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BBC Three moving online is a massive audience gamble

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BBC3 EPG online

Not quite gone, not yet

 

By the time you read this, the television part of BBC 3 will be dead.

The reasons are well documented: the UK Government – which controls the BBC’s funding – has effectively cut the BBC’s budget by 25% over the last six years.

Imagine your income dropping by a quarter, what you would stop doing? Eating out? Buy fewer new clothes? Spend less on media?

The BBC is cutting right across the board. For instance, while the BBC 3 decision has been getting all the attention there are significant cuts to other youth services. Radio 1 live events coverage has been slashed by over 80%.

BBC 3’s TV stats are very good. It gets nearly a quarter of the UK 16-34 age group watching every week, for well over 2 hours. It has the 2nd highest audience appreciation rating, just behind BBC 4.  That is an enormous amount of attention that has just been abandoned.

BBC 3’s problem now is to remain discoverable by its audience, and that’s a huge, huge challenge.

With so much choice available to the target audience this is an out-of-sight, out-of-mind problem. We are decades into a multi-channel TV world but most people watch fewer than 17 channels regularly (US data).  Similarly the number of close friends you have in the real world is around 15.

BBC Brands in iPlayer

In a post-TV environment BBC 3 is planning its own smartphone application, separate from the main iPlayer one.  This is sensible, it needs a big bold front page and you can see above iPlayer has too many different brands to represent as it is.

However the human usage limits of TV channels also apply to apps.

You probably have dozens on your phone, but how many do you regularly use? Again, US data suggests only around 25, although the time you spend using them is increasing, but it’s nowhere near TV watching hours.

Our media usage is limited because there’s a limit to the amount of information your brain can process, and the number of hours in the day aren’t increasing.

Which is why I think losing the TV part of this brand is an enormous risk. The advantage of having the anchor of a TV channel is that it is still a useful way to stand out.  Even if you don’t watch it (although the stats say millions do) seeing it on the EPG, or encountering it during a channel flick reminds you that it exists.

By going online-only BBC 3 is competing with every other piece of content on the internet, and there’s a lot more internet than there is BBC 3.

I’m being picky here, but the recent name / logo change doesn’t help. When personal referral is so important, how do you expect people new to the brand to tell their friends, when the mark is unpronounceable?

Question: ‘Where did that come from?

Answer: ‘It’s on the line-line-exclamation-mark channel on YouTube’. Not helpful.

Getting your audience to remember you are there is most of the battle, and unfortunately, due to constant media noise, it’s a battle you can’t stop fighting lest something new comes along to distract your audience.

Getting someone to install an app on their phone is one thing. Getting them to remember to use it regularly is quite another.

Our brains are hard-wired to pay attention to new things and the brain rewards us with feel-good chemicals. To make this worse, we also suffer from recency bias: the brain puts more importance on new things when making decisions.

For marketing budgets, its expensive to acquire a new customer and you have to keep spending to retain them. I predict BBC 3 is going to have to spend far more on external advertising than it thinks it does if it’s going to keep its audience share the way it is.

Unfortunately that is more money not being spent on programmes, precisely the opposite of what the corporation wants.

 

Written by Robert

16 February, 2016 at 1:02 am

BBC Radio 1 Newsbeat – How to stay relevant

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Facebook – only part of the current solution

For completeness – here’s the full version of the piece I wrote for the BBC’s College of Journalism website.

It’s since been republished in full by the EBU on their Eurovision Journalism Now site,

On a side note, Newsbeat won Gold for Best News and Current Affairs programme at this year’s Sony Radio Awards. We’re all very proud.

As always, comments are invited, read and appreciated.

—–

About 18 months ago, I was asked by the BBC’s College of Journalism to go to a meeting in Radio 1’s newsroom. The instructions were vague: “Not sure what they need, but they’ve asked for a social media specialist.”

While I’d listened to their main programme, Newsbeat, I’d never actually been to Radio 1 before. It’s different from the rest of the BBC, even geographically. For decades it’s been in a separate building and even now, in the rebuilt Broadcasting House, it’s on its own floor, it has a different entrance, and you need a special access pass to get in.

The newsroom produces hourly bulletins and daily programmes for Radio 1 and 1Xtra. These are tailored to the target audience, 16-29 year olds and the core news topics reflect that: music, technology, entertainment, health, politics.

The main Newsbeat editions pack a huge amount into their 15 minute timeslot, and sound like nothing else on the radio.  Have a listen to a recent edition. 

So what did Newsbeat want?

“We need to know what the future of news is, for our audience”, said one of the Assistant Editors.

(So, nothing too big then!)

This turned out to be a fascinating question, and one that’s relevant to the entire organisation. What the future of news is for a 16 year old, turns into the future of news for the bulk of the working population about 25 years later.

Mandate for innovation and debate

Radio 1 has a very specific direction from the BBC Trust in its service licence, to “experiment with new technologies”. For News in particular “listeners should be encouraged to … provide feedback, ideas and stories and offered regular opportunities to engage in debate.”

Debate and conversation would be a key component of the next few months, both within the newsroom and with our audience. We wanted to be sufficiently plugged in and accessible, and extend the methods we used previously – email (already choked with press releases) and phone text message.

The shakedown of early social media sites was over, both MySpace and Bebo, had slid into irrelevance. Twenty-whatever-year-olds don’t use email, and figures from audience research suggested that text messaging was on the decline as well.

Newsbeat already had a page on Facebook, it was performing well.  The statistics suggested that nearly 40% of Facebook’s UK users were in Radio 1’s target age group of 16-29 which meant us potentially reaching millions more people. But we didn’t understand necessarily why we were there. We didn’t have a strategy yet.

I had two questions: How much better could we do if we put more effort into it? And, can we increase online engagement, try to attract a different audience to the one already listening on the radio?

Let me point out, that the existing audience isn’t bad, radio industry listening figures from early 2013 put Newsbeat’s reach at over 2 million people a week, but, this audience is falling quarter-by-quarter and the FM radio audience is older than Radio 1 has been told to aim for by the BBC Trust.

Fostering conversation

In surveys we’ve conducted in 2012 the standout comment was that our audience wanted more opportunities to share their opinions.

We know those opinions are worth listening to, and our aim is to keep the quality of that conversation high, but we didn’t have the resources to read and moderate everything all the time. The BBC has long had its ‘house rules’ for web boards. These didn’t seem appropriate on Facebook, after all, it wasn’t an area the BBC controlled. So we slimmed them down. We’d hide a post from general viewing if it was:

a) abusive (Radio 1 has led campaigns on anti-bullying online)

b) illegal or encouraged a crime

c) off topic

The quality of the discourse really took a jump up when started to talk more with our audience. When the conversation looked like it was getting off-topic, we would try to steer it back on course. If someone had a question, we’d answer. We asked questions back. Question, clarify, it’s what reporters do.

Newsbeat’s style is informal, but the web can be more so. That doesn’t mean we relax our language further, but we don’t get distracted when our audience does. Teenagers vent and swear, but they’re doing this on Facebook and Twitter (usually using their real name) not the BBC’s website. Their friends can see what they writing and if they’re ok with it, we generally are too.

The effect it’s had on listener engagement has been pronounced. We regularly mention on-air where people can join in the conversations and our presenter, Chris Smith, has become adept at summarising several of those messages live as they come in. We’ll often ring people back to record comments in their own voice. It’s a great way to prove that we actually use all this interaction and that there is a benefit to people taking the trouble to share what they know.

Being active on a platform you don’t control felt liberating for me. I once helped run BBC News’ first web comment forum, ‘Talking Point’, which later became a successful World Service Radio programme and a couple of name changes later is called ‘World Have Your Say’.

‘Talking Point’ was exclusively email based and worked by a journalist painstakingly cutting and pasting comments back into a webpage. Here’s an example of the early days.

Technologically and socially, it feels like we’re light years away from that now.

Fit in – stand out

One of the first things we looked at online was Newsbeat’s tone-of-voice. When the info you’re posting gets mixed together in a newsfeed of (normally) real friends, you need to fit in, lest you be unfriended/unliked.

However, when some of the stuff you’re telling people may be important to their health (a recent story looked at side-effects of dermal filler injections) you want those stories to stand out.

Social media is image driven, photos get attention. Apart from anything else, they take up more space on newsfeeds and stand out a little more. Photosharing apps get heavy use; No wonder Facebook bought market-leader Instagram.

Pictures are our highest rating type of content for social media, they can explain with a single glance. Any modern phone creates them fast and shares them faster.

Twitter

While communication gets ever more mobile, the humble SMS text message seems to being replaced by chat applications like WhatsApp, and by 2012’s top social media tool for us, Twitter.

Newsbeat’s gone from zero to over 21,000 Twitter followers in 2012. When we started, we knew that there were 6 million people in Britain using it, the majority in the 18-34 age range, a significant part of Newsbeat’s audience.

Part of the increase is down to increased smartphone use. About halfway through the year we reached the tipping point where the stats showed that more people we accessing us on their phone, than on a desktop computer.

Day-to-day, one of our reporters is on hand to talk to the audience on Twitter, and while the programme is on-air, provides a live feed of additional background information. It’s “second screen” for live radio.

How effective has it been?

We more than doubled our online reach in 2012, and the engagement – people talking about Newsbeat stories on Facebook – tripled.

We’ve also been able to increase the number of stories we can cover. Newsbeat would normally rack up around 2,000 web stories in the course of a year. When we added in the social media platforms, we found the amount of content we published had increased around 60%.

Social media views can amount to a 10% increase in our audience overall, important at a time when traditional radio listening is falling.

The type of stories we’re able to cover has changed, some that we’d have huge difficulty in getting otherwise. Recently we covered the unusual cases of rape claims against men which turn out to be false.

We received several private Facebook messages from men who were affected and wanted us to know what the accusation was like for them. Had we not been a simple button push away, I don’t think we would have received these.

We’ve been able to provide an active forum for the opinions of our target age group that we can represent every day. The debate over 18-24 year olds having to work to receive a benefit payment achieved a record, with 800 people commenting on a single story.

We had a viral hit for this photostory about a fire in Chicago which turned the building into something like an ice sculpture.

One in three who saw this the pictures we posted, shared them with someone else. That’s massive, not just for Newsbeat, but for social media response as a whole.

I’ve also learned that a lot of things are completely outside your control. You can’t implement a set of procedures and then sit back anymore. The environment is changing too quickly. New tools constantly appear, the use of familiar ones shifts little by little meaning the way you handle them has to alter as well. Sometimes you’ll wake up and find a site has been completely redesigned, with functions you used daily, suddenly no longer there.

Next steps

Relevant news and information is a core part of Radio 1’s offering but staying accessible is getting harder. Fewer people in our target age group listen to the radio and those that do are listening less.

In the last year we’ve succeeded in increasing the reach of our original journalism. We’re making up the difference in falling radio listeners online and are able to use sites like Facebook as an extension of our own publishing platform.

It’s clear we need to continue to position Newsbeat’s tailored news service in front of the people it’s designed for, and the stats show 15-24 year-olds continue to desert live radio. Why would you carry on listening when online music and TV services, and social networks fulfil your needs?

Bar the relatively new Newsbeat website, the last time Radio 1 made a big shift towards where to audience was drifting to, was in 1988 when the station transferred to FM.

With Tony Hall, the new Director-General placing emphasis on future strategy, the time is arguably right for change. The audience is clearly drifting mobile now. Newsbeat, rather than being primarily news on the radio, will become a mobile news brand, inherently social, more visual, and with the ability to go live to any of our users, and with a much better way to listen and interact with our audience.

The key question for us now is: For someone just starting to listen to Radio 1 now, aged 16. What does Newsbeat look like in 5 years?

The issues haven’t changed, but how we report and deliver those stories must.

Written by Robert

13 June, 2013 at 1:40 pm

News, social media and BBC Radio 1

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Mobile and digital

You can listen to the radio on this. Chances are you don’t.

I’m a tad proud today. I’ve become just learned enough to be invited to write for the BBC College of Journalism’s website.

The future of news has become something of an obsession and a specialty over the last three years. I’ve been part of a team looking closely at the way newsrooms work and factoring-in new ways of working incorporating, in my case, social media.

For a chunk of that time, I’ve been working at Newsbeat, on BBC Radio 1. It is has been a brain-stretching joy to be back in a radio newsroom. The place buzzes with energy. Even with the alarm going off at 5.30am, it’s a place where you look forward to going into work.

Here’s what I’ve learned so far, on the college’s own site.  This has been tidily subbed down to fit their style, but in a couple of days, I’ll post the longer version.

If you work in journalism, radio, or social media, I hope it’ll be interesting reading, and I would really appreciate your comments.

Written by Robert

23 May, 2013 at 6:18 pm

Posted in journalism, radio, social

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Why crowd-sourced films are the biggest disruptive force I’ve seen in years

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Vyclone screenshot

Warning: Severe disruption ahead

Something new for entertainment executives to stress over

Over the last few days, I’ve been playing around with a mobile video app called Vyclone.

Check the site, download and play, but I urge you to play with other people who have the app in the same room. It’s really important you do, or you just won’t get it.

If you’ve ever been to a large event, videoed it, and have then been disappointed at the results, you’ll love this app. If you’ve experience of storytelling in video, the possibilities will probably charm you.

If you work for a commercial broadcaster, or in electronic distribution rights for events, it will probably stop you sleeping at night.

Vyclone finds all the other people in the same place as you, recording the same thing, and stitches their videos together into a multi-camera shoot. If you don’t like what it does automatically, you can make your own camera mix.

It’s the most disruptive, fascinating, troubling, creative, delicious, innovation I’ve seen in years. This is a game-changer.

Some perspective: 15 years ago, worried rights-owners would try to ban people bringing video cameras into their events (some still do). They had already sold the TV rights to another company and were obliged to protect that sale.

With mobile phone video, there were too many people to police, but they quickly realised it wasn’t a threat because these individuals made rubbish content. They weren’t organised and had no scale or impact. The individual YouTube stats for the uploaded videos proved that.

These elements have now irrevocably changed. A crowd-source video app offers both organisation and scale, automatically.

Let’s say I’m at Radio 1’s Hackney Weekend music festival. I’m recording Nicki Minaj performing ‘Starships’

(top chune btw). My camera only gets a general view of the stage. But at the front, two other people I don’t even know are recording the left and right sides of the stage. One might have Minaj in full close-up. Yet another person is recording the crowd and their friends further back.

The app stitches all of those shots together into a music video.

If you’re a broadcast professional, I can already hear your say “it still won’t be as good as our planned, directed TV coverage”, and you are absolutely right. But, here’s the kicker:

It’ll be good enough.

YouTube doesn’t amass millions of eyeballs a day because it’s professional. It has content that for the most part, is just good enough for the few minutes those millions want to watch.

Now, take my music festival scenario and imagine instead a riot. Or a war zone. You see how powerful this might be for news gathering?

There’s still a long way to go obviously. For now, you actually have to be recording through an installed application for the auto-mix to work. There’s a limit of 4 other cameras in a single mix. The video quality is, well, from a mobile phone. All these will improve and become less restrictive.

But even now, it’s good enough.

There are fights to come. The technology raises massive issues about whether anyone can “own” the resulting video when anyone is free to remix and share the individual parts.

Given the massive, lucrative sporting event about to engulf my home city of London, I’ll give you one last scenario to imagine the impact of a crowd-sourced, non-owned, multiple camera recording:

The men’s 100 metre final.

I wish the International Olympics Committee a good night’s sleep.

Written by Robert

25 July, 2012 at 12:23 am

Why it doesn’t matter that Facebook changed your email address

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Facebook mobile

It’s not Facebook that’s broken, it’s my ipod screen 😦

Facebook’s probably doing you a favour.

Some newspapers and bloggers are getting excited over the recent change to the way email is handled on Facebook.  Another example of Facebook trampling over your rights, they suggest.

Here’s my take: It doesn’t matter. Not even a little.

First: you shouldn’t even be showing your email address on your facebook profile. This is an open invitation for spam, for privacy reasons it shouldn’t be there either. If you had set your email address to private then you won’t notice this change and don’t need to notice it.

Secondly: we’re talking about email people! The communication medium of the 1990s! Since when did people go to facebook to find your contact details to email you? Never.

If someone’s on Facebook and wanting to get your attention they will either:

a) write on your wall (‘wall you’, as the kids say) or

b) they’ll send you a facebook message ( ‘inbox you’, again, those kids).

By making your default email a generic @facebook.com address, Mark Zuckerberg is probably doing you a favour. Emails from people you don’t know, get sent to the black hole that is your ‘other’ message box and you won’t see them.

</panic over>

Written by Robert

26 June, 2012 at 5:30 pm

Posted in Media, social

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So Twitter is down …

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Can't connect

No tweets for you right now

This doesn’t happen very often

I went to check with one of the crowdsourcing sites I’ve been to before to cross check.

http://www.downrightnow.com is where people alert that a site might be having trouble.  The more alerts the site gets, the more likely a site is down.

Except Down Right Now is, err, down right now. Probably from all the people trying to report that twitter is down right now.

Luckily there’s always Down for everyone or just me?

When twitter comes back, follow me.  www.twitter.com/robf

*UPDATE 1804 BST*

mobile.twitter.com is working.

Written by Robert

21 June, 2012 at 4:48 pm

Posted in social

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Computers can’t curate

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Zeebox screen grab

Because Breakfast <> Breakfast

I’m looking at many, many mobile apps at the moment. One which came across my radar and is currently having very heavy promotion on Apple’s App store is Zeebox.

Just for the web and iPads currently, although a phone version is promised, it’s an EPG with social features.  The major social feature being Twitter.

Zeebox promotes itself as a clever companion to TV viewing, although it wasn’t all that clever when I turned it on while watching BBC1’s ‘Breakfast’ earlier this week.

Anyone who’s ever watched BBC1 in the morning will tell you that a 3 hour show about having breakfast is hard to sustain (which is why it’s primarily a morning news show instead)

However, no one’s told Zeebox that, and as you can see from the photo above, it takes the name of the programme literally, helpfully giving me links to everything food related, and picking up everyone on Twitter burbling about what they’re eating.

I’m also not entirely sure how having a lot of keywords thrown at you represents usefulness, when you could almost as easily just put the word you were actually interested into a search engine, but what do I know, T3 loved it.

Now I could see the benefit of an app like this in the Breakfast TV gallery. Working the other way round, and scooping up info and ideas to enable the live producers to make the programme more interesting.

Incidentally, I notice that Yahoo bought a social TV app, IntoNow, earlier this year. It doesn’t do a lot yet either.

Got a useful TV app? Let me know in the comments.

Written by Robert

2 November, 2011 at 1:26 am

Posted in social, tv

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