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Keeping Up With Consumer Patterns

On a recent visit to India, BBC Global News CEO JIM EGAN spoke to Ruhail Amin about the importance of the Indian market, BBC’s foray into new regional languages and more

Photo Credit : Jim Egan, CEO, BBC Global News

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BBC has a new strategy for the India market. Targeting the Indian regional space in a big way, it is planning to build its largest media facility in India outside of the UK. On a recent visit to India, BBC Global News CEO JIM EGAN spoke to Ruhail Amin about the importance of the Indian market, BBC’s foray into new regional languages and more

Could you tell us about BBC’s transformation from a traditional to a digital-savvy entity?
If you look at it inside out, it has not been easy. It meant talking to people who have done radio and TV all their professional life and convincing them about the need for change. However, if you look at it from outside-in, it’s pretty much simpler because the audience has developed and changed very quickly. So what we needed to do was to keep what was precious and important such as the radio and the TV and build on the digital capability.

Incidentally, this year BBC.com celebrated its 20th anniversary. During the last decade, we saw dramatic changes everywhere in the world in terms of Internet and the role of mobile devices.   I think people have not dropped platforms in favour of the other. What we did was to keep what is precious about platforms such as TV and build its digital capability. So it has been a more of a balanced portfolio kind of approach. In general, more than 50 per cent of our traffic is on mobile devices and in some markets more than three quarters.  In the last five years, it has been the role of social media, which has had the biggest impact. I think, at this stage, most publishers are still trying to figure out their relationship with social media. From a news gathering perspective, it’s a phenomenal platform, but I think from a commercial point of view, we don’t have things figured out yet. We see a large amount of growth in advertising going towards digital platform players and a lot of that advertising is around content that media publishers are producing. So the audience value of social media is pretty much proven, but the commercial case is still lesser at this stage.

How has the popularity of social media changed the news dynamics?
We have an evolving relationship with those platforms that have not yet fully blossomed. We are still seeing a strong number of tune-ins for BBC World. As a policy, BBC will always prefer credibility over speed. Though both are important, but in the end reputation, reliability and trustworthiness are much more important to us. However, I don’t mean to imply that we don’t care about speed. We think about brand attribution a lot. It is important for us, especially when our content appears on platforms that are not ours. For example, the biggest video online so far for us this year was Professor Robert Kelly’s video, which we quickly made available for online distribution and it went viral.

How important is the Indian market for BBC?
India is an important market for us. In fact, by this summer-end, India will have the biggest BBC news facility outside the UK, much bigger than our news facilities in Moscow or Washington or anywhere else.  This will be home to not just English content but 10 other languages. We are seeing a big demand for English and regional languages such as Marathi, Telugu, Gujarati, Punjabi and so on. So it’s quite an exciting time for us here.

The regional space is already witnessing tough competition. How is BBC planning to get the regional game plan right?    
We are not taking on the big regional players. What we will do in regional languages will be publicly funded. We are not making those moves purely on the grounds of commercial gain. These are expansions by BBC in order to contribute to media choices in those languages. Also, we want to do something distinctive. In general, the editorial content in those languages will be a bit more towards the global agenda and international stories.

What do you think are some of the challenges facing contemporary journalism?
The challenge for serious journalism is finding a way of getting the commercial value to reflect the social value of journalism. The issue of fake news and the depreciation of the currency of fact and reliability is definitely a big challenge in contemporary journalism. And so is finding out a way how serious journalism is going to be paid for on a continued basis. The other big challenge is that news organisations would need to keep pace with the fast changing consumer patterns and technology adoption.

Could you tell us about the latest trends that newsrooms are adopting across the world?
The essential art and craft of journalism have probably not changed in more than 100 years. The passion and commitment of a journalist to get to the bottom of a story are always going to remain the key factors. However, the practice of it is changing to some extent, in terms of technical aspects and issues such as transparency in particular. For example, we live stream our daily editorial meeting and it may not have a mass appeal, but it’s surprisingly popular. This is our attempt of increasing focus on transparency. Moreover, the old world where the marketing and the editorial never interacted, is changing in a big way. But the catch here is that people would need to remember who they are and what they do because if this collapses there will be chaos.

People are increasingly opting for ad blocking. How is BBC planning to tackle this issue?
I would say that blocking is a concern for all players, but for BBC, it’s not yet a big concern as we do not include intrusive ads. Yes, ad blocking is a concern on a strategic level, but so far, it has not shown any negative impact, in any major way, for us. However, I would say that its long-term consequences can give rise to a challenging situation, if we do not address it properly.  I believe we are in learning phase and the BBC wants to help figure out how to help in that.  I also believe that we are at a stage when we need to think how we will arrive at a positive relationship between publishers, advertisers and consumers, and I hope we can do it soon.