BBC’s Web 2.0 Deal with Microsoft: The Devil are the Details

The English-speaking world’s preeminent public service media group just signed a “memorandum of understanding” with Microsoft. The “Beeb,” as its sometimes called, is transforming itself into a cutting-edge digital service. It is embracing the ethos of social media, Web 2.0, in order to establish meaningful interactive links with users/viewers and creators. The BBC understands that its public service mission requires it to offer and connect to all forms of media, including blogs, user-generated video, mobile, broadband, etc. What is likely to emerge will be a model for public service digital telecommunications.

But while we understand why an interest and alliance with Microsoft is tempting, we think it also raises some troubling questions. Microsoft’s new business model is about unleashing all of its resources—Windows Live, Messenger, Massive, etc.—to promote targeted advertising. Microsoft is using its content and software resources to track and pinpoint eyeballs for commercial purposes. BBC new media director Ashley Highfield, who just met with Bill Gates, said that “Microsoft is not just a key supplier to the BBC, it is also a key gateway to audiences that the BBC needs to reach.”

We think this could lead the BBC down the wrong road, allowing it to become another way the public is sold to marketers. The BBC should beware becoming a digital advertising Trojan horse for Microsoft.

Also see: Why the BBC and Bill Gates need Each Other. Steve Busfield, MediaGuardian. Registration required.

BBC press release.

Author: jeff

Jeff Chester is executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy. A former journalist and filmmaker, Jeff's book on U.S. electronic media politics, entitled "Digital Destiny: New Media and the Future of Democracy" was published by The New Press in January 2007. He is now working on a new book about interactive advertising and the public interest.

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