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
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
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
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,
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
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."