Rio 2016 enabled BBC Sports to record unthinkable engagement levels. They managed to do something that the media giant had never achieved before. “Globally, we reached over 100 million unique browsers around the world for our sports content which is a new record for us. But the really interesting story is that the BBC Sports Facebook page during the period of Olympics reached one in four of all users on Facebook,” said Chris Davies, Director of Sales, Marketing & Distribution, BBC Global News.
In an exclusive chat, Davies also spoke about India emerging as BBC World News’ number one Facebook market in the world. With no preferred platform and interests across television, digital and mobile, BBC Global News is considering the possibility of increasing its reach in the country by providing more content in Indian languages. “Investigation is underway as to whether we can add four more languages,” Davies said.
He also threw light on the branded content solutions being offered by BBC StoryWorks besides betting big on the increase in mobile internet users and online video consumption.
Last year, BBC World News did a survey whose findings stated that over 80% Indian respondents are more interested in knowing about international news than before. What changes were brought in BBC’s programming so as to catch the fancy of the Indian audience particularly comprising of youngsters?
We did this piece of research last year. It was really interesting and understandable to see that what’s happening around the world really does now matter to people at home. India also felt like this. A global story has impact around the world. Perhaps a story like Syria used to be a regional story but now it’s a global story. What happens in Syria matters to people in India, Canada and Australia. It’s a truly global story. Being a global news channel means that we’ve got to be able to tell those stories accurately and tell the stories on both the sides. We’ve got to be able to help people understand why it matters to them. That’s what we do. We try to tell the story from all angles and then explain to them why it’s important and why they need to know what’s going on.
In terms of India, we’ve got one of the biggest bureaus based here in Delhi that we have anywhere outside of London. Therefore, we’ve got a big journalist base and what they are doing is that they are taking those stories and thinking about the Indian angle. What is it that makes this story important to an Indian audience? It’s a combination of the global storytelling and then thinking about the regional, local focus that we do better than anyone else.
Does BBC have a preferred platform in between television, mobile and digital? Or is integration the way forward?
Integration is the way forward. Absolutely! There is no preferred platform. I think what’s important for us is to provide our audiences with all the platforms that they want and how they want to consume. What we are finding is that people are using television in slightly different ways than online, mobile or social. The important thing is to offer a viable product on all of those platforms. Television is far from dead anywhere in the world especially in India. When a global story happens, people go very much to their television sets to find out what’s going on and especially during breaking stories. That has not changed.
But what we are doing is supplementing that viewership with further in-depth analysis online and then making sure that news apps are regularly updating users with news alerts so that they are constantly in touch with breaking stories. It’s about making sure that we have that converged offer that works for audiences where they are, how they want to consume and when they want to consume. That’s absolutely the key strategy.
You’ve said in the past that India always manages a place in the Top 5 markets of the BBC out of the over 200 countries that you operate in. What kind of revenues are you driving from here?
We don’t really share revenue numbers. But I can tell you obviously that alongside a strong audience story, we have a very strong advertising offer here in India. We have a big team based in Delhi and Mumbai who work with advertisers and media agencies across India. It’s one of our top markets commercially. We’ve got international clients here as well as national clients. It’s a mix of television and online. It is again one of the markets that we come to regularly because we’ve got a lot of clients here.
Do you have any expansion plans in the pipeline? Are you interested in hiring more people or doing more content in Indian languages?
Indeed, there is! At the moment we are in four languages as well as in English. We are looking at whether we can expand out to another four and increase our reach. That’s what we are looking to do. We serve audiences extremely well in India because we are available in English and other languages. But actually there are some other languages that we could add to get stronger reach. As you mentioned, more and more people are coming online in India with digitization and getting access to content, we want to make sure that we are serving all of those different audiences. Investigation is underway as to whether we can add four more languages.
Talking about advertising, BBC is increasingly looking towards branded content solutions especially with the launch of BBC StoryWorks in June 2015. Would doing branded content not compromise BBC’s standing as a news brand?
First and foremost, we don’t do branded content within news. We have a very clear delineation between what is clearly news journalism and feature content. For example, online we have got feature sites such as Travel, Capital and Culture. Those are the places where we will do branded content solutions with partners’ content that will fit within those genres. That is our very clear structural setup.
StoryWorks is very much branded content but with core values of news journalism. The people who run StoryWorks have come from the newsroom. They are writing content that has the same editorial value and quality that the news journalists do. They are just putting it into slightly different places and different topics. Those topics work much more for the advertiser as well because those might be the topics that are more relevant to them.
Have any Indian advertisers signed up with the BBC for branded content?
I am sure they have. Abbott is one. That was quite recent actually.
Where do you see the Indian market five years from now?
With digitisation, we will see an increasing explosion in mobile. I think that mobile is already very strong here. That is going to grow exponentially. With that, the advertising industry will also need to mature to make sure that it has got the right solutions. StoryWorks is one of the best ways we can do advertising solutions that avoids elements like ad blocking. Getting quality branded content is one of the core strengths that we will provide. In terms of India, audiences on mobile would be the key. Of course, video is another because as you get more 4G, people would be much happier to download video content than they might be now because it might cost you much more and might take too long to download. Videos on mobile will be one of the explosion areas.
At the moment, one of the products that we are developing in that space is called 10 to Watch. It is an extension of the BBC news app. It is a caracal of ten videos of the day’s best content. We curate it for the audience.
In the age of digital disruption, what is your core business strategy for retaining the loyalty of your viewers and readers?
It is about being absolutely true to our core brand values of quality, impartiality and trust. In a world where there are so many different news sources and explosion of social media, we have definitely seen again and again that trust is absolutely critical. It is what gets people to come back to us. We are the most trusted news brand internationally. That is at the core of what we do.
Secondly, I think it is about making sure that the content that we provide is relevant and of interest to the millennial audiences because they are growing and developing. We’ve got a really strong story coming through at the moment which shows just how extensively we are reaching the millennial affluent audience which is again good from an advertising perspective as well as reach perspective. We are reaching 77% of affluent millennials in India each month. It involves thinking about what kind of content works for them and social media. We’ve got to make sure that we have got really strong social media platforms. India is the number one market for us in the world in terms of social media fans on Facebook. Making a strong offer on social media is very important.