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January 02, 2009

The future of news… BYOB

Time for a gaze into my crystal ball.

I think I’ve seen the future of television news… and it’s called BYOB.

Nothing to do with beer, though. It’s my acronym for Build Your Own Bulletin.

The more TV news bulletins I watch, the more frustrated I get. There’s next to never any technology news, increasingly little foreign affairs and too much speculative ‘cure for cancer’ health news.

TV news is also frustrating because I’ve got a fair idea how expensive it is to produce. The number of people sat in a room behind Huw Edwards or Fiona Bruce would beggar belief. Running a 24-hour news channel is a mammoth undertaking. BBC News 24 costs somewhere between £40-50m per year, Sky News a little less.

So, what’s the alternative?

Rather than a linear, 24-hour operation with 30-minute showcase ‘bulletins’ at regular intervals, the televisual equivalent of RSS feeds. Seamlessly stitched together in a Flash video (like BBC iPlayer), a series of news reports, pre-recorded two-ways and interviews selected according to your tastes. You choose the type of story you’re interested in (UK, Politics, Health, Sport) and rank them according to importance. Then a broadcaster (let’s call it the BBC) makes stories for each of those categories, and ranks them according to their editorial importance. Some sort of algorithm works out how to order your news bulletin, and with the help of some recorded studio links for each piece, a 5, 15 or 30 minute news bulletin is delivered to your computer screen or TV. The unfussy could just choose a generic ‘top stories’ bulletin.

The best bit of all of this is the cheap method of distribution means there’s more money to go out and do journalism. Lengthy news packages might come back into fashion, and consumers would have far greater choice. Imagine a world where every Premiership football game has its own TV preview, every major speech in Parliament gets the analysis it deserves and every important judicial decision is explained in full.

My idea would have seemed a bit implausible a couple of years ago. But things have changed. IPTV (internet protocol television) is a reality, and works. It’s like YouTube on your telly, and it’s not sci-fi. I’ve got it at home and it’s great. It’ll be popular within a year, and widespread within five.

So after 75 years, linear TV channels could become a thing of the past. But surely the news channel, with its enormous costs, small audiences and one-size-fits-all model to news, should be the first to go.


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