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BBC Head: We Must Reinvent Broadcasting for a New Generation

BBC Director-General Tony Hall says BBC must respond to younger viewers consuming content in different ways in the British public broadcaster's annual report.

Aditya Kishore

July 21, 2017

6 Min Read
BBC Head: We Must Reinvent Broadcasting for a New Generation

Younger viewers are consuming video differently from previous generations, according to Tony Hall, the director-general of the British Broadcasting Corp. (BBC) . In his statement in the BBC annual report released yesterday, Hall stressed that "successfully reaching younger audiences was one of the single biggest strategic issues" for the organization.

The BBC is the UK's public broadcaster, delivering several of the most viewed TV and radio channels in the country. It has also been a digital innovator, with an active and innovative R&D department and was one of the first major media companies in the world to launch an online video service, the BBC iPlayer. The BBC also provides programming outside the UK via its BBC Worldwide service. Within the UK the BBC does not run advertising, as a part of its public service mission. But BBC Worldwide is a commercial channel with advertising.

The BBC is a good example of the direction in which more traditional TV players are going, given its scale, brand and digital development. As such, Hall's comments and strategic focus for the organization offer insight into some of the key issues all broadcasters, online video providers and content owners face moving forward.

In fact, his emphasis on catering to the younger market is particularly telling, since it resonates with what we are hearing from companies across the video space. It also underscores the challenge established players face as the media landscape changes. Even as Hall talked about reinventing broadcasting for the new generation, he hastened to add that "this does not somehow mean forsaking our existing audiences. As I have said many times before, we have to ride two horses in the years ahead: doing brilliant things on our existing channels and services, but also innovating in the digital space."

That's perhaps the biggest challenge for the industry -- riding those two very different horses, often going in opposite directions. The BBC does have an advantage over many traditional broadcasters; it still appeals to younger audiences. Its flagship BBC One channel is the most viewed within the 16-34 age group, and viewers spend 11 hours a week tuned to it.

But Hall said continuing to reach these audiences was going to become more difficult because there is so much competition for their time. He pointed out that adults spend 8% of their media time on social media and messaging, but for 16- to 24-year-olds that figure is 25%.

"Across the whole of the television market, time spent with young audiences has fallen by 20% to 30%. It is the same story with radio," he said.

Another challenge for the BBC is that the media landscape has become more global and competitive, with new international entrants, such as Netflix and Amazon, willing to spend billions annually on content to drive adoption and viewership. Amazon is a particularly good example, as it hired the BBC's disgraced Top Gear host Jeremy Clarkson, and launched Grand Tour -- now the most expensive and most viewed show on Amazon. (See Amazon Announces Grand Tour of 200 Countries .)

Hall identified a few key strategic areas for the BBC to focus on, in order to succeed in coming years. Firstly, he felt that creativity was going to be critical for the broadcaster.

"I want the BBC during this Charter to be defined by boldness, originality and risktaking," he said. "I want us to have the courage of our convictions, to dare to do the things that others won't, and to hear, again and again: only the BBC would do that."

An important element of that process is reinventing the iPlayer, the BBCs streaming platform. It is the top-ranked VoD service in the UK already, but Hall is keen to make it a must-watch destination in its own right. He has set a target of doubling its reach and quadrupling the weekly time spent by 2020.

Another key area Hall identified was news. He feels the BBC does a great job with "fast" or breaking news. But he wants to see more innovation in the areas of "slow" news, or news analysis. According to him, this is "coverage that sets out to explain what is happening in the world, helping the public truly to understand the events of a tumultuous time. That means more of a focus on expertise drawn from both inside and outside the BBC, more in-depth analysis, more important investigations and more data-journalism."

Data in general is another area he expects the broadcaster to leverage now. Personalization is key to the BBC's future, according to him. By finding out more about viewers and their preferences, the BBC can "make better content, make it more relevant, and bring it to them more effectively."

An important step in that is to get more viewers to sign-in for online services. Today, the BBC has 4 million signed-in users but Hall wants to see that grow to 20 million as soon as possible. In his words, "perhaps more than anything else, this is what our future success will depend on."

Hall is also keen to restructure the way the organization works, so that it can cut across silos and be more responsive and entrepreneurial. He cited the example of the BBC's coverage of the Rio Olympics, where technical and editorial teams collaborated to innovate, and management looked for ways to support this and ignore internal structures so they could "change, respond and adapt."

Lastly, Hall is keen to target international growth, having announced the largest ever expansion of the BBC's World Service since the 1940s. He also mentioned that in a post-Brexit world the BBC would be more important than ever.

"I want us also to be truly brilliant at exporting them across the globe," he said. "That is why I have challenged BBC Worldwide to look again at how we best grow our business to deliver more returns back to public service -- to reinvest in yet more great British programmes and services."

Hall also listed some of the BBCs key accomplishments:

  • Overall the BBC reaches 95% of UK adults each week.

  • Its weekly global audience has grown to 372 million people while BBC iPlayer gets an average of 246 million monthly requests.

  • BBC documentary series Planet Earth II was seen by more than 30 million viewers in the UK and ended up regularly topping the Sunday night ratings.

  • BBCs children's apps have now been downloaded 12 million times, and CBeebies is the top channel for the under-sixes while CBBC is the same for the over-sixes.

  • On YouTube, BBC Radio 1 is the biggest radio station in the world.

  • More than 50m people of all ages watched the BBCs sports coverage last summer. Even though it only offered about 2% of the total hours of sports coverage, it brought in more than 40% of the audience.

— Aditya Kishore, Practice Leader, Video Transformation, Telco Transformation

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About the Author(s)

Aditya Kishore

Practice Leader, Video Transformation, Telco Transformation

Aditya Kishore is the Principal Analyst at Diametric Analysis, a consultancy focused on analysing the disruptive impact of Internet distribution on the video and telecom sectors, and developing the necessary strategies and technology solutions required to drive profitability. He can be reached at [email protected]

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