New Phorm Board Member Kip Meek Presents Vision Of Broadcasting Future, “Alternative Ad Sources” Unsurprisingly On The Agenda
A couple of days back we had a look at Norman Lamont joining the board of Phorm, the shady internet advertising firm that pervs over your personal data to better target advertising towards you. Another Phorm joinee is Kip Meek, who isn’t a 50s cartoon but in fact one of the founders of Ofcom, the regulatory body for television and radio. Yes, he’s gone from addressing abuses in society to creating them. At least he’s used to having enormous numbers of public complaints!
Kip doesn’t work for Ofcom any more, but as Chairman of Ingenious Consulting, the consultancy arm of a company that also provides investment, venture capital and asset management to the media, telecoms and creative industries. Basically his guys go in and make everything better, in exchange for money. So we can presume that through him, Phorm can attempt to get itself a pretty wide client base in exactly the right areas.
More sketchy though is his paper “Public Service Broadcasting in the United Kingdom: A Longer Term View”, published this week by independent research unit the Social Market Foundation, with an intro by Greg Dyke. In it, the problems created by the financial crisis coupled with a broadband-enabled Britain are seen to create a situation where no-one wants to pay for anything, and that people will be able to choose exclusively whatever they want to watch online. Public Service Broadcasting (PSB), programming created for the public good like impartial news and quality drama, will have to adapt.
Meek and co-author Robin Foster propose that “key existing commercial players like ITV and Five should be given as much flexibility as possible to develop their commercial strategies”, ie not have to make any PSB output anymore. They also propose that Channel 4 be privatised, with the BBC acting as the core PSB provider while the others diversify their revenue streams to keep up. They mention spectrum access, getting the 1-5 channel spots, as being less of an incentive to have as the internet levels the playing field; therefore ITV for example won’t be persuaded to make PSB output merely by giving them the number 3 slot on the spectrum. And as everyone knows, ad revenue are down, so they’ll need “alternative sources of advertising”.
Bunch all this together with the fact that Meek is in bed with Phorm and we can presume that the advice to commercial broadcasters will soon be: don’t bother making PSB output anymore as only the BBC can afford to do that, and if you do want to, then get your money not from sticking Direct Line ads in daytime, but by getting personal information about your viewers off Phorm and advertising what they like back at them for a higher premium. Meek paints broadband as being full of “community and shared values”, and suggests that “ensuring access to high-speed broadband should play a much larger role” in spending from broadcasters. That’s because once everyone is signed up, Meek’s cosy community will be ripe for exploiting cash from via Phorm.
Is this the only way? It would be a cruel irony if it was necessary to give up civil liberties to keep Dispatches funded and on the air. Furthermore, giving up PSB creation to market forces is dangerous. Meek suggests “new media developments will allow a much wider range of perspectives and opinions to be accessed by citizens than ever was possible in the old world of four large highly regulated PSBs”, but in reality, it’s much cheaper to show reruns of American sitcoms than it is to commission truly public-service output.
Even the licence fee doesn’t seem safe in Meek’s hands: “policy-makers should be working out now what its long-term future is and how it can be changed to respond to future public concerns – especially as we continue to move into a world in which consumers expect more choice and control over what they choose to consume and to pay for”. Yes, the internet will breed choice – but we have to try and avoid revenue models that reduce quality items to choose from, and that are in thrall to the advertiser rather than the producer.