BBC director general Mark Thompson has warned a "second digital wave" threatens to sweep away "the foundations on which much of traditional media is built". Delivering the Royal Television Society's Fleming Memorial Lecture, Thompson said while that wave of new technology would prove to be "fundamentally disruptive" it also presented "astonishing creative opportunities for the BBC, our partners and our audiences".
Thompson said Britain was in the middle of a digital revolution. "What we're seeing is a distinct second wave in digital. In many ways, traditional media coped quite well with the first wave: they launched new linear channels and text-based web sites and began to experiment with mobile phones and other portable devices.
"Particularly after the dotcom bubble burst at the turn of the century, there was a real sense in traditional media that the digital thing had been nailed. If you came late to the party, there was no need to worry—you could always dip into your pocket and buy a web site or two."
But Thompson warned anyone who thought "that was the size of it—and there's plenty of them across British broadcasting—has got a big shock coming".
He went on: "I believe that this second digital wave will turn out to be far more disruptive than the first, that it will be fundamentally disruptive, and that the foundations on which much of traditional media is built may be swept away entirely."
Thompson listed the features of the second wave, beginning with on-demand media.
"All media—sound, picture, text—available on all devices, all the time. Searchable, movable, share-able. We're less than five years from fully individualised, drag-and-drop TV and radio stations. Pull down anything from any of tonight's schedules, select anything from our archive, let us propose a channel based on your previous choices, or make your own channel and share it with your friends. Then hit play. That's it."
The second element was the ability to share and contribute content. "Even today the public start sending us their pictures and sound the moment a big story breaks—we had them on our web site and on our news bulletins very early on July 7th, the day of the London bombings, and they became the most downloaded broadband resource on our site that day. Again, we already uplink and host music tracks, short films, personal testimonies, so that others can enjoy them. But these things are only harbingers of what's about to hit us."
Other elements included personalisation and peer-to-peer communication. It all amounted to a future in which mass media—"content made to be consumed by millions of people"—would have to "fight for its place in a media environment optimised for individual and household personal taste".
Driving the second wave was a "revolution in audience behaviour". Thompson said in the first digital wave "new devices and platforms often stayed in the hands of the anoraks and enthusiasts for years". Now most people felt reasonably comfortable with at least some digital technologies, and as a result, take-up rates were "extraordinary".
They included Freeview set-top boxes, with total device sales topping 10m this year. "DTT may well become the biggest digital platform in the course of 2006—it's growing at a far higher rate than satellite and has taken overall digital television penetration to 70% of all homes," said Thompson.
"Broadband is seeing one of the fastest growth rates of any new technology in UK history. HD equipment is flying off the shelves. And we all know about the i-pod."
Earlier the BBC unveiled its creative vision for the digital era.
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