THIS time last week I was singing for my supper at a major broadcast conference in London.
The subject was television sports rights and the debate was whether public service broadcasters the world over could ‘stay in the game’ as contract prices continued to rise.
I shared the platform with colleagues from Switzerland, South Korea and Brazil – and we all argued our case earnestly and authoritatively.
The event was Public Service International’s annual conference and it was the BBC’s turn to host it.
That’s how I spotted Lord Patten crossing the room as I arrived to do my bit. As chairman of the BBC he had made the welcome speech to colleagues from all over the world.
On his way out of the QE2 Conference Centre he paused briefly to watch television images of a Service of Remembrance that was actually occurring just yards away in Westminster Abbey. Then he was off and out into the cold November air. His week was about to take a sudden turn.
The following day, the BBC’s director-general, George Entwistle also attended the conference, essentially to close formal proceedings. It was this speech that the now de-bunked DG said he had been concentrating on when the balloon went up at BBC Newsnight.
His next speech was one of resignation, and resignation, as he stood alongside Lord Patten and closed the book on the shortest term of office ever held by a BBC director-general.
The BBC is in turmoil and has to sort itself out – and needs to do so as quickly and as privately as it can.
Another resignation this year – that of Fabio Capello in February – underlined to me what a complex, somewhat confused, proposition their news and current affairs departments can be.
I stopped counting when I had received about the eighth request for a different interview on the subject of Capello’s departure from about the eighth BBC television or radio programme. The theory of doing one and then sharing it seemed to be an anathema.
What I would say however is that I also noted the level of respect that there still is for the BBC amongst foreign broadcasters when gathered as they were in London last week.
Ahead of our session on sports rights, Roger Mosey, the man who masterminded the BBC’s outstanding Olympics coverage this summer outlined how the corporation had gone about the business of bringing coverage of the Games into the modern age.
A short video reminded us of some of the high points of the London Games – who can forget them? Mosey generously apologised for the number of British ‘high points’ that had made the final edit – but I think this video had probably been on a loop somewhere in the BBC since the Olympic Flame was extinguished.
The BBC did the Olympics brilliantly – and still can turn up the wick of quality on big sports event coverage when it has to. But it also has to live within its means. That has meant some tough decisions in the renewal or otherwise of major sports contracts. The Grand National moving across to Channel Four was sign of that.
Losing exclusivity in Formula One and the US Masters was another example. And a reduced position in live football is another.
However the BBC still has enough of the big sports to make an impact and must build on its own legacy of world-class coverage of the Olympics by helping build a broadcast rhythm to some of the new sports and new sports stars it introduced us to in London 2012.
And its renewal of its contract with the Premier League for Match of the Day means the BBC can enjoy its 50th anniversary in 2014.
I wonder whether the programme will celebrate that landmark by coming from Anfield? After all, Liverpool’s opening home game of the 1964/65 season against Arsenal set in train football’s most famous television product.
So the BBC needs to restore its pride and integrity quickly – but not forget some of its sporting output this year would be a match for anybody’s the world over.