NEW MEDIA: SPOTLIGHT ON BIPA - Digital publishers hold a firm line as Drayton takes on BBC. BIPA's new chairman is not going to allow the BBC any rest, Alasdair Reid reports

The new-media market has a seemingly prolific capacity for

generating acronyms - and we're not just talking about technical jargon

either (though heaven knows this is an industry awash with the stuff).

No - the digital advertising business also knows a bit about committees,

trade bodies and marketing forums. In fact, you can't help wondering

whether the idea is eventually to mirror exactly the ISBAs, PPAs, NPAs,

IPAs and whatnots of the wider media and ad community.



Last week we were reminded of the existence of one of the lesser spotted

members of the acronym kingdom - BIPA. Or the British Internet

Publishers' Alliance if you prefer longhand.



To date, BIPA hasn't exactly had the highest profile in the acronym

jungle but, with the appointment of a new chairman - Hugo Drayton, the

managing director of Hollinger Telegraph New Media - that might start to

change.



Drayton (he replaces Rob Hersov who stepped down at the end of last

year) is one of new media's heavier hitters and is clearly not scared of

the public spotlight.



He got off to a brisk start in his role last week with a tactical foray

against the BBC. No surprises there, you might argue, because

historically BIPA's main role has been to lobby on behalf of the private

sector against the BBC. But could that change now that Drayton is at the

helm?



Unlikely, he reveals. BIPA will continue its primary role as a single

issue pressure group. Drayton explains: "The BIPA agenda has been

consistent since its launch several years ago. The central cause is that

the BBC threatens to undermine the competitiveness of the UK's digital

publishing market. In government discussions they tend to bundle in

digital publishing with broadcasting, which we would argue is a damaging

and ignorant thing to do. In digital TV there is arguably a role for

state TV in developing the market but that certainly isn't the case in

digital publishing. There is no other country in the western world that

has made a decision that a state-backed dinosaur should be used to

promote the use of the web."



So it's an admirably focused organisation. But isn't its existence

symptomatic - perhaps paradoxically - of a lack of focus in the digital

arena? Isn't there a need for an organisation that can galvanise

publishers and take a lead on some of the other big issues confronting

the business? For instance, in encouraging internet sites to take a more

grown-up attitude to research and auditing issues? And to educate

politicians about thedata protection and e-commerce issues they have

trouble getting their heads around - for instance the European

Parliament shenanigans about cookies. Or the debate in the House of

Lords about whether internet service providers should be classified as

publishers.



Perhaps, Drayton says. "Of course we are interested in these other

issues. The cookies issue is hugely important. And there is broadly a

promotional job to be done for the industry. We are interested as a

group of publishers to promote the widespread use of auditing. But those

are issues covered by organisations such as the Periodical Publications

Association and Internet Advertising Bureau. And no-one else lobbies on

this central issue of the BBC. That is where our role lies."



The IAB, of course, can't lobby on the BBC issue because one of its

members is the BBC. So Danny Meadows-Klue, the chairman and chief

executive of the IAB, is in a slightly awkward position on this one, but

he agrees it is a central issue for the industry. "Many publishers from

across the internet sector express concerns about the potential for the

BBC to dominate. It's not a simple issue - it is not just about whether

the BBC should be allowed to carry advertising, for instance. Because if

you look at the online audiences commanded by the BBC compared with all

other publishers online then it is already in a strong position and it

is also able to exploit its position."



Meadows-Klue points to the vast array of resources that the BBC is able

to leverage in support of its internet activities. For instance, it has

a huge volume of content rights and can tap directly into the

commissioning process where TV content is concerned. It is also able to

cross promote to an extent that no digital publisher can rival.



So can BIPA count on widespread support for its agenda? Well,

perhaps.



Charlie Dobres, the chief executive of i-Level, points out that

advertisers don't always see it that way. He comments: "Obviously the

line from some quarters is that it is unfair to have a commercial

operation funded by taxpayers. We have sympathy with that view -

especially as we are likely to see continued blurring of the line

between BBCi (the public service BBC brand) and the unashamedly

commercial Beeb.com. On the other hand, we're not exactly against the

BBC being commercial. Advertisers tend to be enthusiastic about

commercial activities being enhanced by the BBC brand."



And he does tend to agree that the industry as a whole sometimes

struggles to get its views across. He argues that it can be confusing

trying to remember what the relationships are between the various trade

bodies.



When it comes down to it, for instance, the most effective lobbying on

the cookies issue recently was via the Advertising Association - which

is hugely experienced and is plugged right into European politics.



Drayton concludes: "I found it ironic that while the whole cookies thing

was happening last year at the same time the Government was running a

campaign for UK Online (its drive to increase internet use in the UK).

I'm sure there are lots of people doing good work on the lobbying front

but from where we sit you can't really tell."



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