BBC, Top Gear and the No-Win Situation

So, the BBC has sacked Jeremy Clarkson. Or, to be more accurate, they are not renewing his contract when it expires soon. In a way, though, there is no real difference. He crossed a line, it cost him his job.

Cue a lot of outrage by fans of Top Gear.
Cue a lot of confused outrage by people who can’t understand why a petition to keep him on reaches nearly a million signatures whilst “more deserving causes” struggle to get any support at all.

The problem, though, is that although the situation itself (person hits and  verbally abuses another person) is fairly straightforward, the links between Jeremy, Top Gear and the (license-fee paying) audience is bloody complicated.

I don’t think the BBC had any way of winning this situation. There was no good choice available. I do, however, think they made the “right bad choice”. Whatever they did, people would be outraged one way or another. But better to be criticised for doing the right thing than letting the wrong thing slide by.

As business decisions go, though, the BBC dropped a ball. A ball they had no possible way of carrying, to be sure. But they dropped it nonetheless.
Yes, they have to show that no one person is bigger than their show. Or bigger than the corporation. In the case of Jeremy Clarkson, though, he sort of is the show. Him and James may and Richard Hammond, to be sure, but the major draw of the show is watching all three of them dick around. Lose one, you change the dynamic and the show won’t be the same one that many people tune in for.

On top of that, Top Gear itself is big business. For some people, it is basically the BBC show they watch. It’s what they pay the license fee for. And when the only show you think is worth paying over £100 per year for the license fee risks being changed beyond recognition, people are understandably getting angry at the corporation they are funding for making a decision they don’t want.

And that’s just the UK.

Over in the USA, there are people vocally stating that Top Gear (UK) is pretty much the only reason they are paying for a BBC America subscription. And, unlike the UK license fee, this is purely being paid by choice. If an American decides that Top Gear is the only show worth paying the BBC for, they can stop paying and drop their subscription.

The BBC really had no way of coming out of this in a good light. For what it’s worth, I think they made the only decision they could. Attacking anyone, especially a colleague, just isn’t right. Some sort of reprimand had to be issued and, with contract renewal coming up, it is the logical step. Clarkson had to go.

It’s just unfortunate that, with a show as popular Top Gear’s current (previous?) incarnation, the BBC are going to have to pay the heavy price for making the right decision.
“No good deed goes unpunished” and this deed, however good, is going to cause the BBC some real headaches at least in the immediate short term.

Doctor Who 2014: Why I like It (so far)

So, the latest episode of Doctor Who (Dark Water) has aired and opinions are predictably mixed. Some love it, some hate it. Whatever people’s opinions, though, it tends to be based around how they feel about the series so far.

I enjoyed it.

Now, before people think this is purely down to my curious enjoyment of taking the opposite viewpoint, let’s reflect a bit on my previously stated opinions about Doctor Who and TV in general.

I have had issues with the past couple of years of Doctor Who, as have many. I always took a different issue with it than a lot of people did. Many people didn’t like Steven Moffat’s style of storytelling. I, however, found it was the main thing keeping me from abandoning the show altogether. It was the trappings of contemporary western TV storytelling that I disliked, and the over-reliance of seemingly completely standalone episodes that plagued series seven.

This year, though, Doctor Who has felt like it has hit a lot more of the things that I enjoy in fiction and not been quite as bound by the usual TV “crap” that usually turns me away from otherwise good shows. I didn’t like every episode (Robot of Sherwood, I’m looking at you) but overall I’ve found levels of enjoyment and consistency that have just been missing from the previous complete series.

Trust me, the 7-9 period of a Saturday evening is much too useful to me to keep watching a show if i wasn’t genuinely enjoying it. And this year really has kept me from jumping ship. We’ve had a different take on the Doctor, a diffetent dynamic with the existing companion, and a look (through Clara) of why the Doctor is the way he is.

It has hit the “through line” and “character progression” beats that I haven’t seen in enough of in non-Japanese TV in several years. not that it hasn’t been there, but I’ve been put off too much to want to look for it anymore. But after this year, I have found that Western TV narrative can be just as engaging. I might even have to start watching TV for non-DW shows and finally catch up on my DVD/BD backlog of other series.

I know that many people have disliked the series, and for some it was put them off the show entirely. For me, though, this year (in addition to the 50th Anniversary Specials) is exactly what I needed to not lose interest in the show completely.

Now it just hangs on how the finale finishes up.

BBC iPlayer – A different type of TV download

This is a repost of a comment I left on a thread on the BBC Internet Blog back in September.

Yes, the tone was completely humourous but the points I raise are valid. The feature-set of the iPlayer, along with some of it’s most persistant bugs, really let it down in comparison to other… less official means of acquiring TV content.

It all becomes clear whe you realise that, above all else, BBC iPlayer is a legal download service. As such, it has to distance itself from any other method of viewing content via thw internet, just to make sure that nobody gets confused and uses… other means for catching up on what they missed.

“Unofficial downloads are illegal. BBC iPlayer is not.”

Good start good start. Fantastic in fact. This is exactly how it should be. So now we’ve got our theme, lets run with it.

“Unofficial downloads are free of social sites such as Facebook and Twitter. BBC iPlayer ensures you are not missing out of the social networking revolution”

Ummmmmm. OK. I guess. I follow a lot of people on Twitter whose recommendations I trust. Were I to use iPlayer, this might be useful. Maybe.

“Unofficial downloads can work on almost any platform you can name. iPlayer makes sure that you can only use the hardware and software we endorse.”

If you say so… After all, you’re the BBC. Anything you don’t support obviously isn’t worthwhile as a media player.

Although… I do seem to recall my Xbox 360 handling DVD, downloaded and streaming content quite well. But I must be mistaken. After all, no iPlayer. So it can’t be any good. Right?

“You can watch unofficial downloads offline. Whereas with BBC iPlayer, all but one of our solutions works purely by on line streaming.”

Good. Good. Because I wouldn’t ever watch to watch files when out of signal. Or during a peak time of the day. It’s not like those hours I’m asleep or at work could be used by any of the devices I might have when I’m not in the lounge.

“Unofficial downloads can be kept after you’ve watched them. BBC iPlayer deletes things before you’ve even had the chance.”

See. Another feature that you don’t get from the Torrent sites. No why would anybody wish to break to law when we offer functionality such as this?

So yes. It’s a marvel of success. BBC iPlayer is a download service that works nothing like the non-legit ones. There’s no way anybody could confuse the two whatsoever. 100% legal. 0% like Torrents. After all, it’s not like any of those “other features” could ever be of use to anybody…

– Tiggs
(with tongue firmly in cheek)

The Futility of DRM

I’m following several discussions relating to DRM (and other methods of content restrictions & protection). They’re mainly in conjunction with the BBC, owing to some changes they recently made to the iPlayer service in freezing out unofficial third-party clients – such as XBMC.

Many people bring up the quite valid point that the restrictions are seen as stupid because people getting caught out by them will just turn to Bit Torrent.
This is not to say that it’s legal. Just that it’s convenient, and such acquired media files tend to work with pretty much any media player going.

The responses against that tend to be “this is illegal”.

No… kidding… Sherlock!

But that’s missing the point that people are trying to make.
They (we) are not trying to advocate illegal means. We’re trying to say make the legal means easier and more convenient.

To put it simply, illegal downloads are a competitor. This does not make them legal. But them being illegal does not make them any less a competitor. You need to make the legit options appealing, convenient, and pretty much platform-agnostic.

Everybody “loves” a car analogy. Mainly as they suck, and everyone loves to slate them. So here’s mine…
Only, it’s more of a car boot analogy.

The BBC iPlayer is like a drive-in movie theater. It has a certain barrier to entry, naturally.
Between the limited platforms and DRM requirements, it is like having a dress code (or restriction to certain specific car brands) to get in.

This is the only legal way to watch the content. We’re not arguing that other methods are legitimate.
We’re just poking at the idiocy of the situation that trying to pitch a platform-limited legal alternative whilst Bit Torrent exists is akin to the following part of the analogy…

You’re opening your drive-in across the street from the weekly car boot sale where Pete’s Dodgy DVDs operates on a constant basis.

The alternative is not legal. But it’s convenient, accessible, and doesn’t have the same barrier to entry.

The thing is that the moment you drop your barrier to entry then people don’t need to visit Pete’s car boot. (Or whatever torrent aggregation sites are popular and active on any given week).
But the problem with this is that the people who mandate the barriers honestly think that merely being legal is enough of an incentive. Even if it restricts someone’s choice of player.

Well here’s the real choice you give people by locking the content down. If people don’t like the restrictions, they go one of two ways.
They acquire it anyway. You lose. Or they just don’t watch your content at all. You still lose.