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Jeremy Corbyn plan for British Digital Corporation ridiculed

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Netflix drama “Black Mirror.”
Netflix

  • Jeremy Corbyn, British Prime Minister Theresa May’s
    most powerful adversary, wants to create a publicly-owned
    tech company to rival Facebook and Netflix.
  • His idea is called the British Digital Corporation
    and people think it sounds like a nationalised Facebook without
    the fake news and data misuse, where users can vote to get TV
    shows made.
  • The vision is deliberately radical, but it has been
    ridiculed as unworkable and unnecessary.
  • A senior BBC figure told Business Insider that the
    British Digital Corporation overlooks an organisation already
    doing the very things Corbyn wants to achieve — the
    BBC.

Imagine a website that has the power to connect you with others
like Facebook, but also the ability to grip you with TV content
to rival Netflix. Now imagine owning that website.

That was basically the proposal put forward this week by Jeremy
Corbyn, the leader of Britain’s opposition party and Prime
Minister Theresa May’s most powerful adversary.

Speaking to an audience of some of the UK’s most influential
media executives, Corbyn posited the idea of creating a British
Digital Corporation, or BDC. If that acronym has a familiar ring,
you’d be right.

Under his vision, the BDC would effectively be a sister
organisation to the BBC, a sort of digital sidekick to Britain’s
96-year-old national broadcaster, known affectionately as Auntie.

Like the BBC, the BDC would be funded and owned by the British
public. The BBC collects its money through the TV licence, a levy
on UK households that generates around £3.8 billion ($4.9
billion) in revenue a year for the corporation.

Corbyn was a little woolly on the detail, and his suggestions
prompted people to speculate that he wants to create a
nationalised Facebook, without all the nasty fake news and data
misuse, where users can vote on TV shows they want to be made.

Below is the plan in his own words, taken from his speech at the
Edinburgh International Television Festival in Scotland. You can watch the speech in full
here
. Corbyn said:

“A BDC could use all of our best minds, the latest technology and
our existing public assets not only to deliver information and
entertainment to rival Netflix and Amazon but also to harness
data for the public good.

“A BDC could develop new technology for online decision making
and audience-led commissioning of programmes and even a public
social media platform with real privacy and public control over
the data that is making Facebook and others so rich.

“It could become the access point for public knowledge,
information and content currently held in the BBC archives, the
British Library and the British Museum. Imagine an expanded
iPlayer giving universal access to licence fee payers for a
product that could rival Netflix and Amazon. It would probably
sell pretty well overseas as well.”

Corbyn’s British Digital Corporation ridiculed

Delegates who spoke to Business Insider after the speech
concluded it was a radical, but ultimately unworkable and
unnecessary plan. Others just ridiculed it.


jeremy corbyn soft brexit
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.
Getty

Brent Hoberman, the founder of lastminute.com and a prominent UK
tech investor, tweeted: “Who is advising these
people?!!?”

Damian Collins, the Conservative politician in charge of the
committee of lawmakers that held Facebook to account over the
Cambridge Analytica crisis, was equally scathing. He said it would be a “British
Digital Leyland”
— a reference to British Leyland, which in
1968 amalgamated several carmakers into one company in one of the
biggest disasters in the history of nationalisation.

Alison Kirkham, a senior figure at the BBC, raised an even more
existential question about Corbyn’s vision. She told me that the
British Digital Corporation overlooks an organisation already
doing the very things he wants to achieve — the BBC.

Don’t forget, the BBC basically invented the online video player
with iPlayer in 2007. Indeed, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings once
said
: “The iPlayer really blazed the trail. That was long
before Netflix and really got people used to this idea of
on-demand viewing.”

And as far as creating social conversation, connecting people,
audience-led commissioning, and broadening horizons, are
concerned, well the BBC has been doing that since it was invented
in 1922.

Just look at radio phone-ins, giant shared viewing experiences
like “Strictly Come Dancing” (or “Dancing With the Stars” as it
is known in the US), TV shows being axed or supercharged based on
ratings, and the BBC’s partnerships with organisations like The
Open University. All of which can be accessed online.

“There seems to be a lack of understanding that the BBC is
already a very digital organisation,” Kirkham, the BBC’s
controller of factual commissioning said.

“It’s a real asset that the digital offer is an integral part of
the broader BBC offer. I’m not sure it would serve audiences, I’m
not sure it would make economic sense, to peel the two away and
create two separate organisations.”

Corbyn certainly achieved his aim of getting people talking to
“generate some new thinking.” Like all radical ideas, however, it
appears to have raised more questions than answers.

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