SPEECH published on 20 Apr 2018

Noel Curran Keynote to EBU Media Summit 2018

I'm delighted to be here today. This is an important event for us.

In a world where we are engulfed by the challenges of funding, politics, regulation, and distribution we need to be reminded that our entire existence is all about our content. That's what I’ve spent all my working life producing and managing and it's what I want to talk about today; Our content and how the EBU is changing to help members deliver it.

At a time, when platform strategies dominate our thinking, we need to be reminded we are only relevant if audiences want to watch, listen and engage with what we make or commission.

Most importantly, in a world where niche services are gaining ground and where personalization options push us more and more towards specific genres serving audiences in the most personalized way, it's also important that we are all reminded at events like this of just how broad the range of Public Service Media is.

Radio, Digital, TV, News, Music and Entertainment, Communications, Policy, Strategy. All are represented here.

And all are represented by national leaders in these areas from right across Europe.

I don't say that arrogantly. Public service organizations are often accused of being arrogant – thinking they are more important than anyone else, feeling unreplacable - There's a fine line between confidence and arrogance. And we need to be on the right side of it.

Confidence for me is feeling proud of what we do and our ability to do it.

Faced with today's competitive, challenging world – we shouldn't lose that confidence.

We shouldn’t lose our confidence in our unique role in European content production.

Our confidence in the quality of what we produce across all platforms.

Our confidence in the ability we have shown over decades to adjust and continue to stay relevant to our audiences.

We need that confidence, not arrogance, now more than ever as we face into arguably the most difficult period in the history of PSM.

Our critics portray us either as pampered monopolists distorting the market or pre-historic dinosaurs, long overdue extinction.

Think carefully about what we really mean when we speak of public service media. Today the word service has taken a much more central place.

We use media to serve our citizens and to contribute to society. It is not about return on investment but return to our audiences.

Rather than dinosaurs or monopolists, what the people in this room actually represent are the biggest investors in original European content anywhere in the world.

The figures tell the story. Nearly 19 billion Euro a year. 84% of that investment goes on original content - way ahead of tech giants and commercial rivals. Almost 30% of it is spent outside our organizations - on co-productions or in the European independent production sector which we help sustain.

All of this is as it should be. We are publicly funded and we carry additional responsibilities for that. But the figures show we meet those responsibilities, week in week out and we should have confidence enough to say that.

We should also be confident in highlighting that our unique role is not just about scale but about the types of content we invest in.

Don’t always believe what you hear about this. How many times, for instance, have we heard criticism of the amount of our TV airtime that is devoted to Sport ?

Yet research conducted by the EBU last year shows that our percentage of Sports output on TV is the same as our children's output, its less than half of our arts, culture and education output and it's only a third of our fiction output.

We should also feel a sense of confidence but not complacency about the quality of so much of that output. Teen drama SKAM in NRK, the popular science format The Institute from NPO, RAI’s Medici, Czech TV’s Street Star Dance format, ZDF’s Facebook Live innovations in Sags Mir Ins Gesicht (Tell it to my face), Slovenia’s Facebook Live video strategy, DR’s Vlog innovations in Klassen, RTBF’s Tarmac digital playground, Morocco’s SNRT Live App or SR’s technology innovations. That’s a twenty second tour of a tiny miniscule proportion of EBU members output - but look at the range.

But being truly confident also involves questioning yourself and listening to the arguments of your critics. It’s not too difficult to hear them at the moment, but hearing is not always listening.

While we may think that some of those arguments are, frankly, off the wall, that doesn’t mean that all of them are wrong.

We need to realize that just because our content is distinctive doesn’t mean we have a monopoly on quality or relevance.

We need to realize that the media ecosystem we work in is in turmoil and our online content, subsidized by public funding, is seen as a genuine threat by organizations that are struggling to survive.

We need to question ourselves about our schedule choices –are we too reliant on News. Is our content too safe, elitest?

We need to ask ourselves how much do we really produce for life outside the schedule, life beyond linear. What proportion of our budgets goes there and how much did that increase from last year.

We also need to ask ourselves how many of our employees are digital natives who can produce digitally native content – forget about legacy, how many did we employ in the last twelve months.

Most importantly we need to remind ourselves that we will only be considered relevant by the public, if we understand their lives, their problems and their needs. We will only be relevant if we manage to deliver a real value to our societies through our distinctive local content.

This questioning process also applies to the EBU.

To some people the EBU is simply a representative organization for PSM members. Like a Bankers Federation - for creatives with no money! But to me the EBU is primarily about content. In fact everything we do comes back to content.

We exchange content in News, Music and Childrens.

We buy content rights in Sport.

We help produce content in big entertainment events like Eurovision.

We run a commercial operation that revolves around content distribution and, if it makes a profit, we invest that money in our other content arms.

We lobby here in Brussels and elsewhere for your right to produce content on all platforms and remain properly publicly funded to do it.

Content production, content exchange, content distribution and content protection.

The EBU is determined to ensure that we offer you the members the best service we can in this regard.

With that aim, we have launched a strategic process that looks at what we need to do and how we we best can do it.

We asked ourselves and members are we properly structured to ensure that we meet Members needs, communicate properly with you and explain our value proposition? The answer was we could do much better which is why we have restructured around a new Member Relations Directorate.

We asked how do we improve our core services? The response has been the new white paper agreed with the News Committee, the restructuring of Sport, the further implementation of the Sports strategy and a lot of future looking work on Music Exchange and Live TV events and Drama, among other things.

Are we structured properly to deliver a focused service to members on digital issues? I think the answer here is no.

We have fantastic work being done on digital transformation, the new building project, big data and the rest  but we need to look at how we join up these dots, co-ordinate and focus our efforts more on an agreed digital workplan. We will address this now that our new senior management team come on board.

As part of this process we will also look at how we approach innovation in the EBU and ensure that we are structured and staffed to deliver it properly.

We are also questioning ourselves on our role in content, particularly co-productions? I strongly feel we need to be a greater enabler of co-productions, even if that means taking more of the risk. The co-production fund for television and digital is a start.  

Our greatest challenge will be how we help you compete and partner with the new giants in our industry. We will only compete if we can leverage more our resources, our combined technological skills, our content and leverage our joint negotiating bargaining power. The EBU is in a unique position to enable this and we want to work with all of you.

These are just some of the issues we are grappling with, with your committees and teams and we will come back to you with answers as part of our strategy review.

One of the really good things I learned in the last six months, is that we have a strong and dedicated team at EBU Permanent services. People who really believe in public service and passionately want to make it better.

And part of making it better is to make sure EBU;s own culture fits what is required.

We are looking at how respond to members needs and communicate better with you.

We are looking at how we nurture talent, particularly female talent. We all need to start that process by saying honestly that we have a huge gender bias at senior management in Geneva, at ExBo and in our committees and we want to address it.

We are also looking at our digital skill set to see how we ensure we have the right mix of digital skills in all areas.

To this end the EBU is changing. Changing approach, policies and structures. By the end of the year we will present our new Strategy Framework for the next three years. Delivering that will be a continuous process for our teams working with you.

It is a time for us all to move ahead. A time for us to be brave. A time for us to be confident, not naïve or arrogant, but confident that we have a unique role to play and we have the creativity and skills in this room to deliver it.

Thank you.