This week we’re in conversation with a special guest, someone who The Independent argued that he may be “the most influential man in British television.” Sir Peter Bazalegette.
This week we’re in conversation with a special guest, someone who The Independent argued that he may be “the most influential man in British television.” Sir Peter Bazalegette. The man who brought Big Brother to our screens during his tenure at Endemol, steered the Arts Council England through a period of austerity and was recently chairman of the board of ITV. No one is better placed to make sense of the creative industries and the bubbles they perennially produce.
Richard Kramer:Welcome to Bubble Trouble, conversations between the independent analyst, Richard Kramer, that's me, and the economist and author, Will Page. That's him. And this is what we do, lay out inconvenient truths about how business and the financial markets really work. This week, we're live at the incredible state-of-the-art Platoon studios in north London in conversation with a very special guest, someone who The Independent called, "The man who may be the most influential in British television," Sir Peter Bazalgette. He brought Big Brother to our screens during his tenure at Endemol, steered the Arts Council through a period of terrible austerity and was recently chairman of the board of ITV, and no one is better placed to make sense of the creative industries and the bubbles they perennially produce than Sir Peter. More in a moment.
Will Page:Sir Peter, before we ask you to introduce yourself, I would just like to introduce how I discovered you. 2007, I was at some panel by The Work Forum, I think, and there's a bunch of people talking about commercials and the influence of advertising, and you were on stage and you explained to us why a gorilla miming a Phil Collins song, Coming in the Air Tonight, could sell Cadbury's milk chocolate. And for me, it was like a penny dropping moment. Up until that day, I just did not understand advertising. I probably did not understand the creative industries, but the way you illuminated me into why gorillas playing drums to Phil Collins can sell chocolates, I'll never forget that day. So given that was my first year in London, I want to thank you for the 15 years of inspiration since, but please, just take a minute to introduce to our audience, which is very global in nature, you know, who you are, what your current work is and where people can follow your work as well.
Sir Peter Bazalgette:Thank you, Will, and thanks for the introduction. I want to let you into a little secret after all these years. It was actually a person in a gorilla costume. It wasn't a real gorilla playing the drums.
Will Page:Fake news. Spreading misinformation.
Sir Peter Bazalgette:[inaudible 00:02:07]
Richard Kramer:All those years.
Will Page:Drumming misinformation, I mean. [laughs]
Sir Peter Bazalgette:He looks like a four-year-old who's been... Had his sweets taken away.
Will Page:But Father Christmas is still true, right? [laughs]
Sir Peter Bazalgette:Oh, no. Of course.
Sir Peter Bazalgette:No, Father Christmas... Well, we won't go into that. That... There's a dark secret there too.
Sir Peter Bazalgette:So you asked me... Yes, well, you gave me a very kind introduction, and you quoted The Independent newspaper. By contrast, The Daily Mail once called me one of 10 worst Britons.
Richard Kramer:High praise.
Sir Peter Bazalgette:Yes, I... No, I've never been more gratified.
Will Page:Inverse relationship to their criticism.
Sir Peter Bazalgette:At the moment... You talked about what I have done. At the moment, I co-chair something called a Creative Industries Council, which is a sort of joint body of the cr- Whole creative industry sector and the government trying to create good policies for growing the sector.
Sir Peter Bazalgette:That covers all the sectors in the creative industries.
Sir Peter Bazalgette:We like to talk about that. I also sit on the board of the Department of Education. I chair the Royal College of Arts, which is a very exciting place.
Will Page:Ah, fantastic.
Sir Peter Bazalgette:Absolutely pulsing-
Sir Peter Bazalgette:... with CreaTech, which we might talk about, I don't know. And I also sit on the bo- board of a couple of commercial companies. I chair an e-commerce retailer called LoveCrafts and I sit on the board of a travel insurance company called Saga. And I can't think of anyone else right now. Well, maybe just a, you know, chair of book prizes called the Baillie Gifford Prize.
Sir Peter Bazalgette:And we've been going for 25 years. And so we're going to do this in a month's time. Oh, we've just announced the shortlist. Go and look it up, Baillie Gifford. Look up our site on Twitter. We've just got the shortlist of the six best non-fiction books of the last 25 years.
Sir Peter Bazalgette:And there'll be one winner.
Will Page:Of the last 25 years?
Sir Peter Bazalgette:Yes. And brilliant books. It's a really interesting list and it includes One Two Three Four by Craig Brown, a really revolutionary biography of The Beatles. And Empire of Pain by Patrick Radden Keefe, an amazing, astonishing book about the opioid crisis in America.
Will Page:It is...
Will Page:About the Sacklers...
Sir Peter Bazalgette:I know. And it-
Will Page:And opioid crisis.
Sir Peter Bazalgette:... and it won two years ago.
Sir Peter Bazalgette:And it's an astonishingly brilliant book.
Richard Kramer:So we had Dan McCrum from the FT on Bubble Trouble, talking about his experience as a journalist covering Wirecard.
Will Page:And I read his book as well, which was brilliant.
Sir Peter Bazalgette:His experiences of Wirecard, with him being chased around the world and followed and bugged and everything, was amazing.
Sir Peter Bazalgette:But the amazing thing about that book that Patrick Radden Keefe wrote about the Sackler family is that they poisoned America not once but twice. The first third of the book isn't even about the opioid crisis.
Sir Peter Bazalgette:It's about the father and the grandfather...
Will Page:And they're a...
Sir Peter Bazalgette:And they're a family of male psycho- Sociopath, sociopath, I should say, who did what... W- when they, what they did for opioids, they did it for Librium and Valium.
Sir Peter Bazalgette:And they hooked...
Sir Peter Bazalgette:With pernicious advertising, they hooked the housewives of America, as they were then known. They wouldn't be flattered to be called that today, on Librium and Valium and called it a housewife's friend.
Sir Peter Bazalgette:And said it wasn't addictive.
Sir Peter Bazalgette:So an- and they did that. And then they went on, the next generation went onto the op- opioid crisis. It's an astonishing family and v- A, an amazing story.
Richard Kramer:And before I let Will loose to talk about television production, creative industries, distribution, how do you feel about the arts sector being hooked on the Sackler's money?
Sir Peter Bazalgette:Well, so it's dehooking itself-
Richard Kramer:It is.
Sir Peter Bazalgette:... of Sackler's money.
Richard Kramer:Some are and some are not.
Sir Peter Bazalgette:Nearly all have now.
Sir Peter Bazalgette:It's a significant point that in the now, I think, nine to 10 billion settlement in America, part of it is that any organization... It's written into the agreement, any organization that had Sackler money can now take the name down. And that's written into the agreement.
Sir Peter Bazalgette:And yes, you, you know, we, we've had to look at ourselves in the mirror. For instance, the Royal College of Art, where I'm the chair of council, has a Sackler building.
Sir Peter Bazalgette:And we have agreed with them that we're taking the name down, but I made a point of saying, "It must stay on the wall, who the donors to the building are, including the name of the Sacklers." Not the naming rights, because you should always be clear where your money's come from.
Sir Peter Bazalgette:And you can't rewrite history.
Sir Peter Bazalgette:So you've got to be clear on it. But the naming rights is something quite different, and that's ended.
Will Page:Well, just quickly to wrap up on the Sacklers, the six part drama with Michael Keaton documenting the opioid crisis, I think when you watch episode four of that, you go into depression.
Will Page:It is so heartbreaking, what happened in that story.
Richard Kramer:Dope- Dopesick.
Will Page:D- D- Dopesick, yeah.
Sir Peter Bazalgette:Yep.
Sir Peter Bazalgette:And it's a very fine series. And Michael Keaton is absolutely brilliant in it.
Will Page:Yeah. I don't think you came off the set after making that. I think it would take three months to recover from filming that show. It's just... He threw his life at the role. Well, from Sacklers to this podcast... And the podcast is called Bubble Trouble. We're interested in irrational behavior, how people get overexcited at times. How we go from swings, The Boy Who Cried Wolf, we always seem to blow up bubbles that's... Blow up in our faces. And I want to wrap the first question around this term that we invented on this podcast called hypercompetition. That is when there's a point where you have so much choice that the quality goes down. Is there too much choice out there? And we'll come to that in a second. But when we have hits in a world of infinite choice, how do those hits continue to resonate with the audience? Well, let's unpack this into two stages.
Firstly, I want to ask you about hits and then I want to ask you about choice. How do hits happen and do we have too much choice? Now you've had hits in the past. You've had Big Brother, you've had Changing Rooms, Ready Steady Cook. I'd be interested to f- To hear you just begin by reflecting those hits of the past, how they happened, were they long, planned out processes, or were they on spur of the moment, moment's inspiration? But in particular, would that hits happen today? Like, how would Big Brother work in a TikTok generation? Can you sort of go back in time but bring it back to the present for us?
Sir Peter Bazalgette:Yes. You've got a couple of hours, haven't you?
Will Page:We've got sleeping bags in the studio if you overdo it.
Sir Peter Bazalgette:That's excellent. And hot chocolate, I do demand that's in the contract.
Sir Peter Bazalgette:Hot chocolate. Look, in my case, I have had... Been lucky enough to have several television hits. And, uh, Big Brother actually imported so put that on one side for a moment.
Sir Peter Bazalgette:Somebody else actually invented that but I- I hope I helped make it popular. Several ingredients. In the case of TV, there tend... In those days, in the still hour, people called commissioners and they are the guys who have the money, 'cause they're working for BBC, ITV, Netflix, Amazon, Apple, Disney+. And how do they go and to deploy their money? And if they're at their best, those commissioners are what I call cool hunters. And they have the ability to stick their nose to the wind and smell... Not the coffee, the zeitgeist. And think, "This is what's ha- Bubbling under at the moment."
Sir Peter Bazalgette:"This is what people are interested in, this is gonna be the next thing. This is..." Not in terms of something specific, just themes. So, couple of television hits. You know, there was a very clever guy called Michael Jackson who used to write BBC Two, years ago. And he said to me things like, "I think we ought to have a food entertainment show in the afternoon. Can you think of something?" And that's when I would go away and come up with something that may seem obvious in retrospect, but this particular show, Ready Steady Cook, had two chefs on it, cooking in 20 minutes, ingredients, uh, you know, in a bag they hadn't seen in advance. And it just sort of took off like a train. And it sold around the world. The first place I sold it was in the States. It got written into a script of Friends. It became rather cool in New York.
Sir Peter Bazalgette:On the food network. And at any end, you know, the whole... That single idea that occurred to me one afternoon when I was thinking about the challenge I'd had from the cool hunter probably turned over half a billion pounds in its life.
Sir Peter Bazalgette:If you take all the TV versions around the world, the books, the part works, the live shows and everything else. And so th- that's an interesting process of how you provoke creative people with great challenges and briefs. A second example would be Changing Rooms, which you kindly mentioned, which is not on air anymore. Probably running somewhere in the world. These shows tend to go on and on. Another big hit in America. Yes, so, the same guy actually, Michael Jackson, said to me, "Look, you've done this thing for food in the afternoons. Well, I need something for DIY and interiors, and I want it again to be entertaining." So we thought of an idea that was frankly shit, quite shitty. And we got on the train at our offices, which is Tottenham Court Road tube on the central line in London. We had to go from central London out to west London where the BBC was, eight stops. And I turned just as the doors closed, sliding doors closed.
Sir Peter Bazalgette:I said to the producer who was with me, I said, "This idea sucks, doesn't it?" And she said, "Yes." I said, "You might have told me that earlier." Anyway, I said, "We've got eight stops to think up a different idea."
Will Page:16 minutes [inaudible 00:10:49].
Sir Peter Bazalgette:And at Holland Park tube station, which was with two stops to go, I turned to her and I said, "What would it be like if neighbors sort of swapped houses and did up a room in each other's house?"
Sir Peter Bazalgette:I have no idea what I... I don't know why I said it. I don't know why I came into my head. Anyway, we went in and we pitched it, not knowing quite what it was, and he immediately said, "I'll have series of that." And we staggered out to the lifts saying, "What the fuck have we just sold?"
Sir Peter Bazalgette:And it became an absolute raging hit. And it was [inaudible 00:11:12] started on BBC Two with an audience of so two or three million, ended up on BBC One with 12 million people watching it.
Will Page:12 million.
Sir Peter Bazalgette:Which is a bigger audience, actually, simultaneous ones, that anything gets nowadays...
Sir Peter Bazalgette:With fragmented media. So in each of those cases, and in other cases I could mention, you've got a really good challenge from the person who's got the purse strings. And you've got them stirring it up with people they think can come up with ideas.
Sir Peter Bazalgette:And then there's people responding to the ideas and being very critical, self-critical when you come up with this shit idea. So perhaps the last point in the ingredient is deadlines. Very useful things.
Will Page:Nothing focuses the mind like...
Sir Peter Bazalgette:Concentrates the mind wonderfully.
Richard Kramer:I have two simple questions to elaborate on that. One is how far in advance does the cool hunter need to think? Because we've... In this podcast, we've looked at NFTs, one of our most popular podcast is... Was Will coming from back South by Southwest a year ago and saying, "I don't get this whole NI= NFT thing." And I explained to him how a wash trade works, and we kind of realized pretty quickly between us that this was all nonsense. But someone was thinking about that in advance and now, a year later, we realize that it's bunkum. How far in advance does that cool hunter need to have the feel that something is gonna be important? Because did someone three or four years ago figure out that we wanted some gory Korean drama and commission Squid Game? Or did it just fall into the lap of Netflix and they said, "This looks pretty good." How... What's the lead time for these ideas?
Sir Peter Bazalgette:All I can say in answer to that is I think that people who are really gifted at this sort of thing, they might not have the ideas but they get the themes, is they just soak up contemporary culture from, in those days, magazines, today, everything online. Sw- They're swiping up on TikTok faster than everybody else can swipe up on TikTok, they're soaking it all in and just somehow processing the cultural... Mm. Essence of it. And thinking, "We've got have something on that. We've got have something on... That's exciting people." And very often they're... If they're looking at, they're catching it very early, so I can't say it's three years ahead or four years ahead or six months ahead, it's just there. It's floating.
Sir Peter Bazalgette:And they grab it.
Richard Kramer:And I guess the one other question I wanted to ask before I toss it back over to Will is... Was just discussing this with a colleague today. When you look at some of these famous sitcoms, Friends, it ran for 15 years. You have these shows that had these incredible longevity.
Richard Kramer:And now it seems like nothing gets beyond season three, and maybe season four. Sometimes for the dramas, they're written a little longer. But how do you create those tent pole moments, those cultural zeitgeist moments around shows when the half-life of the show is so much shorter than it was?
Sir Peter Bazalgette:I completely agree it's shorter. I mean, I was lucky enough to have probably four or five hit shows, each of which lasted about 20 years.
Richard Kramer:Oh. [laughs]
Sir Peter Bazalgette:Which is astonishing, in retrospect. Astonishing. Because they wouldn't today.
Sir Peter Bazalgette:And, by the way, as an aside, comedy, which Friends was, and there are many classic comedies here like Fawlty Towers...
Will Page:Yeah. Right.
Sir Peter Bazalgette:And Dad's Army, actually, these shows all got very low audiences in their first outing.
Sir Peter Bazalgette:Fawlty Towers, BBC Two, audience of about .901 million.
Sir Peter Bazalgette:Repeated 10 years later, 12 million. Why? Because comedy, i- it needs to grow by word of mouth, you need to invest in the characters. And so I fear we, we will have fewer great comedies today.
Sir Peter Bazalgette:You might say I have a one-off comedy film, but you get tons of great comedy franchises. I fear whether we're gonna have them. Because, like, if you look at the nursery slopes, the nursery slopes should be the TV channels but they're not really running sitcoms anymore. It's not really a thing anybody puts money into, probably two, three gets produced a year.
Sir Peter Bazalgette:And so that's ve- that's very sad. I think I've gone off on a tangent.
Will Page:[laughs] No, I think i- it's just we're thinking about the timescale of things.
Sir Peter Bazalgette:Yes.
Will Page:Because bubbles are ones that crop up and disappear...
Sir Peter Bazalgette:Yes.
Will Page:By nature, very quickly.
Sir Peter Bazalgette:So all I would say is I think the supply's really, um, uh, accurately to what I would call a specific property. So a specific format or a specific franchise o- of a drama or a comedy or whatever it is, or a documentary series. But actually I think it applies a list of themes. So for instance, the long form documentary of true crime, probably engendered by the podcast industry, and, and by people at Netflix who had the space and the money to give a 13 part documentary that nobody else has ever imagined doing such it before...
Sir Peter Bazalgette:In, in tele- television history. As a genre, that's now caught on. And everybody's into it.
Sir Peter Bazalgette:Both in audio, video. And so I think we can probably make a switch, can't we, from saying it's difficult to get an individual franchise to last a long time, but if you can hit pay dirt in a genre, that can last a long time.
Will Page:Well, on the longevity of hits, it reminds me of a famous quote by the songwriter Crispin Hunt. When he looked at songs he said, "Some songs are evergreen, but maybe they've just been overwatered." Have you ever listened to FM radio in America? Journey and Foreigner, those two bands, have definitely been overwatered 'cause it's all you ever hear.
Sir Peter Bazalgette:Well, you could equally say the same of Vivaldi is the four seasons on Classic FM here in the UK.
Richard Kramer:Mm. Oh God.
Will Page:Well, you do know the story of Classic FM. The founder of Classic FM had a bet, which is that their... He could go into a petrol station, buy all the classical CDs that was available in said petrol station and set up a radio station. So he bought 21 CDs and that was the birth of Classic FM.
Sir Peter Bazalgette:Well, I can tell you something else about Classic FM because the first program controller s- Moonlighted in his spare time as a television chef in one of my food shows.
Sir Peter Bazalgette:And he put the whole sound together. The year before Classic FM went on air, they had the wavelength but they weren't ready to broadcast. So they put up birdsong on it. So if you'd put in... Went onto the Classic FM frequency, for about six, nine months before it went on air, you'd just heard birdsong. When it went on air, they got thousands of letters of complaint.
Sir Peter Bazalgette:"Where's that birdsong gone? We don't want any of this Vivaldi."
Will Page:Wait, wait, wait, wait. So...
Sir Peter Bazalgette:"Bring back the birdsong."
Will Page:Sorry. That's got a shout coming in. Was it complaints or was it tweets?
Sir Peter Bazalgette:[laughs]
Sir Peter Bazalgette:I think if you think tweets were being sent out in 1994 you're ahead of your time.
Will Page:[laughs] Now I want to move onto the subject of choice, but just going back to that, that, that description of the hits that you've had, one word you didn't mention when you looked at the ingredients of the hit was data or data science. And I'm just back from Stockholm, I landed at 2:30 in the morning after spending six hours in a runway. But I got home, but it was interesting to speak to all the record labels in Stockholm. Obviously our first move of country with the first move advantage and many forms of media, bundling old newspapers now into one single price now. It's a very interesting country. They're giving up on data science. They just believe it's an echo chamber. Like, data science is great, I don't understand what happened. It doesn't tell you what's happening. You didn't use much data science in Ready Steady Cook, did you?
Sir Peter Bazalgette:I used quite a lot of audience research, it... Which is a form of data and I'll explain how. Look, the idea that data can give you a hit is answered very simply in the phrase snakes on a plane. I don't need to say anymore.
Sir Peter Bazalgette:You know the story.
Will Page:No, please. I've always wanted to watch the movie Snakes on a Plane and I, I just can't guess what the plot is about.
Sir Peter Bazalgette:Precisely so. Precisely so. So the kids were asked in a survey, "What would you most like to see a movie? And what's the movie, the title of a movie you'd like to see?" And they voted for a movie called Snakes on a Plane.
Sir Peter Bazalgette:And unfortunately they went and made it. [laughs]
Sir Peter Bazalgette:But in terms of data, look, it can inform you but it can't replace the creative process, right? And so when I had the pilot of Ready Steady Cook I hadn't got the ending of the format right, and we put it into research and focus groups, watched it. And they said, "Well, that ending sucks." You know? And we had to replace it. Similarly, I had another very big hit called Ground Force, which is also a gardening makeover show. It's the first garden makeover show. There were many lookalikes around the world thereafter. And I had actually invented a completely different show. There used to be ads on telly for mowers and they had two suburban gardeners who lived next door to each other who were competing with each other for who had the greenest lawn with the straight li- Mow, mow lines on it. And I had this obsession that suburban gardeners compete with each other over the fence, you know? So I had got this bloke called Alan Titchmarsh, and I got him to sit on a Wi- Wimbledon umpire's chair over the fence. And two families had to compete to make their gardens over. And he would look at them both at the same time.
Sir Peter Bazalgette:And then we actually shot that as a pilot. Well, it went into research and they found it completely perplexing. Luckily, I had lunch with the person who'd done the research before we were going to a meeting with the controller of BBC Two, who, because we'd had all the other hits, wanted to commission this show. But the research said it was crap. And so I had a couple of hours, deadlines again, to think up a different format.
Will Page:Love this.
Sir Peter Bazalgette:So we went into the meeting and the research was presented, and it said, "Well, this... It doesn't really work and you don't have enough information in it. There should be somebody in there who understands how DIY and planking..." All sorts of criticisms. And I thought up a completely different show. But anyway, I let the thing go and the controller at BBC Two commissioned this very poor show 'cause he trusted me. Thought I'd never had another... Have had another hit, 'cause I had one. And then I said, "Well, yeah, but it's not very good, this research, is it? Why don't we, why don't we do a completely different show? Why don't we do this show, you see?" And I said that one member of a family... There were horrible gardens, it's a tip. And nobody in the family will do anything about it, so you get, you get the person to go away for the weekend, just get him out the house. And we'll make the whole garden over behind their back, and then they'll come back. And they'll find their whole house completely looks different.
This doesn't sound particularly original now but it was original at the time. And he was very uncertain 'cause he... This threw him because we'd been going down this other avenue. So he went away for two weeks, but in the end he commissioned it. And that was another show. The gardening programs typically got two million viewers on BBC Two, that, again, got 12 million views on BBC One.
Will Page:Which is unheard of today.
Sir Peter Bazalgette:But it had data in it, you see, because data had informed crap idea and sort of been the mother of a better idea.
Will Page:But the two guts realize how a crap idea could...
Sir Peter Bazalgette:Maybe.
Will Page:Flip the tortilla. Now I really want to get into this topic of hypercompetition, which we credit Paul Sanders with. In essence, the point where quantity goes up and quality goes down. Now, you came to the fore in your television work in an era where most people had five channels on their TV and maybe some people had around 50 with a Sky package. If I just throw some numbers at you, the purpose of this is to say how do hits happen? How do we get bubbles when we're let unlimited choice? Let's just look at some figures. I confirmed today that Hollywood last year produced 599 English-speaking original scripted dramas.
Sir Peter Bazalgette:You use the word original advisedly.
Will Page:[laughs] But that does work out as two per working day.
Sir Peter Bazalgette:Mm.
Will Page:I think. Five days in a week, you do the math. We are now looking on Spotify at 100,000 deduplicated songs every day, which is more music than was released in 1999. On podcast, the ramp rate on podcast is currently two new shows, not episodes, every minute. And on the book front, and you're judging a book price shortly, I think it's 1.3 million front list titles came out last year. This is unheard of in the floodgates of opening an endless supply of content. Now when you've looked back at your career and you look at today's level of choice, how do you navigate that? And what I want to push you towards is this very typical question, which lots of people in music are asking, is there too much choice? Some is better than none, but it doesn't necessarily follow that more is better than some.
Sir Peter Bazalgette:Yes, well, to start at the end of your question, so what's the alternative? Let's have a government ministry...
Sir Peter Bazalgette:For- forbidding choice.
Will Page:Well, we're having...
Sir Peter Bazalgette:And saying that we're gonna put a limit on the number of songs anybody can put...
Will Page:Load on...
Sir Peter Bazalgette:On Spotify this year.
Will Page:We're having... If music matters because it gets there first... This is a debate we're having, should you have sleep music on Spotify? There's a story on Twitter today about a sleep music white noise playlist which lasts two minutes and 12 seconds, has had over a billion streams. A billion streams.
Sir Peter Bazalgette:So... But the point is you cannot... I hope you... Nobody would ever consider restricting output or creativity. And the great...
Will Page:We need filters.
Sir Peter Bazalgette:Well, hang on, we'll come to that. And the great democratization of the digital era that we are, let's remember, only about 15 years into.
Sir Peter Bazalgette:So we don't really understand it yet, that's the truth of it. We don't really know where it's going. We don't really understand it or all of its possibilities. It has a- amazing democratization and ability of anybody to distribute in a wonderful way. But listen, there's a gold standard in here. It's called word of mouth. It worked in the old days and it works today.
Sir Peter Bazalgette:Now you can have really sophisticated marketing techniques today, and you can know how to market stuff brilliantly online and you can create communities around your content if you're very clever at using social media and so on. But you can't put lipstick on a pig.
Sir Peter Bazalgette:And the point is that something really good or something that has something will spread by word of mouth. And that's why you still have Ed Sheeran and Adele in the era you're talking about.
Will Page:Yeah. Well, I can build that point out a little further as hosting a panel of ILMC, which is the International Live Music Conference, the biggest gathering of sweaty, fading gray rock T-shirts and odor problems you've ever seen. All the promoters of the world come to it. But my panel was about the success of stadiums and festivals, which dominate live music now. We offer more choice on streaming, we want more hits when we go to shows. And I was very honored to have Marty Diamond, who's the agent for Coldplay and Ed Sheeran, on the panel. And he said something which is, "I've given up on these streaming stats. They mean nothing. You can tell me that you're doing 10 million, 20 million, 50 million streams a month, a week, a day, but you can't sell at a pub. So that doesn't matter." So what he's now looking at, you said word of mouth, is he's looking at comments on the YouTube as a ratio of how many views on the YouTube. So how many people watched a clip on YouTube and felt compelled to comment is the figure that he's looking for.
Sir Peter Bazalgette:That's a really interesting piece of data. And I completely agree with him. [laughs] I'd be looking at the positive comments, not the negative ones.
Sir Peter Bazalgette:'Cause when I said word of mouth, it can work both ways.
Will Page:All right. I worked with the artist Yebba, Abbey backwards, for many years and she always used to say, "I value the comments on YouTube more than the royalties from Spotify." I thought that was incredibly telling about where art has gone in recent years as well. Last question before the break, anyone who comes on our show has a book. We should talk about the book. You have a fantastic book which influenced my book, The Empathy Instinct. I would love it if you could talk quickly about the book but especially about that wonderful chatterbox that was in the book, who you talked about how children at a very young age share empathy in terms of their emotions.
Sir Peter Bazalgette:So The Empathy Instinct was written really because MRI scanners can now pretty well define how the brain functions. As we learn about how the human brain works, how empathy works, why people have it, why they don't have it, why autistic people have less of it in some respects, and why society functions or doesn't function, what the glue is, I wrote the book because I was interested in what it meant about childcare, what it meant about education, what it meant about the digital era. I call it the digital dystopia. What it meant about the judicial system, what it meant about why we put money into arts and culture, public money into arts and culture. Because storytelling is the act of empathy. And all sorts of different themes like that.
But to come to the specific thing... Perhaps I'll start by saying one in four of people in a British prison are chi- People who were children in care. One in four. 25%. Why is that? Because they didn't get the start in life. Why didn't they get the start in life? 'Cause they didn't have at least one parent looking them in the eye, connecting with them and helping their lovely neuroplastic brains develop in the right way, connecting with others. So what are those stages? The first stage is called emotional contagion, where a very, very young baby will cry because they hear another baby cry. The next stage is where they're aware of other people, it isn't just all about them. But at that stage, they might... If a child's crying, they might take that crying child to their mother rather than that child's mother, 'cause it's all...
Sir Peter Bazalgette:It's still all about them. Then they can, um, go to higher stages of empathy, which is understanding another point... A person's point of view. And the ultimate position on empathy is that you can put yourself in other people's shoes. Why do you feel nervous when you see somebody on a tightrope? You're not on the tightrope. Why would you feel nervous? Observed by Adam Smith originally.
Sir Peter Bazalgette:As well as by others, Theodore... Somebody called Theodor Lipps, a German philosopher who came up with the phrase empathy from Greek words. Why do you feel nervous? You have this ability to put yourself in other people's shoes, it's part of the human condition. And if you can put yourself in other people's shoes and feel sympathy for them, then that's something. And then, uh, empathy is part of the problem, part of the solution. We are empathetic to people... Specifically empathetic to people within our own tribe, who look like us, who come from... Who speak our same language, have the same color skin. So empathy actually, in that sense, is at the basis of racism. Tri- It's tribalism, is at the base of racism. And we are naturally racist. We learn through education, culture to be less racist, and that makes a juster society. You rely on arts and culture and education in order to do that. Part of the problem but also part of the solution, because the empathy which you can feel for somebody outside your tribe, the...
Here the classic story is the story of the Good Samaritan in the New Testament. That's why the New... The Old Testament is all about tribal warfare. The New Testament has this extraordinary, revolutionary story in it where somebody is mugged by the side of a road and people in his own tribe walk straight past him, but somebody from a different tribe stops to help that person. Utterly revolutionary philosophy but the essence of empathy is there. That is the most positive empathy. That's what the book's about.
Richard Kramer:We're having a fascinating discussion about empathy, content quality, choice, and how little relevance all this data science nonsense really has for what moves us as people.
Will Page:With one of the leading lights of the UK creative sector, Sir Peter Bazalgette. So we'll be back in a moment with part two of Bubble Trouble.
Richard Kramer:Welcome back to Bubble Trouble. Some things Sir Peter has just said has sparked off one of my very favorite books, Alison Gopnik's The Philosophical Baby, which is fundamentally about how infants are different people than we are because they've unfettered access to the right side of their brain. They have a free ability to enter the creative side of their lives, not the mechanical, boring, repetitive side of our brain, which handles all of our daily functions. And that their brains are effectively open fields as opposed to places where there've been motorways and highways and byways carved, and a lot of routines have ruined our ability to be open to the world. And I'm not sure where I'm going with this other than to say I completely... It completely resonates with me as the parent of twins, when one would cry, the other would absolutely cry. I liken the experience of having twins to getting punched in the face and kicked in the balls at the same time...
Richard Kramer:Because you have to figure out which you're going to protect. But fundamentally, that experience of early childhood and the mothlike attraction to flame that we have to narrative, I think, runs so deep in our culture and must be at the essence of what you're trying to develop as a UK creative industry, which has to reflect Britain, but it must also reflect how much diversity now represents Britain.
Sir Peter Bazalgette:So you just mentioned kids and narrative. You know, one in four of the people in prison were kids in care. I mentioned that earlier. The bedtime story.
Sir Peter Bazalgette:Completely basic thing in our civilization. If you don't get, if you don't get that quite... The only problem with me is the bedtime story I used, I used to go to sleep rather than my son. [laughs]
Sir Peter Bazalgette:He used to have to prod me...
Richard Kramer:Oh no.
Sir Peter Bazalgette:Because I'd be working all day and I used to go fast asleep. But I woke up at 3:00 o' clock this morning for some reason I don't know, so I put on BBC World Service and they had an hour long interview of Michael Rosen.
Sir Peter Bazalgette:Well known kid's author.
Sir Peter Bazalgette:The author of the Bear Hunt.
Sir Peter Bazalgette:You know, we're going to catch a big one.
Will Page:"We're going on a bear hunt."
Sir Peter Bazalgette:He was just talking... He was just talking about his philosophy and how he can think his way into children's heads to make great stories for them, a lot of which is repetition. And there I just want to mention this brilliant kid's series, which is still popular around the world, called Teletubbies.
Sir Peter Bazalgette:And that has a fundamentally brilliant thing in it 'cause Anne Wood, who ran the business, understands kids. When they show a little film the Teletubbies go, "[inaudible 00:32:37]," their funny noises. And then they watch a little film, they watch a two-minute film on, say, making bread. Okay? It's a two-minute film, baking bread. So you've seen the film, an adult will say, "All right, we've seen that. Now what next?" Now we come back to the Teletubbies and they say, "Again! Again!"
Sir Peter Bazalgette:And so they bloody well run the film again.
Sir Peter Bazalgette:Which nobody would ever dare do in television before. Run the same thing twice? Uh, but that's what kids want. They love it. The repetition is brilliant for them, that's how they make sense of the world.
Richard Kramer:Well, also the narrative. So one of my signal moments, understanding the power of narrative, was... I lived a year in Asia with my kids, about 10, 15 years ago. And I got to know one of the guys who was a global marketing head for Lego. And Lego used to have these little product videos about all of their new variants of Ninjago or whatever superhero Lego version they were doing, And they used to produce them in 100 languages. And then they realized, "We just take the language away and just show the video."
Richard Kramer:And the kids understood the video without any language. They understood the narrative, they understood the story that was embedded in these brilliant toys. And they didn't need someone narrating it for them, they could make their own narration. And by adding the narration, they became much more engaged with the story than they ever would if someone had given them the storyline of Lego's latest Harry Potter toy.
Sir Peter Bazalgette:So the power of stories and the way we relate to them and how it's... It's how we make sense... We, we are... Jonathan Gottlieb called us a storytelling animal. We need to tell stories and we need to be told stories, and that's how we make sense of the world. And the example you've just given really makes me think. On radio, it's wonderful.
Sir Peter Bazalgette:We're indulged in it now, a version of it. Why? Because radio has the best pictures. They always used to say that, which is to your point.
Sir Peter Bazalgette:And then...
Richard Kramer:Will has a face for radio.
Sir Peter Bazalgette:And then the second point is that we... Let's go back to the 1920s and, and, and the 1910s and the 1920s, the early stage of cinema. No dialogue. It all had to be essentially mimed. And you had to put onto it your interpretation of it. Some of it was very iterative. Not all of it was, though, a lot of it you sat and watched a silent film. You're influenced by the music, which is the sort of monosodium glutamate element of it, and then you had to imagine what their emotions were because there weren't l- l- literal words to tell you what they were. All of these things... Think about the plasticity of the brain and how the brain locks onto that.
Sir Peter Bazalgette:And completes the st- 'Cause... So, so strong...
Will Page:Completes the story. It completes the story.
Sir Peter Bazalgette:So strong is our needs for stories, we'll make it work, whatever bits of it you give us.
Will Page:Now, James Cator, who runs Wondery, the big podcast platform owned by Amazon, always says to the show, "You guys should go down the rabbit hole in part two. You know, what is it you really want to dig deep in?" And before we get to smoke signals, which is how we close the show out every week, I wanted to go down the rabbit hole with you on the arts. We don't have enough time this year to talk about your achievements for the arts and Britain, what you've done for funding, what you've done for the promotion, what you've done for advocacy. And I do a lot myself, you know, pro bono, I'm just always seeking out ways to... For example, exploring the link between music education and mathematical attainment. I honestly believe kids who get music education at a younger stage in their life will pursue maths for more years than the otherwise required. They won't quit maths at 16.
Sir Peter Bazalgette:But what is Bach, except for celestial mathematics?
Will Page:[laughs] Yeah, exactly. Let's take a conversation we had many years ago, when George Osborn, our chancellor, was entering a period of austerity and we're figuring out what can be done with arts funding. Your work for arts counseling, your work today... And again, we're looking at some pretty dark clouds of economic austerity ahead, potentially. What would be your message to avoid the bubble of arts funding from bursting over the next two or three years as we get through this tricky period of high inflation, rising interest rates and that which is public spending?
Sir Peter Bazalgette:Let's first observe that the whole artistic creative output, including the whole music business, the whole video games business, the whole fashion business, the whole screen business, film and TV and audio, is pretty healthy. And it's growing and it's full of great ideas. So it isn't all about the government and what the government can put money into.
Will Page:I mean, sure.
Sir Peter Bazalgette:We don't live in a totalitarian state. But it is good for a government to put public money into the arts, I believe, because I believe it has both a democratic public benefit, particularly with the, the responsibilities of public service broadcasters to present and produce independent, impartial, trusted news in an era of gossip, rumor and paranoia, the world of the Internet, the Tower of Babel, real now.
Sir Peter Bazalgette:It's, oh, ghastly. It in that respect, it in the cultural sense that we need to have a national conversation. And you talked earlier about media getting more and more fragmented. So what are the things that unify us? What are our values that unify us? How do we explore those values? How do we develop those values?
Sir Peter Bazalgette:We do it via content. And thirdly, economic. Because of the power of the creative industries, about 6% of the overall economy growing two or three times faster and so on, employing in this country 2.3 million people. So that's why you might put public money into the arts because it has that public benefit that, that is delivered. And on top of that, um, you would want the different arts to flourish. You'd want opera and orchestral music and theater. And now I'm going to repeat my old Rieple's law, which I've talked to you before, he was a newspaper editor in Germany in the early 20th century. And he came out with his law, which was that, uh, innovations in media tend to add to what went before rather than replacing what went before. In other words, innovations in media are more like the car and the train than the car and the horse. And it's a sort of fundamental thing to think about because whenever a new thing happens like YouTube, the soothsayers immediately say, "Television is dead." But what happens in the media nearly all the time is that one thing adds to the thing before. It may influence it.
Sir Peter Bazalgette:You know, streaming has not killed broadcast telly. Newspapers were not killed by radio. And television didn't kill radio. And so that's the sort of fundamental point. So in the arts, you'd want all those different genres to flourish, and one doesn't kill the other. Cinema has not killed theater. And you'd want to put public money into the next generation of talent. Danny Boyle trained as a trainee, a theater producer, at The Royal Court Theatre with public money invested in him becoming a theater producer. He went into television and film production, he created an Oscar winning movie, Slumdog Millionaire.
Sir Peter Bazalgette:That is the way in which you put public money... Just as you do into higher education, you put public money. You put public money into the next generation of talent, and it comes through and it drives the commercial sector as well. So that's one of them...
Sir Peter Bazalgette:Apart from the public good that I talked about being delivered earlier, just that whole thing about the next generation of talent. And by the way, when we hear some critics of higher education say you should only judge the value of a degree by what the person earns in the five years after they come out...
Will Page:That must be insane.
Sir Peter Bazalgette:That is about people who know, to quote Oscar Wilde, the price of everything and the value of nothing. Because if somebody chooses to leave university and become a theater director trainee and earn into 20,000 a year rather than going to work in a hedge fund, are we to... Is that some mo- Is that morally defective? Ha- has the system broken down? I think not.
Richard Kramer:But how do you make the case for the emotional value of the arts? Because it's very hard to put on a spreadsheet, but if we waved, waved a magic wand and removed the arts from our lives, we'd all be terribly impoverished and miserable. So we all have arts we rely on all the time. We don't necessarily recognize that. How do you make the case for its value to the kind of things that Will and his economist ilk are now always trying to measure, which is happiness?
Sir Peter Bazalgette:How do you... You're saying how you measure it?
Richard Kramer:How do you measure it?
Sir Peter Bazalgette:Mm.
Richard Kramer:How you make the case for politicians that are looking to fill in numbers in a budget?
Sir Peter Bazalgette:Mm. Yeah.
Richard Kramer:While they're also saying, "We shouldn't look at GDP, we should look at happiness and wellbeing of society."
Will Page:Look, the example I always give in my book, and I quoted recently to our Tory cabinet minister, is to consider Wikipedia. The sum of all the world's knowledge, it does no environmental damage and it adds zero to gross domestic product, to which you can immediately think of many things which are not the sum of all the world's knowledge, do terrible environmental damage and add lots to gross domestic product. And that's the problem you're trying to solve. I think when we look at the role of the state of the arts, we miss that trick, is what matters most is measured least.
Sir Peter Bazalgette:So I think if you tried to measure happiness as you measure GDP, you deserve to have your head examined.
Richard Kramer:As it... That's over there for the economist. Don't look at me, look at all those economists trying to measure that these days.
Will Page:[laughs] Um, yes, there's li-
Richard Kramer:Didn't David Cameron have a good line about, we want to measure happiness and...
Sir Peter Bazalgette:There's lies, damn lies and happiness statistics.
Will Page:[laughs] Don't ask a dour, pessimistic Scottish economist about happiness. That's just out of my forte.
Sir Peter Bazalgette:But to your point though, and it's a really good one, you know, I was very moved and it was... It's just in my memory, a particular play produced at the Kiln Theatre when I was a chair of Arts Council, which is a theater that has public money in it, and it's called Red Velvet. And it's about an American black actor in the 1820s, Ira Aldridge, whose parents had been slaves, who came across to London, he was knocking around Europe as a jobbing actor. And the great Shakespearean actor of the time was Edmund Keene. And Edmund Keene was playing Othello at the Covent Garden theater, and he fell ill and they had to get somebody to replace him at short notice. And they cast a black man to play the black part of Othello. The fellow actors complained, the audience complained and the critics complained, and he was sacked from the part within five days. A black man playing the part of a black man. And in the p- play Red Velvet, it ends with him whited up because the only parts he could get was playing a white person...
Sir Peter Bazalgette:In, in, in London theater, the 1820s. Now, the point is, you sit in that theater as a white, in my case, middle class bloke and you're sitting next to people of all ethnicities. And you just dimly begin to understand what it is like to be black in a predominantly white society. Dimly, I say, 'cause you can't profoundly understand that, I think, but you can try to. And, you know, I tell that story because that's the power of storytelling. Satisfying on an emotional level and we need that satisfaction. Culturally important, and how we develop our thinking and our ideas and how our society functions and prospers. Need I say more?
Will Page:Well, Richard, before we get to smoke signals, when you heard Peter talk about Rieple's law, how new innovations build on top of what was before, not displace, surely that has to strike a chord with you as an analyst of 30 years looking at bubbles, when people say, "This whole great new thing is gonna replace everything before it." Well, it doesn't. Blue Apron didn't replace the food and beverage industry of America.
Richard Kramer:But I think that's, that certainly... And I throw this back to Sir Peter, a- are most cultural products you see incremental in that they're building on something that came before? We had one, Shakespeare, and since then we've been reinterpreting Shakespeare in an incremental way. There are occasionally completely new media invented, completely revolutionary artists, but for the most part we're just asking people to reflect upon all that's come before and create incremental thoughts around it. Is... Or is that... Am I being too dismissive?
Sir Peter Bazalgette:Your question has just reminded me of another justification of public money going into the arts, which is what I used to say...
Will Page:[laughs] Richard crossed a bowl. Peter, stick it in the back of the head.
Sir Peter Bazalgette:Which is what I used to say, because public money should go into much more risky arts, 'cause today's outrage is tomorrow's mainstream. Mozart, Beethoven, parts of the classic repertoire now, they were revolutionary in their day.
Sir Peter Bazalgette:Revolutionary.
Richard Kramer:Yeah. And we've had 30 years of those brilliant Radio 6 documentary series about drum and bass, which is now entering its third decade of completely changing a whole range of music scenes and becoming a global phenomenon that was really kind of born in the UK.
Will Page:And born by playing a record at the wrong speed.
Richard Kramer:As was a lot of punk music. When my high school art teach used to say, "Punk, it's just rock and roll songs played at twice the speed."
Will Page:My Richard, time to close it out. We're here at the world state-of-the-art Platoon studios in north London. Soundproof, felt clad. Clearly there's the no smoking sign but we have to get smoking to...
Will Page:Wrap this up.
Richard Kramer:So Baz, if I might ask, we typically ask our guests for a couple of smoke signals and the kind of things that make you go, "Mm, that's something to worry about," another bubble bursting, or another bubble forming. What are the kind of things you hear as points thrown out about the arts or cultural production that you feel are indicative of worrisome bubbles or worrisome trends that make you go, "Mm, not quite sure that's true?" Maybe they're things that politicians say about cultural production, or... I don't want to lead the witness here. But what are the kind of things that you hear in your... All the variety of people that you meet that would make you... Give you pause for thought?
Sir Peter Bazalgette:Something I'm quite exercised about at the moment is BBC bashing.
Sir Peter Bazalgette:Because we have an extraordinary asset. I'm not saying it's always brilliantly run or it's always right, but we have an extraordinary asset that there should be such a thing as a government that puts public money into an organization whose remit is to hold it to account, publicly, via media. Seems to me to be the most sophisticated definition of a liberal democracy. And the drip of undermining it and saying it's rubbish and saying it's awful, as I hear from so many people in both houses of parliament in this country, really upsets me. And they're... To quote Joni Mitchell, you don't know what you've got 'til it's got.
Richard Kramer:Oh. Agree more.
Richard Kramer:And indeed, having traveled in 80 countries around the world, what an incredible brand power and soft power asset it is. To think that it would be diminished in any way is such... It's tragic.
Sir Peter Bazalgette:The international brand of UK PLC is lower than it's been for 30 or 40 years because of the madness of our politics in the last 12 months, because of our struggles post Brexit. Whether you're pro- or anti-Brexit, it's still... We've had our struggles as a result. And our soft power, our cultural output, of which the most extraordinary is the BBC...
Sir Peter Bazalgette:In fact, if I was to say British cultural output in one phrase it would be the BBC and Shakespeare.
Sir Peter Bazalgette:It would be those two things. It is the greatest thing we have to try and restore our reputation around the world, and if we don't restore our reputation around, around the world, we won't have the economic trade and healthy trade that we want, flows from the... From a cultural power.
Richard Kramer:And I always say that the notion that you have this... On our doorstep, a market of 350 million people, where kids wake up in Malmö or Milan or Marseille, and thanks to 50 years of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Radiohead and so forth, they wanna wake up and come to London. All those teenage kids, they dream of coming to the freest capital of music and culture in the world, and that's London. The biggest city in Europe. And the idea that we've somehow blocked them from coming or made it more difficult for them to come won't stop them from coming, but it's equally tragic, in my view.
Will Page:And you talked about 12 months of slightly surreal politics, go back 12 years with David Cameron. He was a prime minister who got it. I used to always write a speech for him, which was that Britain was one in three music exporters in the world, the other two being America and Sweden, one in three of gaming exporters in the world, the other two being America and Canada, and one in three of TV exporters in the world, the other one being America and, can you guess the third?
Sir Peter Bazalgette:Holland, I think.
Will Page:Correctomundo. [laughs] Thanks to the company called Endomall, which I think takes this podcast full circle. So Baz, I heard you first in 2007 explain to me why a gorilla, which may have been a real human after all, but a gorilla playing drums to Phil Collins to sell Cadbury's milk chocolate. And it's been 15 years of inspiration ever since. And to share a stage with you has been an honor, but to create a podcast, an evergreen podcast that can be listened to again and again, just means a lot. I want to thank you so much for coming to the Apple Platoon studios here in north London to record this podcast.
Sir Peter Bazalgette:Thank you for inviting me. Blessings on both your heads.
Will Page:[laughs] Thank you so much.
Richard Kramer:Thank you. A very special thanks to Oliver Bloice and Stella Massonnet at Platoon studios in London. If you're new to Bubble Trouble, we hope you'll follow the show wherever you listen to podcasts. Bubble Trouble is produced by Eric Nuzum, Jesse Baker and Julia Natt at Magnificent Noise. You can learn more at bubbletroublepodcast.com. Will Page and I will see you next time.
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