BBC The Next Five Years Essay

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BBC The Next Five Years


The purpose of this study is to investigate the information strategy of the BBC. Having reviewed the various modes of enquiry, we have decided that the unbounded mode is the most appropriate in this instance. Using this, we have investigated the BBCs’[1] IS strategy, examining the external factors that may have an affect upon its planning and design. In addition we have reviewed other issues pertinent to the BBC to determine the possible negative of these might have on the strategy. Finally we have looked at the next five years to evaluate the relevance that significant advances over that period might have on the BBC IS strategy.

Enquiry system

            In compiling this report we need first to decide what method we are going to plan our research upon. There are five basic enquiry modes ranging from the simple to the complex and innovative.

Enquiry Modes

1) Inductive-Consensual

            As the words suggest this mode of enquiry relies upon one reaching a single conclusion by using a restricted range of interpretations, for example from previous researches into the subject matter. The result is influenced by the general consent of these opinions. For example if one asked the question “Is public service broadcasting superior to commercial,” and this was only put to BBC employees, the consensus is likely to answer affirmatively.

2) Analytic-deductive

            This mode approaches the problem or enquiry from a different aspect. In this case the problem is broken down into its component parts. Each one of these parts is then analysed and tested for logic. Once this process is complete a formula is used to build the results from the analysis of those parts into a single solution that addresses the problem.

3) Dialectic

            One of the more complex of the enquiry modes, the dialectic mode is based upon conflict or different viewpoints. It does not question the data, simply the views that are expressed about it, working on the basis that by discussion of the variance a logical conclusion will be reached. A relevant argument for this mode would be the discussion about whether the BBC should be allowed to sell advertising space in the same way that the commercial media does.

4) Multiple reality

            Multiple reality recognizes that people will approach problems from a predetermined viewpoint, based upon their own experience and training. For example an Accountant will look at the commissioning of a new revolutionary BBC sit-com from a different angle of the program planner. This process therefore relies upon the problem being addressed from a number of viewpoints, which will essentially come up with a range of conclusions.

5) Unbounded systems thinking

            This modes works on the basis that, in any given situation, all modes of enquiry are automatically brought to bear, and therefore cannot be separated. Thus, when addressing a problem every viewpoint and conclusion needs to be taken into account.

Similarities and differences

            All of the modes described above have similarities. All five rely upon the fact that there is a situation to be addressed in the first place. Additionally the point of the exploration, review and analysis of this problem, for all of the modes is to a) gain knowledge and b) reach a conclusion based on that knowledge, or a solution to the hypothesis or problem posed. Modes 1 and 2 above are similar to the extent that they both have a singular approach to the subject matter, relying upon one viewpoint (or consensus) being the input and the result.

            With modes 3 and 4 the similarities are that both look for a range of viewpoints from which to approach a subject and neither attempt or profess to reach a singular conclusion, preferring instead to provide multiple conclusions.

            Mode 5, in theory, displays the most similarity to all of the others. This is simply because it works on the premises that, in the real world, none of the enquiry systems and modes described can operate independently.

            Equally there are some major differentials between these systems. The key difference is in their approach to a given situation. Mode one differs from the others in that it relies upon a consensus of opinion from a limited range of sources and seeks a single conclusion.

Mode two differs from three to five for the same reason, but it also differs from one in the it analyses the component parts of the problem, rather than relying solely on interpretation. Mode three and four differ from each other in that they treat the conclusion in a different manner, three allowing differing conclusions to be presented, and four, seeking argument between different conclusions. Mode fives similarity is also its difference to the others, namely that it does not limit itself to a particular enquiry mode, instead using all formats.

Strengths and weaknesses

            Inherent in all enquiry modes are strengths and weaknesses, which need to be recognised.

Inductive-Consensual. The strengths of this mode rest in the fact that it is focused in one direction, making it simple to use and relatively quick to apply to a given problem. Its weaknesses lie in the limitation of approach and its reliance upon consensus of opinion. There is no attempt to check the validity of core data. Using the BBC example used in the mode description, there is no guarantee that the consensus of agreement is based on a genuine or, because they are employees of the BBC, biased and inaccurate opinion.

Analytic-deductive. In this instance the strength comes from the fact that the component parts have been analysed before arriving at a conclusion. It bases that conclusion on logic. Its weakness comes from the fact that, like mode 1, it relies heavily upon a single source of operator to address the problem or situation.

Both modes 1 and two have a strength that is also a weakness. This relates to the fact that both seek to arrive at a single conclusion. This is strength when given a task that asks for a definitive solution and the receiver does not want to input into this, but a weakness when asked for an opinion or range of solution.

 Dialectic. The major strength in this mode is that it does allow for differing viewpoints to address a situation, thus relating itself more closely with a real world scenario. Similarly, the fact that it does result in a range of conclusions, and allow these to compete against each other to reach a conclusion is good when seeking a final unified approach. It means that all the options have an opportunity to be considered and discussed. The argumentative aspect can be strength insofar as such an approach can often lead to a tempering of divergent views. Weakness may

Multiple reality. Like Dialectic, the multiple approaches have the strength of numerous viewpoints. In this case though, it presents all of the options. This allows the receiver to consider the options from their own particular viewpoint, before they make the final decision.

Unbounded systems. The strength of this system is in its unlimited approach to a subject. Using this method ensures that it covers all possible aspects, resulting in a wide range of probable solutions. Its weakness rests in the fact that it is cumbersome and, if used as a tool for a conclusive result, could not facilitate this. In addition it would be a time consuming project.

For the purpose of this study we will be using the multiple reality mode.

Information Systems strategy – External environment


            The BBC is a public service broadcasting organisation. Because of this there are more socio-political factors that impact upon the corporation and its operations than with most other businesses.  From a social point of view one has to look at both society as a whole as well as individual groups. Such groups can consist of ethnic, class and disabled minorities. All of these groups expect to receive equality of service from the corporation. This means that the corporation needs to ensure that it represents each group within all of its programme output. For example, it needs to ensure that within the public face of its broadcasting such minorities are adequately represented, be that in a factual or fictional environment.

            On the political front the BBC also has to deal with a number of factions. In line with other businesses it has to pay heed to governments and judicial legislation, although the difference that exists with the BBC is that has a closer link in that it is a public corporation. Similarly, like other media, regulatory bodies overview its product and output. However, in addition to these, the BBC has two additional political factors to deal with. These are the Royal Charter, which has recently been reviewed (2006) and the BBC Trust.



            Trust is one of the key issues, which dictates the rate at which new technology is taken up. Often the speed at which technology develops is the one thing that makes trust difficult to achieve. No sooner has a user familiarised themselves with one system than this is rendered obsolete by a new one. Davis (2002) in his paper written for the Joint Information Services Committee posed the question that many users were asking. “How sure can one be that the outcome of an interaction is what it purports to be?”

As it operates within the business medium, the BBC has greater access to technology than other organisations. It is an integral part of their broadcasting environment. This includes such areas as Broadband, digital and interactive technology. Internally it uses similar modern technology to other media businesses, in terms of computers, network systems in addition to the TV and radio broadcasting technology. The latter includes such things as cameras, film equipment and outside broadcast vehicles.

However, as Paul Cheesbrough, BBC head of technology for production and technology direction, admitted in his interview with Miya Knights (2004), their internal systems do need updating in a number of areas, where he says, “Internally, our processes for producing and authoring content have been the same for many years and are still very physical. It’s a very distributed set-up with lots of physically-based processes in between.” The internal technology of an organisation is important (Glasson 1996)

Economic – Geographical

            The BBC, unlike the commercial broadcasting media, does not receive money from other businesses in terms of advertising revenue, nor much in the way of sponsorship. It is funded in the main by a system of revenue from the television and radio licence, together with the annual financial support that it receives from the British government. Despite the wish, within some factions of the corporation to change this situation, so far this has been rejected. The only other of funding available to the BBC is the commercial sales it makes of its programmes to other broadcasting media throughout the world, including joint ventures, and sales of its products through other medium, such as books and publications, CDs and DVDs.

            From a geographical point of view, the BBC is predominately a British based broadcaster, although it does have a world service for radio, originally set up with the intention of providing a link for armed forces overseas. Historically it has concentrated upon this limited geographical area through which to develop and market its products. However, it does produce programmes relating to and based upon many areas of the world. Nowadays it is also making use of the Internet through which to extend its audience. To add to its home-based productions, the BBC also buys programmes from other media throughout the world.

Impact on IS strategy planning and design

“The social, legal, political, ethical, and ecological issues facing business have never been more complex or more difficult to comprehend,” wrote Stephen Wartick (1997). This statement is particularly applicable to the BBC.  The factors mentioned previously form an intrinsic element of its Information Services at the planning and design stage.

From a social point of view the BBC is required to cater for all sectors of society. The means that part of its strategy has to be geared towards minority groups. In addition it has historically been seen as a provider of learning, necessitating part of its information system strategy to be used in that direction. Political issues also impact upon its planning and design because, as a result of the need to divert resources to other areas set within its charter, this means that there are fewer resources available to pursue avenues that it might otherwise wish to develop. There have been instances in the past where the political forces have tried to introduce a modicum of pressure onto the corporation and, knowing this is a possibility, must impact on the corporation strategy.

The area where the BBC does appear to both holding its own, and in some respects, making significant advances, is in technology. Whilst internally there are areas that need addressing, from an external and production standpoint the organisation is keeping up to date. Here it has encompassed the changes that have occurred since the Information era began in the 1970’s, using modern technology to maintain its reputation as possibly the best broadcaster in the industry.

The planning and designing stages are very important. As Paul Cheeseburgh (2004) observed “The term ‘digital islands’ means a lot in our industry, but there’s no point in moving from analogue to digital processes if those islands are disconnected.” Nevetherless they have made some of their processes more cost competitive as a result of technology, with the use of digital technology being an example of this.

Economics probably has the greatest impact on the businesses IS strategies and their planning. Because its funding is subjected to restrictions than other broadcasters, this means that some of the innovative ideas that the BBC might wish to develop may not be possible due to financial restrictions. Similarly, it has a finite budget from which to take advantage of technology advances in the way that it would like to.

Geographical issues have an impact on the IS strategy. Being a media corporation means that they have to plan for communication access sometimes to even the remotest parts of the world, and have a variety of climates to contend with. In the equatorial countries for instance, the corporation has had to make use of refrigerated broadcast vehicles.

Impacts on IS strategy

Risk Categorization Scales

            As has been widely publicised, Information systems and Technology attract risks and these manifest themselves in a number of ways. In all areas of life and business, there is the risk of sabotage (Stewart 2000) Technology for instance, suffers from hacking, virus and other dangers instigated from outside sources. Then there are the mechanical and accidental risks.

            Knowing that these events are likely to happen even in the best protected of systems, it is vitally important that this eventuality is recognised and addressed at an early stage. Kim Andersen (2005) in his book on the subject, shows “how getting things right” helps the information system.

This is particularly relevant in a broadcasting organisation such as the BBC. At all stages of the development of an IS and IT strategy plan a consequence analysis should be carried out, this is relevant at each subsequent change as well. Within this process one needs to identify where the possibility of risks lies, what type of risks could attach themselves to the area in question and what the effect of those risks might be. Figure 1 (see appendices) gives an example of a consequence matrix.

Effect/probability/Action Grid

            Having analysed the areas of risks and the types of risks that could occur, one then has to categorise and evaluate the risk. This means that one needs to first work out what the effects of that risk will be. Will it be in favour of the organisations and its IS and IT, or will it be fatal. Or will it be somewhere between the two. The next step it to ascertain the probability factor. What is the likelihood of the risk occurring, negligible or certainly? Armed with this information one can then work out what action to take in terms of prevention, assuming that the risk is not to the businesses advantage. Figure 2 (see appendices) shows a simple grid detail the possible results of this analysis.

Confidentiality, Integrity and Availability (CIA)

            Following on from the previous analysis, the organisation needs to work out what impact this potential risk will have on the business. This can be categorised in three ways. Firstly there is confidentiality and privacy. The BBC IS and IT systems contain a lot of sensitive data, both from an internal and external point of view, such as staff and financial details. It could be embarrassing and costly if this information were to be obtained illegally, in addition to the fact that it could see the organization facing legal action for breach of confidentiality. This area will impact on the information system, (Mwangama 2006)

            The second impact of risk could be to the integrity of accuracy of the data. If information is tampered with or altered in any way this would have serious consequences for the business.

            The third area of impact is when the data or system is corrupted of deleted. In this case the system or database would be unable to operate and, in an extreme case the contents and data non-recoverable.

Potential Negative Impacts

1) Technical

            From a technical viewpoint the negative impact of the consequences of risk will attach to the strategy planning and design. For example the BBC would need to ensure that, by the introduction of new and more versatile systems and upgrades, this does not increase the risks. If this appears likely then the direction of the strategy will need to be reappraised. Similarly, if by installing new software the system becomes less secure in terms of the data access, the necessity and cost benefit of new software should be evaluated. This may result in technology and information system upgrades being delayed until such time as the security of the hardware can be guaranteed to be as risk proof as possible.

2) Non-Technical

            The organisation also needs to look at the negative issues that the consequence of risk may raise in relation to human and business processing issues. Employees and others involved with the Corporation have a right to expect personal information to be maintained in a confidential and secure manner. The shoulders of the organisation that has the information, to keep it secure. In addition to this is the damage of such a risk to the business processes. It is not only losing of the programmes, which would prove costly enough, it is also the potential of lost data, which in some areas could be irreplaceable.

Ethical Issues

            Added to all of the above are the ethical issues surrounding risk. The BBC, like all organisations that keep sensitive and personal data, is subject to both the data protection ACT and their own professional code of conduct and ethics. These include a duty to not harm those for whom you are responsible for and to respect their right to privacy, which includes ensuring that any personal information that they give to you are kept safe.

Thus it cannot be passed to a third party, either by the organisation itself or by the intervention of an outside party. Even if that third party is committing an illegal act it does not absolve the corporation from liability. In the modern legal environment, if such an event occurs, the possibility of legal action being taken the organisation is very likely. The code of conduct for the BBC also states that it sees part of its duty being to respect and honour human rights. This extends to ensuring that the technology that is installed within its systems offers the same rights.

            In addition to the rights of the individual whose rights have been violated there is the impact that such a breech will have on the corporations’ own reputation. According to a newspaper report written by Owen Gibson (2005) the BBC recently revised their code of ethics to take account of some of these issues.

The Next Five Years

            Strategic planning for the future of information systems is important. (Ward & Peppard 2002) A business needs a “clear vision of where it is trying to go.” (Andersen 2004) and to produce the correct strategy the BBC needs to know what events will impact on the strategy.

External changes

In terms of the future, the next five years are likely to produce changes of significance in terms of IS and IT in a number of areas, in hard and software (Mark Haggerty 2006).  The advances in wireless technology are one area where these advances are proving to be particularly rapid. This development will allow both television and computers to become really possible, with consumers able to carry the receivers in pockets.

They will then be in a position of being able to view at any time and in any place. Wireless technology development will also have an impact on broadcasting in that it will allow ease of access for people involved in news reporting, such as with the BBC. Using these systems, particularly in their news department, the corporation will be able to achieve instant news reporting from almost anywhere in the world. In addition the reports will be able to be accessed and reported on air in real time, in other words as it happens.

Continued development in satellite technology will also improve the ability of the BBC to achieve its strategy of moving closer towards a more “on-demand” consumer environment.

Video conferencing is set to be one of the main growth areas in technology over the next five years. (Laura Hailstone 2006). This technology is already being used and implemented by a growing number of businesses. In addition to the business use, this technology is set to move into the private sector, allow for projects such as games shows to be conducted with participants not having to move from their home. With increasing computer technology being incorporated within television sets, the opportunities are available for television presenters to be able to interact directly with the consumer.

There will be continued developments in the field of interactive media. The continuing improvements in this area will eliminate the need for there to be two or three machines in a household in order to give the consumer flexibility and choice. Within the next five years the facility of recording direct from the TV should improve substantially, allowing additional onset recording facilities, improving upon what systems such as sky offer already. Interaction will also affect the BBC’s learning facilities leading to closer interaction between teacher and learner, (G. Conole et al 2000). B. Davies (2002) also showed how modern and future information system developments are impacting on users in the education arena.

An area of significant relevance to the BBC is the continued development of compact storage systems, such as the MP3. From an internal point of view this will mean less space utilised for storage of produced material, therefore reducing the corporations costs in the area of storage.

With the increase in globalisation, business systems will also witness significant innovation over the next five years. Such programmes as the multi-national, multi-lingual supply chain software could be implemented within the BBC, providing it with more accuracy and accessibility in terms of its global operations, allow it to work more closely with the stakeholders who supply the corporation and ensure that the quality of the product is maintained.

Internal changes

            The BBC will see changes in a number of areas of IS and IT. It is expected that within the next five years media broadcasters will need to keep updating their technology and systems to meet the increasing demands from the public in the way in which programmes are presented.

Digital development is something that the BBC sees as having a significant effect over their programming abilities over the next five years. From the point of view of the production side of their programmes, a test run on one programme has shown that it produces a significant cost reduction.

More developments of this nature are planned. Development of the digital technology for the end user is also seen as a means of being able to extend the ability of the viewer to have more control over the way in which they organise their personal viewing or listening schedules. The corporation is planning to use this to restructure the way in which it produces programmes and extend the range of interaction with the consumer.

Further developments on the World Wide Web are also being looked at. This will provide the BBC with the ability to make its services available in a number of new ways, including providing a service where programs can be downloaded and watched for a limited period, thereby avoiding the possibility of this being stored and affecting others possible sales of the programmes. As part of this development they are working with all of the major software organisations in the development of products, which will open new opportunities in terms of programming.

The BBC sees, what its Director-General Mark Thompson (2005) “On Demand” television as the way forward in technology. In addition to this the BBC are also developing ways in which their programmes can be transmitted for screening on a range of portable devices.

From an in house perspective the BBC sees that IT developments over the next five years will enable it to integrate all of its in house operations, linking together internal systems that previously have been disconnected. Internally there will also be changes in terms of office systems and other related technology usages. Microsoft’s chief technology officer, in his interview with Chris Nuttall (1999) stated that “every five years there is a revolution in the computer industry.” Therefore it is necessary that organisations like the BBC have a strategy prepared for it.


Research shows that all of the changes outlined are evidenced. Tafazolli, Rahim (2006) comments “that the days of the totally wireless technology are close and that soon consumers will be able to access the media wherever they are.”

Future Tech (2006), have noted that one organisation is already well advanced on a system of voice recognition for the purpose of media viewing, amongst other applications.

The article also reveals that MIT are developing the computer glasses, which will make operation of computers and televisions much less tiresome, allowing the consumer to operate TV and Computer without using hands. The article also reveals that hardware companies are working to make the computer less visible. This means that, instead of the current box on the desk, they may be incorporated in the TV or portable devices, which can be, located and operated from anywhere.

The BBC launched “Creative Future Project”. Part of the remit for this project is to continue to monitor the advances in new technology with a view to using the technology as part of its development strategy for the future. The project, and the BBC’s IT department are working with a number of the largest software houses, such as Microsoft and Apple, to development programmes and systems which can assist in the development of broadcasting.

Energy consideration is already an area that the BBC is aware of. In the future the role of Information systems and technology will take on more significance in terms of its contribution to energy conservation, (J & R. Franchi 2004)


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Davies, B. (2002), How new technologies are impacting on users, Joint Information Systems Committee.  Retrieved 17 July 2006 from:

Franchi, John. R. Franchi (2004) Energy, Technology and Directions for the Future. Elsevier Academic Press.

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Gibson, Owen. (2005) New Ethics Code for BBC. The Guardian

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Stewart, R.A. (2000). Dam Risk Management (Invited Paper). Proceedings of the International Conference on Geotechnical and Geological Engineering (GeoEng2000). Melbourne, pp. 721-748.

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Ward, John and Peppard, Joe. (2002) Strategic Planning for Information Systems. John Wiley & Sons

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[1] British Broadcasting Corporation

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