What shall we do with the PSP?

Ofcom, the independent regulator of the UK telecommunications industries, plans to analyse the economics behind of the provision of public service digital media content to try to work out if there is any "shortfall in provision". I doubt that means another overhaul of the BBC however.

Behind the scenes Ofcom has been consulting many people in the digital media industry about using online to deliver public service "audio-visual content" but there remains a question over where any intervention is needed.

The options up for debate are the creation of a "Public Service Publisher" (PSP) which either helps citizens navigate to other sources of public service content or acts as a fund for public service content, rather like a VC. In the former case, since Google, Yahoo! and MSN all spend billions of pounds every year on making their search engines work as a business, it does seem a tad optimistic that a bunch of civil servants and private contractors are going to be able to come up with a web site which beats the GYM club when it comes to algorithmic search.

In the latter case, Ofcom's research has not turned up much enthusiasm for the VC route, with this proposal pointing out that there is no consensus on the required scale or source of potential funding. They are not that keen on an open rights model either, despite the lobbying no doubt from the Open Rights Group.

Meanwhile some ideas about what the PSP should do are coming in from different quarters.

Recently, The power of information report by the founder of mySociety, Tom Steinberg, and chief executive of the National Consumer Council, Ed Mayo, set out a roadmap for the government to help online communities create and reuse information for the benefit of citizens.

This found that by supporting the existing innovation of citizens, with facilitation and greater access to information; government will be creating opportunities for people to become empowered to make informed decisions and create solutions to improve their lives.

Tom Steinberg, founder and Director of mySociety said: “Around the world, the first phase of Government use of the Internet is coming to an end with public services and information largely online. We are now at the start of a new era, where Government starts to learn how to support citizens' own ways of making, finding and re–using information.”

In other words, this seems to suggest either that there IS a funding route for the PSP - supporting new projects financially - or that government should put in a better framework around the media industry which allows citizens to "re–use" information in a creative way.

But that puts us back into the DRM debate and open access to data and information. This story will run and run...

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Is there such a thing as responsible betting?

Punters are encouraged to bet responsibly. What a laugh that is. It’s like encouraging drunks to get drunk responsibly, to crash our cars responsibly, murder each other responsibly.

I try not to watch the commercials between matches, or the studio discussions, or anything really, before or after, except for the match itself. And yet there is one person I never manage to escape properly – Ray Winstone. His cracked face, his mesmerising voice, his endlessly repeated spiel follow me across the room as I escape for the lav, the kitchen, the drinks cupboard.

I’m not sure which betting company he is shouting about, there are just so many of them, offering incredible odds and supposedly free bets. In the past six years, since the laws changed, TV betting adverts have increased by 600 per cent, all offering amazingly simple ways to lose money with just one tap on a smartphone.

The one I hate is the ad for BetVictor. The man who has been fronting it, appearing at windows or on roofs, who I assume is Victor, is just so slimy and horrible.

Betting firms are the ultimate football parasites, second in wealth only to kit manufacturers. They have perfected the capitalist’s art of using OPM (Other People’s Money). They’re not directly involved in football – say, in training or managing – yet they make millions off the back of its popularity. Many of the firms are based offshore in Gibraltar.

Football betting is not new. In the Fifties, my job every week at five o’clock was to sit beside my father’s bed, where he lay paralysed with MS, and write down the football results as they were read out on Sports Report. I had not to breathe, make silly remarks or guess the score. By the inflection in the announcer’s voice you could tell if it was an away win.

Earlier in the week I had filled in his Treble Chance on the Littlewoods pools. The “treble” part was because you had three chances: three points if the game you picked was a score draw, two for a goalless draw and one point for a home or away win. You chose eight games and had to reach 24 points, or as near as possible, then you were in the money.

“Not a damn sausage,” my father would say every week, once I’d marked and handed him back his predictions. He never did win a sausage.

Football pools began in the 1920s, the main ones being Littlewoods and Vernons, both based in Liverpool. They gave employment to thousands of bright young women who checked the results and sang in company choirs in their spare time. Each firm spent millions on advertising. In 1935, Littlewoods flew an aeroplane over London with a banner saying: Littlewoods Above All!

Postwar, they blossomed again, taking in £50m a year. The nation stopped at five on a Saturday to hear the scores, whether they were interested in football or not, hoping to get rich. BBC Sports Report began in 1948 with John Webster reading the results. James Alexander Gordon took over in 1974 – a voice soon familiar throughout the land.

These past few decades, football pools have been left behind, old-fashioned, low-tech, replaced by online betting using smartphones. The betting industry has totally rebooted itself. You can bet while the match is still on, trying to predict who will get the next goal, the next corner, the next throw-in. I made the last one up, but in theory you can bet instantly, on anything, at any time.

The soft sell is interesting. With the old football pools, we knew it was a remote flutter, hoping to make some money. Today the ads imply that betting on football somehow enhances the experience, adds to the enjoyment, involves you in the game itself, hence they show lads all together, drinking and laughing and putting on bets.

At the same time, punters are encouraged to do it responsibly. What a laugh that is. It’s like encouraging drunks to get drunk responsibly, to crash our cars responsibly, murder each other responsibly. Responsibly and respect are now two of the most meaningless words in the football language. People have been gambling, in some form, since the beginning, watching two raindrops drip down inside the cave, lying around in Roman bathhouses playing games. All they’ve done is to change the technology. You have to respect that.

Hunter Davies is a journalist, broadcaster and profilic author perhaps best known for writing about the Beatles. He is an ardent Tottenham fan and writes a regular column on football for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 05 February 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Putin's war