Industry Report: Digital
Multi-platform Strategies of the BBC
by CARTOON (European Association of Animation Film)
- The web is more than a new distribution platform for TV. Marc Goodchild explains why BBC acknowledged the need to develop web-only products and the importance of interactivity.
Over the past 7 years Marc Goodchild has achieved unique status in the BBC factual department as a multi-award winning producer of both linear and interactive content. After winning a Bafta for ‘Walking With Beasts’ interactive, he set up the division’s nascent iTV unit, became the first true 360 exec on projects like «How To Sleep Better» and «The Climate Change Experiment» and has continued to produce high quality linear shows to boot.
At the beginning of April 2008, Marc joined the BBC’s Children’s department to head up Interactive and On-demand production and continues to play an active role forging links across the factual community for audiences young and old.
Which is the BBC strategy in supporting
The BBC has a very clear strategy of supporting children from birth through to early adulthood, with sites that reflect the varying levels of protection, computer literacy, independence and maturity as they grow up.
Which has been the evolution
of creating on-line services?
Back in 1997 Teletubbies was one of the BBC shows to have its own website. Programmes got websites because someone on the team was a web evangelist or because the editor of that show shouted loudly enough. Over time this smattering evolved into a ‘compendium’ of sites with no overall strategy.
Six or seven years ago BBC started a policy of consolidation. But most sites were text and still based-programme support sites, with some games. There were lots of brochure-ware and vanity publishing.
In 2005 the proliferation of broadband meant you could add decent audiovisual programmes to stills and text. Suddenly television got excited and invented the television on the web. Everyone was adding hand cranked linear video to their sites. But other sites like YouTube could accumulate far more compelling content far more cheaply. The evangelists fought back and started to invent new forms of rich media experiences – games, interactive narratives, blogs etc.
Pioneering projects started to break through that the web was more than a new distribution platform for TV. Online usage stated to challenge TV figures. A few breakthrough web enhancements really showed the power of cross-platform initiatives. But most web spend was still usually on the margins.
Interactive finally got a seat at the table. In 2007 a new strategy introduced TV-on-the-web brigade satisfied with the iPlayer. There was a clear commitment to low-level programme support for all shows. There was a clear need to develop web-only products too. There has been a clear agreement within the BBC management that some shows deserve extra programme support.
Are the web sites catering
for different target audiences?
Yes, in 2002 we launched the two channels Cbeebies and CBBC and effectively established two distinct digital brands. The 2 websites brought order and structure to the disparate programme sites. Now programmes got websites because of their strategic importance.
CBeebies (www.bbc.co.uk/cbeebies) and CBBC (www.bbc.co.uk/cbbc) websites enable children and their parents or carers to interact with us and each other in a safe, trusted and accessible environment. The focus is on empowering children and giving them the opportunity to gain a deeper relationship with the BBC, the brands and characters, increasing the value they receive, the ownership they feel, and the impact they have on CBeebies and CBBC.
To achieve this, the sites offer a range of innovative interactive tools and creative opportunities aimed at all children, of every ability and background, giving them the space to publish their own content, thoughts and opinions. We also provide a dedicated 24/7 news service for children online as part of Newsround and through the PressPack section we can actively engage children in the topical issues that matter to them.
BBC Switch is our third age-specific offer which launched in 2007 to aggregate all the BBC online content currently targeted at a Teens audience. All material is checked to make sure it is age appropriate and external links are pre-vetted. This service is not promoted to younger children on Cbeebies and CBBC.
The BBC’s online strategy is considered
as a success. What element can explain
In a word: iPlayer. It is a Web site that streams full-length BBC TV shows from the last seven days on demand. Launched in December 2007, iPlayer has combined a slick user experience with popular content to triple its unique monthly audience in Britain to 2.2 million. That makes it one of the most successful streaming video services in the world.
Unlike youth-oriented YouTube, the iPlayer has also been a hit with an older audience. The BBC says more than 60% of its viewers are 35 or older— and they stay online for almost 30 minutes per session. That’s a powerful draw for advertisers, who have long sought to capitalize on the public’s growing interest in online TV, especially among a well-heeled adult audience.
The BBC iPlayer is well ahead of the game when it comes to online video. We definitely could see the model exported across Europe.
Which are the next BBC’s challenges?
The first few months of the iPlayer have also produced a host of lessons. The first is that the more impatient nature of the online audience requires advertising breaks in programmes, as well as the ads themselves, to be only about one-quarter as long as on TV. Ads also need to target specific audiences. For now, advertisers are paying about a 50% premium for Net ads on a cost-per-viewer basis. But with fewer time slots available than on T V, the revenue to broadcasters may not be enough to make online services sustainable.
Another unexpected challenge has come from Internet service providers, which have complained bitterly about the amount of bandwidth being gobbled up by the iPlayer’s streaming video. As more people start watching TV via the Net, content providers should help pay for the necessary infrastructure (extra switches, fiber-optic cables, etc.) needed to make video stream seamlessly. Complicating matters, some ISPs have made their own moves into online T V, which could lead to a battle between them and broadcasters to win over audiences.
Both sides will find a way to live with each other. Broadcasters, for example, could cache their content on ISP servers. That would reduce the amount of bandwidth viewers use to watch programmes online. Partnerships between ISPs and content providers also could limit the investment risk for companies looking to move into Internet TV.
Cartoon Master Murcia, Spain, April 2008
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