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Last Updated: Wednesday, 26 April 2006, 08:29 GMT 09:29 UK
BBC needs to 'enter digital age'
By Torin Douglas
BBC media correspondent


The BBC has announced its Creative Future strategy to remain relevant in the digital age.

Man listening to music on MP3 player
BBC content is increasingly accessed from a variety of devices
The headlines were all about the end of Grandstand, a weekend fixture on BBC television for almost 50 years - soon to be phased out as insufficiently cutting-edge for the new digital world.

The crisp black-and-white photographs and TV footage were eloquent, conjuring up memories of a distant age, long before Channel 4, breakfast TV and Sky came on the scene - let alone Google, Yahoo and the powerful new media brands.

And that is one of the problems director general Mark Thompson and his Creative Future teams have been trying to address in their new strategy for the digital world.

Grandstand is a much-loved name (and theme tune) among older audiences - but one that means little to the young.

It says more about the past than the hi-tech future, in which content is increasingly being downloaded and podcast onto MP3 players, mobile phones and other portable devices.

The director general believes that if the corporation is to prosper in years to come, it must connect with the audiences of the future as well as those it already serves.

Looking ahead to an on-demand world in which people will increasingly access BBC content when and where they choose, Mr Thompson warned staff they must work harder to reach younger audiences or "face losing a generation forever".

Music strategy

With children, the BBC is well-placed, with two popular TV channel brands, CBeebies and CBBC.

Under the new plans, it is going to focus these more tightly by age, with CBeebies catering for those up to six and CBBC the seven- to 11-year-olds.

It is also going to extend these brands to the children's output on radio and online.

We should aim to deliver public service content to our audiences in whatever media and on whatever device makes sense for them
Mark Thompson
BBC director general

But above those ages, many young people do not watch much BBC television, preferring Channel 4 and some of its multi-channel rivals.

A quarter of 16-24s say they do not watch BBC TV.

To help bridge the gap, the BBC is planning to create a "teen brand" for 12- to 16-year-olds, with long-running drama, comedy, music and factual content on its existing TV, radio and broadband services.

There is also to be a new music strategy, for the first time uniting radio and TV, as well as the new media of mobile phones, iPods and broadband.

One ambition is for the BBC "to be the premier destination for unsigned bands", which may alarm some in the commercial music world, already unsettled by the success of BBC radio and its music downloads.

There will also be an Electric Proms to complement the classical Proms. Licence payers will be able to see programmes again by downloading them from the new BBC i-player.

On-demand

The BBC website will be revamped to showcase material generated by the public and make it more personal in other ways.

And all BBC content - from journalism to comedy and sport to drama - will be "re-versioned" for the new media platforms, including short versions for mobile phones and longer versions (and "extras") for broadband.

"On-demand changes everything", Mr Thompson said. "The BBC should no longer think of itself as a broadcaster of TV and radio and some new media on the side.

"We should aim to deliver public service content to our audiences in whatever media and on whatever device makes sense for them."

So rapid is the pace of change that those devices will look very different within a few years.

The black-and-white world of the early Grandstand will soon seem as distant as silent movies and the wax recording cylinder.


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