Bring BAMEs into the heart of mainstream digital content, says Simone Pennant

Britain is leading the way in the digital revolution, according to a recent Ofcom report.

Almost 25% of us use an online catch-up TV service each week and 36% of us are using the internet as a primary source for world news; 38% for national news and 32% for local.

We’re also leading the way with online shopping, spending on average of £1,083 per year, significantly higher than our European counterparts.

With smart TV giving us the freedom to access content as and when it suits, and set to dominate the global domestic market by 2016, the way we access media is changing forever.

The TV industry is facing a new breed of competitors such as SBTV’s Jamal Edwards. Production companies and broadcasters may have the financial resources and clout, but there is a new generation of creatives inspired by neglect and driven by necessity.

It would seem the playing fields have leveled out and anyone with a strong enough idea and a healthy dose of determination could be the next online millionaire.

We should celebrate this - but with caution.

BAME equality

I recently chaired a research group in which people from black and ethnic minority (BAME) backgrounds aired their thoughts on opportunities in digital media.

Most highlighted concerns around high visibility of BAMEs on the software/hardware side of things, but very little visibility around driving content and editorial; a tendency for what little editorial there was on offer to be at entry or ‘junior’ level; and execs mistrusting their capabilities, aligned to a lack of cultural understanding from the mainstream. 

Most found the industry like a members-only club, near impossible to infiltrate. No surprises there then; these are the usual frustrations, which have challenged the TV industry for ages.

Five years ago, former Equality and Human Rights Commission chair Trevor Phillips predicted the economic downturn could have an adverse effect on diversity in the media.

Speaking at the 2008 MediaGuardian Ethnic Media Summit, he said: “The first group to potentially feel the impact would be women, as in a downturn they could be viewed as “too expensive, too difficult.”

He went on to say: “History has shown that “belts squeeze disproportionately” in relationship to ethnic minority employees…”

Today, those warnings seem worryingly accurate. A recent report shows increasing unemployment among women and ethnic minorities. This research makes for grim reading as we face the potential of a triple dip recession.

Opportunities may be shrinking within traditional media career paths, but within digital media job creation is exploding. It is estimated that by 2018 there will be more than 1.2 million digital-related jobs. This will have a massive impact on the digital media industry, which has to be great news. Right?

According to Ofcom, although those from BAME backgrounds maybe key consumers of digital media (internet; mobiles; PDAs), when it comes to the editorial / commissioning production process they are less than visible.

This should cause some concern especially given that the digital media industry is still emerging.

As we navigate our way from TV across this evolving digital landscape, it’s important we learn from the mistakes of yesteryear. Although no one can deny the efforts made to improve diversity in the media, after 20 years of equality schemes, the results still leave a lot to be desired.

The digital media industry needs to take urgent action to open the creative digital doorways to everyone or there is a real risk of creating a digital ghetto of segregated content.

As an industry, we need to get together and work out how to get these creative, talented BAMEs into the heart of mainstream digital content.

Simone Pennant is founder of The TV Collective