At Google’s digital news initiative event in Berlin (#DNIBerlin) Google people are chatting about how the YouTube news search results are weighted. The core of their algorithm favours videos with many plays. This counts against searches for newsy content, which by definition has few plays to start with. So recently there has been a re-balancing of the algorithm to favour news (YouTube search is I think the world’s second biggest search engine and isn’t the same as Google). The algorithm has been tweaked for a ‘newsy’ search to favour ‘currency’ and ‘trusted news providers’. The trusted news providers are apparently a pretty obvious list. Outside news, YouTube search is apparently also set so that when someone searches for ‘BBC Apprentice’ the BBC’s own stuff in YouTube comes top, which is sensible. YouTube can manage video properties at a nation state level. Both of these factors improve the user experience – that is to say it helps me get what I want. Today, YouTube has launched its new YouTube Embedded Player Pilot that gives far more control for content publishers over what happens to their material on YouTube.
Public service content though is about serving people content that they may not readily choose. Do the changes above open up the possibility of tweaking the algorithm to increase systematically the prominence of public service broadcasters? I’ve written about the challenges for due prominence for public service content before. Indeed, there is a long tradition of regulation of rankings and listings on dominant systems to ensure competition or reflect public policy concerns. On a Sky TV box for instance the ordering of the electronic programme guide is strictly regulated (by the EU and the UK government) to put public service broadcasters at the top, to reflect their role in society. This follows a 1970s/80s precedent for regulating the order in which flights are listed on airline reservation systems, part of what is known as the essential facilities doctrine.
The paradox of public service is that give people a choice and they often won’t watch it. In Charter Review the BBC is struggling with how it gets its publicly financed material, often of great public value to society at large as hordes move to YouTube, particularly the young folk. The growth of iPlayer has very clearly plateaued now and the BBC will have to get its video to people online in a different way. So I wonder if there is a YouTube offer for Charter Review to help the BBC manage the context within which it operates, blending YouTube’s new Embedded Player product with the tweaks to the algorithm. It could be a combination of clarity and guarantees about how news prominence works, whether prominence can be carried across to other video public service content, CBeebies for instance and tighter restrictions around advertising (or greater returns to it). Perhaps this could be for all public service broadcasters in the UK and, why not the EU?
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