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Broadcast Media as Catalyst to Social Innovation

Broadcast Media as Catalyst to Social Innovation

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Published by David Barrie
Article for Social Innovation book, David Barrie for Young Foundation, London, 2009
Article for Social Innovation book, David Barrie for Young Foundation, London, 2009

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Published by: David Barrie on Oct 18, 2009
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Broadcast media
Historically, the purpose of broadcast media has been to inform and entertain anaudience. It has been a one-way street of command-and-control production inwhich the sedentary viewer has received the wisdom and talent of programmeproducers. As a result, content has been locked in the language of vaudeville andreportage.But in recent years in the U.K., broadcast television has been increasingly used asa space for new ideas that work at meeting social goals. It has become a mediumthat can and does act as a catalyst to social change, away from the screen.Certain forces have come together to make this happen: a tradition in the U.K. of broadcasting as public service and broadcasters as cultural institutions, the needfor media to become more relevant and personal to everyday lives, the birth of ‘constructed reality’ programming and peoples’ increasing interest in celebritiesas social activists.In my mind, Live Aid in 1985 was a watershed moment. The 400 million viewerswho watched the event expressed the power of broadcasting to scale, diffuse andconnect public experience across the globe. And the £150m it raised for faminerelief demonstrated that the audience could bracket broadcast media and socialaction.Since Live Aid, the growth of satellite and online media has forced broadcasters tofocus tightly on competitive advantage. The scale and ambition of the cinema hasled audiences to expect epic narrative. Broadcasting has had to find new routes towin audience impact and reach.One route has been for broadcasters to originate their own ‘tiny epics’: off-screensocial and cultural initiatives that have an on-screen life, are modelled on public-private partnership arrangements and in which the broadcaster acts as afoundation investor or entrepreneur.In its wake has come social innovation. Take the work of U.K. advertiser-funded public broadcaster Channel 4 Television:In the former coal-mining town of Castleford, West Yorkshire, the broadcasterinvested £100,000 in the setting up of an urban renewal project in 2002 thatemphasised citizen participation, grassroots innovation, co-design andaccountable, networked public management. The initiative has become a £14mcapital investment programme of improvement to the town’s public spaces and ithas been credited with leveraging over £200m of new private sector investmentin the town. Intrinsic to the project was the broadcast of a series of four televisionprogrammes.In 2005, Channel 4 commissioned chef Jamie Oliver to team up with school dinnerlady Nora Sands and take over the direction of the state school meals service inthe London Borough of Greenwich. The project was designed to show howchildren could be fed fresh, more nutritious meals. A ‘social experiment’ becamea national campaign for new standards for school meals, two series of primetimetelevision programmes and has been responsible for the creation of a newGovernment agency and investment of £280m in school food and skills.By February 2009, over 20,000 people had signed up to Landshare, a webplatform run by Keo Films in partnership with Channel 4, that links people whowant to grow their own fruit and vegetables (but don’t have a site) with people orinstitutions that have land that could be grown on. This is an enabling service1

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