Q&A with Simon Bax: Quality Content Should be Respected and Remunerated

Posted on 24th July 2020

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Tell me a bit about yourself, what it is you do and what drove you to join the advisory board?

I am the Chairman and CEO of Archant, a family-owned media business with over 150 years of history. We are in the middle of a transformation and are working on a new business model, which will be much less dependent on advertising. Our project Neon is an exclusive collaboration with Google in the UK, aimed at exploring new ways in which communities engage with local content. In short, we are trying to reinvent local media for the digital age.

Over the past six years, I have been on several boards, including Channel 4 and Inmarsat. I started my career in finance then advertising, and then moved to film and TV with Twentieth Century Fox and Pixar Animation Studios before starting my own business called Encompass Digital Media. I lived in the US for over 27 years, and now I live in beautiful Norfolk.

I was introduced to Access Partnership a few years ago, when I chaired WiSpire – an initiative that established rural wireless broadcast technology in East Anglia in conjunction with the diocese of Norwich. I am delighted that Access Partnership invited me to join the advisory board.

What are the most pressing issues for media and tech in 2020-21?

Being involved in regional newspapers, I am a bit biased. Independent publishers have been massively challenged and disrupted by the big tech platforms. I would like to see more value placed on quality journalism and more responsibility from the tech companies regarding the content on their platforms. Quality content should be respected and remunerated and there should be a more equitable share of digital revenues in the UK.

With my background as a historian, I have studied the development of the antitrust movement in the US. What should antitrust be focused on? Will regulation limit competition? What could be the unintended consequences of regulation? Will it end up benefiting the existing scale players who have market dominance and tremendous financial resources?  How will cross border regulation be coordinated? I do believe that there are good, but very different reasons, to see antitrust cases brought against some if not all of the major tech companies with them being forced to divest parts of their businesses.

With the exponential growth in data-driven technologies such as AI, 5G and IoT that we have seen over the last couple of years, how important is it that organisations and governments make the right decisions when it comes to adopting these technologies?

I am a bit sceptical about 5G. It would be extremely challenging to make it work for everyone. Imagine the number of transmitters required. Right now, even in the UK, some areas still do not have 3G let alone 4G. Who will build these networks? How will planning permission rules be overcome? Will there be a sharing of infrastructure?

My biggest concern about AI is that it will be dominated by few large players who are already far ahead of the competition and that this will enhance geopolitical tensions company.

The underlying concern for all these technologies is how our data is used and there are very different views on what is acceptable in the US, China and Europe. Who owns our data? How is it being used? Would regulations allow for a “digital commons” where the use of data would benefit the individual and society not just the major tech platforms?

Regarding regulation – what are some of the key obstacles when finding a good balance between innovation and protecting citizens?

Governments are always trying to play catch up, they always tend to be responding to something that is in existence. Turning well intentioned regulation into effective legislation is uncommon. The biggest challenge is how to effectively regulate global businesses? How do you deal with overlapping jurisdictions?

What is the role that Access Partnership plays when it comes to finding the right ethical and regulatory solutions for these technologies?

I do not know. That is why I am here; to find out. I have not been massively involved with regulation throughout my career, so I am eager to learn more about policy and regulation.

Finally, how do you like to spend your free time?

Having travelled extensively for many years I am enjoying living on the coast in Norfolk and spending time with my famiIy, enjoying the garden as well as long walks with the dogs. I am an avid reader and, as a member of the Academy, I get to watch and enjoy a lot of movies especially in the long dark English winters.

 

Interview by Ivan Ivanov, Senior Marketing Manager, Access Partnership

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