Monday, December 10, 2007

The return of BBC Jam - or not

I've had some interesting comment passed to me from Neil Livesey, who used to work on BBC Jam. Rather than reword it into the third person, I'll just quote it, then maybe say what I think.
(If you want a little background to this, then I've posted previously about what happened with BBC Jam). First of all, here's the official current state of play with BBC Jam, according to the BBC Trust:

In developing its proposals the BBC Trust has asked BBC management to draw on the successes of BBC Jam; to consider how a fresh proposition can best meet the eeds of 5 to 16 year olds; and to take account of changes in the market and new developments since BBC Jam was approved in 2003. The Trust expects management to build on its existing investment and to consider the value for money aspects of any proposal. The Trust has asked management to deliver its proposal within three months.
BBC Trust Statement
The Trust's priority is to ensure the needs of the children and young people who use and value the service are not neglected during this process.
Chitra Bharucha, Acting BBC Chairman
We regret that for the BBC, all staff involved in the service, our external production partners and the many people who have enjoyed using BBC Jam over recent months – children, their parents and teachers alike – the decision to suspend the service will come as a real disappointment.
BBC Management statement
Here's what someone who's worked on it says:
What has become of BBC Jam?
In March 2007 I, like over 200 others, was employed by the BBC on the BBC Jam project. At that time we had been told that the service was going to be suspended and that a review of the service would be undertaken which should last between 6 and 9 months. Well it’s December 2007 and there has been nothing forthcoming from the BBC. Why, you might ask yourselves?
At the outset when the BBC proposed the Digital Curriculum it was a grandiose project (£150m) to provide a learning platform for all school, educational content and assessments. No wonder the commercial sector was up in arms. However BBC Jam was a scaled down version of this proposal, limited by years of regulation, government, industry and European intervention. BBC Jam was aiming its content at learners not teachers and was covering content that the commercial sector wouldn’t undertaken eg minority languages and learners with specific educational requirements. It supported a variety of innovative software companies producing this content and was changing the view of what learning content looked like.
From what I’ve heard 9 months down the line there is no one employed on BBC Jam, not even at a senior management level. What does this tell you? They want us to forget about it (and the £100m they’ve spent) because they don’t know what to do. When I left they were scrambling about trying to find an angle that differentiated then from the rest of the market to ensure that the industry wouldn’t object to BBC Jam V2. What content does exist is archived in some vault within the BBC, a bit like most of their TV programmes – never to be seen again.
So what of the industry that objected to BBC jam? In August 2008 eLCs will cease to be available and the ring-fenced monies that have kept the growth in the industry artificially inflated will disappear. Many small companies will go out of business and the larger ones will need to downsize. Rather than allowing the BBC to stimulate the market and create opportunities for the commercial sector they’ve killed off BBC Jam, limited funding and only postponed the inevitable downsize in the industry.The BBC should have continued with BBC Jam. It would have stimulated the industry, supported learners and benefited everyone concerned. Now the BBC has nowhere to turn and £100m of licence payers' money has been poured down the drain.
The biggest losers are the learners in the UK.
Neil Livesey
December 2007
So, a few thoughts...

  • Who holds the copyright on all this material? Does the copyright last for a long time and, if it expires soon, will we then see the content being sold by the individual production companies? As this would be individual companies making money from products which were funded with £100m of licence payers' money, would this be an even bigger skewing of the market than the original Jam would have achieved?
  • I would anticipate that if any of this content will resurface at all, it will be in BBC Bitesize and Blast. What will commercial developers make of these services then, especially if the market for their services is contracting as eLCs begin to disappear?
  • What will BETT 2009 look like without eLCs? Fewer large stands, I'd imagine... I'll be very interested to see what the BBC are left with at BETT in under a month's time.
  • Seriously though, what about all the content that was being used? I would imagine that (since commercial providers objected to schools getting it for free) that if it could be packaged in a way which meant schools couldn't get at it, then it could be used by individual learners... but wouldn't this lead to objections from those who sell services to home-schooled and EOTAS students?

In Buckinghamshire soon I'm assisting in looking at resources for children who for (a variety of reasons) can't or don't go to school. Many of these resources would have been perfect for them, but they're kicking around on a server gathering metaphorical dust somewhere, so... now what?

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