Bill Gates’ soft interview on BBC news

Did you catch last night’s sycophantic interview of Bill Gates by Huw Edwards’? Most of it was pretty good and clearly designed to let non-techy folk know what all the fuss about Vista really meant.

I was pleased when Huw asked the burning question of why UK customers are paying more than US customer. Bill surprisingly appeared to unbriefed on this issue, although I’d be astounded that it wasn’t one of the Q&As prepared by the PR team, but equally it would be surprising if an experienced operator like Bill would forget his message. Curious.

Bill just waffled on about keeping prices inline from country to country, but exchange rates fluctuate so there may be minor differences. Huw clearly had him on the ropes, so I waited for Huw to say “The price in the UK is about twice what it is in the UK, and exchange rates haven’t been that low for about 20 years. So now tell us truth.”

Unfortunately Huw just let Bill off the hook.

If I was in charge of BBC news or Microsoft PR then I’d be kicking some butts this morning. Both sides appear to have performed abysmally.

7 Replies to “Bill Gates’ soft interview on BBC news

  1. I was disappointed with Huw too. I'm not a Bill Gates bashing person usually but the UK price of Vista is annoying and Bill Gates deflected the question three times before concluding that Microsoft is trying to keep price similar or something along those lines..mumble…mumble. When you see an interview, you do not necessarily want the interviewee to crack and break down but you do want them to be challenged, and I think the BBC interview too cosy for Gates.

  2. Utterly shameful by Huw Edwards. He pressed a second time, so he clearly felt he wasn't getting a straight answer… but allowed Gates to give the same vague (and factually inaccurate) response. It's just about 22 years since the exchange rate was low enough to have made it a valid conversion.

    If anyone didn't see the interview, I've got a link to it on my blog. Took ages to find a bookmarkable URL… which seemed another odd oversight for the BBC.

  3. It's not clear to me why Huw Edwards did the interview rather than a specialist from the BBC, especially as it was recorded. I can only think that Microsoft insisted on the interview being conducted by a senior person (knowing they would not be an expert on the subject), that this is a small part of a larger interview on the Gates Foundation etc, or that Edwards pulled rank. The last one is a bit far-fetched as BillG is hardly the most engaging talker. I was glazing over within seconds – there is something about Gates' use of words that is nothing but stupefying.

    However, on replay there are a few more things that stand out. The intent may simply have been to give Gates enough rope:

    "Zune: we're number two." Oh really?

    On Microsoft's software 'leadership': "In term of research we are by far the …the…ones who are most optimistic and therefore…doing some great things. And Apple’s done some great things." Such confidence in the company's software team. You spent all that money and you're just…optimistic?

    On the pricing issue, Gates found he was able to get back on message and found a phrase he thought he could push ("On a global level we do things globally" or some such nonsense) after admitting pricing should be roughly the same worldwide. Edwards may have decided he got the best he could and moved on, or someone was waving to him about the last question. Or he fluffed it – possibly through not being sufficiently up-to-date on the pricing before the interview.

    PR's failure to brief Gates on pricing may be because the company expects to sell very few through retail. Historically, OS upgrades have represented a tiny fraction of Windows sales. Maybe no-one considered it an issue as long as local OEMs weren't up in arms about their pricing.

  4. This might appear slightly out of leftfield, but the way the 'interview' was shot left me thinking that Gates wasn't ever in the same room as Edwards… He was just asking stock questions and the BBC cut Edwards in afterwards.

    Something about it just didn't ring true – there was no medium shot of the two of them together, footage of Gates looked fuzzy and pixellated while Edwards was crisp, when Edwards asked questions he stared pointedly as if… nobody was there.

    And neither interviewer nor interviewee ever interrupted the other… Very polite.

    And it would explain why Edwards didn't press him on the price difference – because the question was framed to fit the answer, not the other way around…

    Conspiracy theory maybe, but something about it just didn't ring true.

    And when they cut back to Edwards in the studio, he looked embarrassed as if he knew the viewers had just been conned…

  5. "Something about it just didn't ring true – there was no medium shot of the two of them together, footage of Gates looked fuzzy and pixellated while Edwards was crisp, when Edwards asked questions he stared pointedly as if… nobody was there."

    That's entirely normal for a recorded TV interview where they have only one camera on location. The cameraman can't switch between the two people as they talk without the viewing public collectively bringing up their dinners. So, they do two takes – possibly even multiple takes if the interview is 'scripted' – one with the interviewee and one of the interviewer, generally after the interviewee has gone, asking the questions. That's why they often seem to be looking into space. And, before you ask, I doubt this was a scripted interview – this was almost certainly one take straight-through. You will probably only see a medium shot in scripted interviews unless there is more than one camera.

    I've often wondered why they don't get the director or someone else to seat in the other seat to provide something for the interviewer to focus on rather than a blank wall or an empty chair. I've done this (not for broadcast news, I might add) and it's surprisingly tricky to make it look natural because you are aware you're not actually talking to somebody.

    Some people are really good at it and nod to an answer they aren't actually hearing. However, once you've spotted this happening once, you realise that 90% of TV news interviews are shot this way and you can detect it almost instantly.

    The apparent difference in image quality was probably just down to the fact that Edwards had the window behind him, which lit his face more sharply.

  6. I didn't see the interview, but I have been wondering whether we're witnessing a new, humbler Microsoft. The Vista launch hype has been very muted compared with Windows XP, Windows 95, Windows 3.0 etc; and very muted indeed compared to any announcement from Apple.

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