a celebrity in the programme who is likely to receive sympathy from the viewers.

Anyhow, tonight we have the final episode of the programme.  Will Heston get his way?  Not likely.  Will Little Chef boss Ian Pegler continue talking about ‘blue-sky’ thinking and magic-menus?  Most probably.  Will we think that Little Chef is a place to stop on the road?  Well, that’s up to you!