Web 2.0 firms lobby for £100m gravy train

They play - you pay

Analysis Is the Web 2.0 hype running out of steam? If so, a healthy injection of public funds should kick it back into life.

New media companies in the UK are lobbying for the establishment of an institution which could spend what critics call a £100m "jackpot" of public money each year.

The new agency, which Ofcom calls a "Public Service Publisher" or PSP, would play a "gatekeeper" role in commissioning new media concepts. These range from interactive websites to participatory games involving different kinds of digital media, such as text messaging.

And without Parliament so much as examining the idea, it already looks like a shoo-in.

The idea has the powerful backing of UK Telecoms regulator Ofcom, and the personal imprimatur of its CEO Ed Richards, who describes it as the centerpiece of his "personal crusade".

"It's a new media answer to a new media question", Ofcom spokesman Simon Bates told us.

That's an indication of how much the idea has morphed since it was first floated three years ago. Back then, the PSP was envisaged as an independent commissioner of worthy Public Service Broadcasting - high quality documentaries and a dramas - fulfilling a role left by Channel 4's downmarket turn over the years, and as a counterweight to the BBC.

The latest incarnation of the PSP idea is sold as a helping hand to zero-budget web ideas - only it has an old school, TV-sized budget attached.

A taste of what to expect from the newly Web 2.0-ified PSP can be found in a discussion paper published in January, called A new approach to public service content in the digital media age: The potential role of the Public Service Publisher.

Examples of the type of output we can expect from the new quango include an earnest interactive panel format, where text messages are zapped in to a panel of "Citizens" and "Experts":

Experts and Citizens, united by technology

... and a multimedia game described as an "Augmented Reality Drama".

Interactive games from OFCOM's PSP

Kenneth Clark or Adam Curtis, this ain't.

Ofcom asked executives at two digital media production houses, Andrew Chitty of Illumina Digital, and Anthony Lilley of Magic Lantern Productions, to examine the idea. The resulting report is filled with buzzwords and assumptions that are the staple rhetoric of today's technology evangelist.

"We are entering the age of 'our media' where the communication of ideas amongst groups and the sharing of content are at the heart of what is going on. This change adds significantly to the ecology of mass media as we have understood it since the invention of radio broadcasting at the end of the 19th century," writes Lilley. "We are entering the networked, learning age."

So a New Age is upon us. But is it one that needs a new gatekeeper?

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