BBC's Internet presence came online ten years ago this past weekend on December 15th, 1997, and for the past few months on the new BBC Internet Blog, company executives have been reminiscing about the last 10 years and projecting into the future. Yesterday, Group Controller in Future Media and Technology Erik Huggers wrote an interesting post on why he left Microsoft for civil service at the BBC.The
Why in the world would anyone leave Microsoft, a place where Huggers admits he "was able to globally engage with the media and entertainment industry, the telecoms industry and the consumer electronics industry," for a stodgy old media company? According to Huggers, it's because the BBC is anything but.
By coincidence, the BBC knocked on the door, and suddenly it dawned on me that there was probably no better organization on the planet to truly drive innovation in the digital media space across Web, TV and Mobile.
[Also the] BBC is pioneering what an online presence means for broadcasters; we are driving interactive TV and have world class mobile services.
Is the BBC really a better place for innovation than Microsoft? We once heard a lot about engineers jumping ship from Micosoft and landing at Google, and now from Google to Facebook. But even though many of them say its about opportunity to work on the next big thing, we all secretly suspect that it has to do with the kind of stock options they can get. But that the BBC -- which has no stock options and is state-owned -- can attract talent away from the world's largest software companies is telling. That said, something like "who is better at innovation" is nearly impossible to quantify.
One thing is certain, the BBC's latest forays into new markets, like online video streaming, have not been very innovative. Case in point, the somewhat disastrous release of their iPlayer catchup service earlier this year. When it first launched, it was a Windows-only DRMed mess that only worked with Internet Explorer. It wasn't until October that the BBC began to rectify the situation via a partnership with Adobe.
On the other hand, the BBC's newly unveiled beta start page, which clearly draws inspiration from innovative companies like Pageflakes, also shows the Beeb's willingness to push the envelope and experiment with unfamiliar products and services, even if their innovation is borrowed.
The comments on the blog post quickly devolved into a discussion of whether the BBC should be blogging. One commenter, "Thomas," called the BBC's new blogs a "touchy feely gimmick." "Ken" countered that the blogs at least "encourage open communication, which is a good thing."
Guardian blogger, Jemina Kiss, came to more or less the same conclusion, once which I am inclined to agree with. "We hear precious little from executives other than at well-rehearsed conferences and launches, and even if blog posts are equally polished at least there's the opportunity to put questions to them," she writes. "Many of the posts are a little stiff, I grant you, but perhaps they will be come a little more fluid over time."