BBC Director General Tony Hall has announced a bunch of new features for its digital products that show the corporation at its most imaginative – and its most cynical.
The most interesting is new and still fairly modest: integration between the BBC's music output and third-party commercial music services – and it launches today.
More controversially, the BBC has created an "outreach project" that's really a vehicle for its ageing luvvies (including the inevitable Stephen Fry) and its middle management to lecture the knuckle-dragging British public – who apparently don't know what an iPad is – about the miracles of digital technology.
Let's dissect the good bit first.
The new music initiative is called PlayLister, and it allows you to bookmark the information from DJ playlists, or even the background music in EastEnders, to a personal BBC playlist, and then export this to Spotify, Deezer or YouTube. More services will follow.
PlayLister is unidirectional only - exporting data to a third-party. It therefore requires you to maintain two lists: your BBC list of songs and (at least) one in your favourite music service.
The BBC will not host the streams of full songs itself, because the Corp's radio-style (ie, not interactive) music licences don't permit it to play on-demand music – just 30-second previews. The BBC is unlikely to be able to get permission to do full on-demand streaming because of the consequences for the marketplace. At least, not under its current Charter.
Yet even in its crude version 1.0 incarnation, PlayLister brings some welcome integration to music fans. It seems absurd in the internet era that discovery and "fulfillment" (aka actually listening to the song or buying it) are so poorly integrated: radio and third-party music services live in separate worlds.
For example, if you hear a song you like today, you must manually look it up and then re-enter the information into Google or a music service's search box. PlayLister attempts to bridge this gulf.
Not only will the BBC's music programmes have one-click "Add to PlayLister" buttons, but these will be available on many shows where music is actually featured. An export feature then converts this into a playlist for one of the aforementioned streaming sites. It's evidently good news for them, which are notoriously poor at providing music discovery services – Spotify is frequently referred to as a "spreadsheet". And it's hard not to imagine Apple iTunes Store, Apple iRadio and Google Play following suit fairly quickly.
The BBC's Mark Friend said he could imagine the PlayList being used in retail, for example. Friend also told El Reg that the BBC wouldn't get data back from the services, saying "there's no value in it for us."
Even in its crude form, it's a fine example where the value created by the BBC's music investment can be shared - and built upon.
Hall also announced an iPlayer store for old material and said that more material would be available through iPlayer – including more exclusives – and for longer, with a 30-day window for playback.
More controversially, the BBC announced a huge job creation scheme for middle management "educational initiative" to teach digital skills and coding to us plebs.
"We want to transform the nation’s ability and attitude towards coding, and bring together different organisations already working in this area," said the BBC's tech chief ("Future Media Director") Ralph Riviera yesterday.
The BBC's last formal education initiative, BBC Jam (aka the BBC Digital Curriculum) was created in 2003 "to stimulate, support and reflect the diversity of the UK" and was given a budget of £150m.
It was axed in 2007 because of its impact on the market - and also because it went far beyond the BBC's core mission. Is teaching people about iPads so different?
The United Kingdom already leads Japan, the USA and Germany (and ranks alongside South Korea) in new media technology adoption. It's hard to see what "problem" the BBC is trying to solve. It isn't actually "digital literacy" that's blighting the UK's skills base, but old-fashioned literacy and numeracy.
Is there an app for that? ®
The full transcript of Hall's speech is available on the BBC website.