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BBC Digital Initiative Failed Due to 'Serious' Management, Reporting Issues

Tony Hall - H 2012
Luke Macgregor/Reuters
BBC director general Tony Hall

A PricewaterhouseCoopers report finds that the U.K. public broadcaster was too slow to realize the Digital Media Initiative, which cost $149 million before being axed, was "in serious trouble."

LONDON – "Serious weaknesses in project management and reporting, a lack of focus on business change, together with piecemeal assurance arrangements" kept the BBC from realizing the problems of a now-shuttered technology project, which was meant to make all production and archive operations fully digital, a report said Wednesday.

The BBC had said in May that it was axing the $149 million (£98.4 million) project, dubbed the Digital Media Initiative.

An independent report from PricewaterhouseCoopers on Wednesday said that various weaknesses meant that it took the BBC too long to realized that the project was "in serious trouble and unlikely to deliver its objectives."

A review launched in October found that the DMI wasn't going well enough. As a result, BBC director general Tony Hall in May decided to close it with the agreement of the BBC Trust, the broadcaster's governing body.

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“The DMI project has wasted a huge amount of license fee payers’ money, and I saw no reason to allow that to continue," Hall said at the time. "I have serious concerns about how we managed this project and the review that has been set up is designed to find out what went wrong and what lessons can be learned."

Started in 2008, the DMI was supposed to transition the BBC to a fully digital way of working. The PwC review was ordered by the BBC Trust to find out what went wrong with the management and reporting of the project.

"PwC found that no single event or issue caused DMI to fail," the Trust said. It asked the BBC executive team to implement the consulting firm's recommendations on project management. It will review progress as part of its annual review in 2014-2015.

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The DMI failure caused public criticism because British households pay an annual license fee to help fund the BBC.

"The failure of the DMI project came at an unacceptable cost to license fee payers, and PwC found serious weaknesses in the governance of the project," Diane Coyle, vice chairman of the BBC Trust, said Wednesday. "We announced last week that we were strengthening project reporting arrangements within a clearer governance system. That will enable the BBC executive to ensure any serious problems are spotted and addressed more swiftly. In turn, the Trust will have the up-to-date information it needs to investigate if things continue to go wrong."

She added: "We will be more rigorous and transparent about assessing BBC performance in future."

E-mail: Georg.Szalai@THR.com
Twitter: @georgszalai