FT.com – Transcript of Ashley Highfield’s speech

Link: FT.com – Transcript of Ashley Highfield’s speech.

Here’s a transcript of Ashley’s speech he gave at the Edinburgh TV Festival last weekend. He also emailed it around to the entire division. I’ve been thinking about it for the past couple of days, reading between the lines. So let’s have a look.

Good opening statistic, contrast this with the Comment in this week’s broadcast from Editor Conor Dignam “People around the globe will still gather around the TV in a way they never will around a web connection” Well Conor it seems our own stats prove otherwise, yes cup finals, Royal weddings and perhaps first man on mars might get into double millions, but not much else. (but more of Conor later)

Second paragraph, the youth. As a development producer said to me last week ‘my 15 year old doesn’t watch telly, I have to beg him to come and sit with me on the sofa to watch Lost’. The young look at TV like we look at writing letters, to them, it smells of wee. No more awful memories of something rude coming on telly when watching it with your mum and dad?

eeek, bit of a cringy seqway into the ‘windows’ metaphor. But yes, this week the iPlayer began it’s Public Value test phase (sigh). You could say that the PVT is a polite way of saying to the wider market “100, 99, 98.–>.. 3, 2 1. Coming, ready or not!” And woe betide any of those commercial dolphins who can’t move out of the way of the Beeb oil tanker.

The long tail references. Freeing up our archive has been an idea that’s been kicked around for ages, Greg spoke about it 3 years ago and it’s still not happened fully. Still, the player should be the best way of finally put that in the out tray. The thing is, as this line shows “But in the TV business, the share of viewing to long tail programmes was, even as late as September 2006, negligible.” The long tail is known in TV land as ‘repeats’ and it’s something that people really hate us for when it’s not on their terms. No one ever said “oh goodie, repeats!”. But as DVD sales show, people lurve old content. And we’ve got 1.2 millions hours, or to rephrase that, 136.8 years of it.

“You’ve been mashed” idea. I don’t think ‘Telly’ will ever make a show like this, it’s just tooo slow. Mashups and silly attachments are the mayflies of content, done and dusted in a lunch hour. TV just ain’t fast enough.

The next bit. “…including a resurgent ITV”. If the Edinburgh fest showed anything, it’s that ITV is in a right mess, and with top names dropping out of the running or declining to run for the top job, I can’t see them turning this around by 2008. Unless Ashley knows something we don’t? It’s taken the BBC four years to get to this point, and we’ve not got a product or a service launched properly yet, what’s more there’s still large parts of the business who either think ‘It doesn’t affect me” or “I’m not moving”. ITV will not have it’s own on-demand portal distributing content by 2008. Channel4 on the other hand will be going great guns by then I’m sure. I don’t get the hat tip to ITV, was it an attempt to show some commercial interests? Strange that there’s no mention of Channel4’s successful wade into on-demand broadband at all.

Ass kiss alert! The Jana Bennett reference, why Ashley you ol’ smoothy!! He’s putting words in her mouth, but the idea’s right. Trouble is, would Jana say that? The media industry is all about the new new new thing… offering people ‘Till death do us part’ episodes isn’t cool or sexy.

Moving on And now here we are in 2011, with Microsoft’s Digital Home finally working successfully, where it is now a piece of cake to throw video around the house, from PC to TV. Hahahah. Having only read this line rather than seen it delivered, I’m unsure of it’s meaning. I’d take the ‘finally’ in italics, as in, “we finally released Vista 1.1”. (I’d rather throw cake around the house!) Other companies will develop this bridge, not just Mircosoft, but I guess Ashley has to give them some love as it’s their DRM that’s underpinning the iPlayer. Apple could do it, (and do it better no doubt). And in Ashley’s vision its too early, more like 2015+

This for me is the last big dipper of the speech. The penultimate point about BARB figures is spot in Those broadcasters who had not created strong aggregator brands for themselves, nor bothered to secure on-demand rights, nor valued their archives, nor invested in the proper technology, have found themselves in serious trouble and wished they, back in 2006, had started to measure not just Barb overnights, but the long-term reach and value of their content. Amen. Then he finishes on the Martini Media phrase! Oh God how I hate that neologism! At first it annoyed me, then it grated, but when I read it in this speech I went ape.. but then something strange happened. I popped through the cloud cover of rage to a new brighter space. And here’s where I think Ashley and Mark have either been really smart or lucky in the selling of this concept. I’m from new media, I know the sort of technologies they’re talking about. But most people with positions of power in TV (at least at the BBC) are late 30s, or 40s. To call it ‘ubiqutious media’ or ‘pan-media’ or something is a no go, like telling them a webpage is HTML. No, far better to reference an ad campaign from the good ol’ 70s, something they know. After all you’re telling them that the overnights, the very slots they crave, the very device they know and love, won’t matter a jot soon. My only concern is it was originally used as short hand clue, the more I see it in print, the more I wonder if Martini’s legal dept will come a knocking?

When I first read this speech, I’ll be honest, I turned to a colleague and added ‘By Ashley Highfield aged 14 and a half’. Mostly because of how it was written, but then speeches are meant to be heard not read, so I”m going to give him the benefit of the doubt. After all, I agree with the key points, that we’re looking at a new distribution model, via the internet. Furthermore we need to look at new forms of content. This isn’t just about putting liner telly on the net. It should be about weaving telly into the net.

And the more coverage I read of Edinburgh, the more I’m convinced. Let’s turn back to Conor’s editorial. “The Edinburgh International Television Festival should change its name to the Edinburgh International Media Festival said a number of leading industry figures at this year’s event.” ..and.. it seems that TV is no longer what it once was – and needs to be taken down a peg or two. But that doesn’t mean we should be in a hurry to relegate the status of what remains the most powerful, creative and compelling medium in the world. Yes it does! Creative for whom? Not for the viewers it’s not. We have had to eat whatever went in the trough for 60 years. It was what was on the specials board or get out. Well now I can even get a Whopper ‘my way’. He goes on We should not be so willing to surrender TV’s “special” status and allow it to be subsumed by a (new) media description.. Oh yes we should Conor, they days of media barons are coming to an end mate, we all want a go now.

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3 Responses to “FT.com – Transcript of Ashley Highfield’s speech”


  1. 1 Ed September 2, 2006 at 1:33 am

    I’m worried (as I’ve said before) by the BBC’s reliance on Microsoft to provide it’s DRM. Again, surely this excludes many licence fee payers? Isn’t the Public Value Test meant to see what value it has for all the licence fee payers, why should some get a better service than others? If TV is really so unimportant now and New Media is everything, why is a percentage of licence fee payers being excluded from the service?

    I think I’m preaching to the choir, but its an issue I feel strongly about and I wish the BBC would listen!

  2. 2 eydropper September 3, 2006 at 12:44 pm

    Bigger than that is what happens to the licence fee? If content’s coming over IP rather than the ariel, and shown on a monitor rather than a TV set. Why bother biffing £130+ a year?Unless you want to get the other channels, none of whom get a cut of the fee.

    But I’m sure someone much smarter than me has allready thought of this.. haven’t they?! 😉

  3. 3 Ed September 4, 2006 at 10:29 am

    Well, I don’t have a TV (being a cheap student) but I still watch things on the BBC website… The BBC can’t be funded in a voluntary fee, it can’t compete directly with other channels/networks unless it’s mandate to produce commercially unviable programs (or all the other channels have to as well). As such it has to be a tax, and why not just tax everyone in the country? Sure, that would be unfair to poor people, but its not like they don’t have a TV when they’re sitting at home doing nothing!

    The best thing might be to tax ISPs, make them add the £130+ to the yearly rate – they could pass this onto the consumer if they want, or consider it a cost and pay for it out of advertising income. This is clearly more applicable for the new tripple and quadruple ISPs who can make money from sources other than internet access (which I can’t believe there is much money in).


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