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BBC 'would not kill off the internet even if it could'

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W3C "I was a geek before geek was cool," declared the BBC's newly installed digital, future media, and technology director at yesterday's W3C event in Oxford.

The Nominet-hosted shindig marked the launch of the World Wide Web Consortium UK and Ireland office and gave the Beeb's Ralph Rivera a platform to wax lyrical about his heavy-duty digital plans for the broadcaster.

Sadly for Trekkie enthusiast Rivera, the presentation didn't get under way as planned as his iPad failed to connect with the big screen.

"Well let's go a cappella then," he said, before explaining that he had hoped to illustrate his talk with a series of tweets garnered from Twitter.

Rivera has pin-balled around the tech industry for the past 20 years. He has held down jobs at IBM and AOL, among others, before eventually ending up at the BBC after being headhunted by the Corporation some six months ago.

"The battle of open versus closed in the technology world goes on all the time," he said, speaking from firsthand experience.

In a dig at AOL's post-Time Warner Inc slide, he said that the idea of "new media marrying old media and producing a child that saves the world" wasn't a fresh concept.

Rivera quit within a month of AOL being cut loose from its parent company Time Warner, after he had worked there for more than 10 years running the company's games business and its Latino division.

He said that before the Beeb approached him with its £287,000 per year offer he had a "litmus test" that he applied to media companies.

The BBC director floated the idea: "What would happen if a company could turn off the internet, indeed, if it never existed in the first place?"

He then considered which firms would hit the button allowing the interwebs to vanish. Rivera singled out music companies and newspaper print publications.

"I don't want to work for anyone that would press that button," he said.

Accordingly to him, however, things are different at the BBC.

"They [Beeb execs] all pass up the internet off button. In fact the BBC embraces [the internet]," he said.

Rivera said the BBC was now in the process of "making the transition from TV to online."

And as a pet project, the corp plans to do "something new online" with the London 2012 Olympics.

"It will be to digital what the Queen's Coronation was to analogue," he boasted.

All of which struck The Register as odd given the recent cutbacks to the Beeb's sprawling and disjointed online estate.

In January this year, the BBC Trust approved proposals to cut the Beeb's online empire, with half of its 400 "top-level domains" to close, and the loss of 360 jobs.

Despite that, BBC Online retains a budget of £103m, making it easily one of the largest media companies in the UK.

In December 2010, BBC Online was told to pursue a new strategy "where BBC activity in individual online markets is clearly defined and justified in terms of its distinctiveness and its focus on the BBC's public purposes," said Auntie’s governing body at the time.

The Beeb's online management team was in effect tasked with sprinkling uniqueness on its content, rather than simply pursuing a strategy that puts "potential popularity" at the top of the agenda.

Through the medium of dance tweets, Rivera – who believes there is "no more important public space than the web itself" – seems to be gunning for that target. It's not clear yet if his aim is a little off, however. ®

Boot-up-the-backsidenote

For those who need to get their hands on Rivera's tweet-littered presentation, the BBC has kindly hosted a copy of it online.

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