In the modern era of globalisation and digitialisation, it seems that content is easily available. There are many obstacles the content-makers have to overcome, but the question is how to monetise it? We interviewed Salim Mukaddam, General Manager and Vice President of BBC in the CEE region, and asked him about the possible chalenges.
Salim Mukaddam participated at this year’s #Digital2016 Conference in Belgrade and gave us some interesting insights into content production, proliferation of platforms, maintaining quality and using new technologies. BBC is well-known for its quality and an avant-garde character, and the UK experiences were shared with the Belgrade audience.
I often like to say that a person from BCC who hired John Peel or aired Monty Python’s Flying Circus and The Mighty Boosh is an absolute legend. Not many TV directors would let those „crazy“ characters do those „preposterous“ things. TO what extent does a good director shape music and TV shows?
It is absolutely right. The people behind the curtain are absolutely crucial for the great content. It is not just about acting talents, and the writers, it is about the people who are ready to take the risk to air it. And I think that’s why BBC has such a great heritage. It is the place where those kind of people feel safe. And we can take this risk because we are a national organisation, BBC does not rely on advertising. They create great programmes that the others would not be able to do. It’s simply because BBC has a public service payments from the citizens, and we see the value in the educative form of entertainment. And if you are a good commissioner, you can commission what you think it’s good. You are in that position for a reason. And it’s because you have that kind of judgement. And the thing was the same in the 21st century with The Mighty Boosh, as you said.
Nowadays, many people proudly declare “I don’t own a TV set”. What is, in your opinion, the role of television in general?
It is the same content after all. Well, there has been a proliferation of platforms. It is not about consuming content only through linear TV, it is about consuming it somewhere else. The fact that Netflix commissioned content for them, it does not change the content itself, it is not linear television, but the content is the same. It is still televison but is not called television. It doesn’t change. The point is, in this proliferation of platforms, it’s important to choose the good stuff and to know where to find it. It became a headache and the BBC is like a trademark of quality – you know you will get good content here.
BBC is frequently referred to as “a raw model of the public RTV service”. And yet, it managed to be both commercially successful and avant-garde. Do you think that the model that made BBC so special, could be feasible in the long run?
It is about creating content that people want to watch. Only then will it drive the audience to watch the premieres and the international distributers to buy it. They will pay a commercial price for it. And, basically, it is always cheaper to buy content than to produce it. Natural science programme, Peaky Blinders, Top Gear, War and Peace. The quality will prevail. The value is huge. We even localised Top Gear incredibly well in the USA, and the three famous characters are replaced and Matt Le Blanc became phenomenal! Examples of great great form are Holy Grail, Dancing with Stars, the baking programmes – it all went down extremely well in many countries around the world.
You were a public TV station, and yet you had John Peel. Do you think it is true that, after the demise of John Peel and the shutdown of The Top of The Pops, we lost music researchers and a centralised programme which suggests what kind of music people should listen?
It is all about guiding people. As for Top of the Pops, it is a pity. It lost its audience and we cancelled it. It is a shame about John, he was great. Maybe there is a radio DJ, or a channel or a brand somewhere that you as a consumer will for your allegiance to. They will be your trusted guides. And the BBC still plays a massive role in helping people decide what is good. Time is precious, you want to spend little time finding content so you can enjoy it longer. We are all time-sensitive, and BBC helps people in that.
BBC keeps making phenomenal TV programmes even now in the times of streaming, torrents and other alternative and sometimes illegal ways to access content, like the Peaky Blinders, for instance. How hard is it to get the money to keep a great content-making machine afloat, and not let it sink into the sludge of reality shows like Geordie Shore and other worthless stuff?
First of all, I am surprised that you know about Gerodie Shore! Of course they have their viewers. I think there is a wide spectrum of viewers. Some people will want to see reality programmes, and the other people would want to see other types of programmes. And we are in the position where we are going to deliver quality content, and the content the people would want to watch. I haven’t thought think for a minute that we were going to slide down. We are doing great adaptations, like the adaptation for Tolstoy’s War and Peace. There is a great demand for a great quality programme. Just because the market is going in one direction, it doesn’t mean we will do the same. It is great to hear that there are people who are interested in Peaky Blinders, it means the people are hungry for good content. There is peer pressure through social networks, people push each other towards good content.
There is a whole new generation of people who really don’t have a clue that they have to pay for the content. A friend of mine wrote on her Facebook wall: “Torrentz.eu is down, where can I get films now?” I replied with a smile on my face: “In a video-club.” She didn’t find it funny. How do you think the problem can be solved?
Well there is a certain change in mindset. But the people can choose what to see and listen now. There is a big library of content, especially if you localised that content in some territory. People just want to know where to access the content. I don’t think that the people will deliberately go to the illegal places to access the content. I think the people appreciate good content and they are willing to pay for it. If they don’t know where to get it they will go to illegal places. It is an education process, maybe we should explain people where they should go to get it. It the USA they are really far ahead, in the UK we are slightly behind, but we have to go through this process now. In the UK, I don’t know anyone who is getting content illegaly now. Services like ITV Player are public services. And there are Amazon Video and Netflix services. There is no need to go to illegal services. If you want to buy content you can go to iTunes. There’s no excuse now and I think nobody needs an excuse now. It is affordable, the prices are good, there is subscription. And the quality is better, also if you want to come back to the previosly watched content, it is suitable. Whenever these services go to some territory, we have to go through the education process.
As La Roux and Megan Trainor made very clear, streaming doesn’t provide much money to music artists. Do you think it will be able to supply artists with enough financial gratification to continue their creative work? What are new paths according to you?
I think it is a very, very complicated discussion. There are so many parties. This in not one-on-one relationship between the artist and the writer and the audience, there are many people in between. And I don’t know how much transparency there is. It is crazy for me to have millions of views and not to get some kind of satisfactory fee. That can’t be right. There are many platforms now, with publishers and labels. And it is a long discussion ahead, a long conversation with publishers, artists, labels. It won’t be sorted out quickly. But the music industry was a sort of a cutting edge of the content industry and it is a painful process now, but we have to start resolving it. Once we create a good business model everyone’s going to be happy. There is money in selling records, but we can also go to the past where you release a record just to inform people of the songs and where they can see the band live. Time’s changed and the recorded music is not that valuable anymore. Times are cyclical and now we’re back in the times where recorded music is almost promotional for the live act. Now the bands can go to the places where they are known without publishing there. We are now at the point of proper and total globalisation. It irritates me to a ceratin extent when the people talk about the „demise of the music industry“, since Drake and Beyoncé are not poor. They are making money somehow. They create the content the people want to hear. Look at Ed Sheeran. The guy was playing 300 gigs a year before he got famous. Be committed to it, work hard and go for it.
The modern music market is rapidly changing. Ten years ago, Arctic Monkeys pushed their career through MySpace and Radiohead pushed their album online with “pay-as-much-as-you-want” approach. It all seems like a distant past. What are your predictions about the future?
The platforms are different now. Then it was MySpace, now SoundCloud can do exactly the same thing. It is about the different roads to listeners. It is about how you propagate your music. In the times before the globalisation of music there was no SoundCloud nor YouTube but you had to find an indie label to aggregate your music and make it available for the wider audience. But there is a way. Look at Macklemore. It is totally democratic, it is different now. Radiohead mad their album available for almost free, but they are still a very big name. Pay as much as you want if you like it. But take U2, they gave their album for free, but it was different. It was automatically uploaded to your iTunes, like it or not. Nobody complained about U2 album being free. But somebody paid for it, Apple paid for it. And then forced people to listen to it. That was the backlash, people didn’t like that move. It was like giving away CD for free wrapped in the newspaper.
How hard is it to do your job in CEE? How different is it?
I don’t know yet, I’ve been doing the job for the last 4 weeks only. But what I must notice is that all the markets have similarities, yet they are very different. My territory stretches from Kazakhstan to the Czech Republic, from Baltic states to the Balkans and all the way to Vladivostok. There is a huge amount of opportunities. But I see that all the markets are basically relationship-based markets. I met some great people here. But it is like coming back to earlier times: it is great, less emailing and more coming out and talking. It is brilliant. Like in India. You have to believe in each other, it is a trusted partnership. I can completely parallel CEE to Latin American societies, or Asian or African, there are strong family ties and the trust, handshake, face-to-face, building bonds. My Indian-African heritage helped me in that. And it made my life easier here since I am a representative of a company with a great heritage. In my presentation, I mentioned „Planet Earth“. It is a beautiful content, people want to see it. There is a demand for it.