January 2014

Wider Reach, Same Values

BBC holds firm in new multimedia era

• Online adverts to overtake print
• Programming in 27 languages
• Planning across digital, print media

The technical capabilities, reach and methods used to deliver the news may be unrecognisable compared with the structure when it was first set up, but the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) remains committed to the core values of trust, integrity and story-telling as it nears its centenary.

With BBC services accessible in more than 350mn homes around the world, a further 60mn users of BBC.com and news bureaus in 19 countries—including Japan—Auntie Beeb is still the most trusted news brand in the world, according to Jim Egan, chief executive officer of BBC Global News.

Speaking at a forum at Roppongi Hills on 8 October titled “The Role of Today’s News”, Egan suggested the BBC’s motto from its founding in 1927—“Nation shall speak peace unto nation”—may sound a little old-fashioned today.

But, he said, the concept behind it has been revamped in tandem with the dramatic changes that the corporation has undergone in recent years.

The shift to a globalised, digitised connectivity means that online advertising is this year expected to overtake print for the first time. Television still controls 40% of the about £300bn spent on advertising each year and remains the most popular medium for conveying information.

Nevertheless, news is becoming more mobile, real-time and social.

“Over the last 10 years, we have redeveloped and renovated the BBC’s headquarters and created the New Broadcasting House, with 3,000 journalists in what we call ‘The World’s Newsroom’”, he said.

With the upgraded facilities and technical capabilities comes the updated slogan, “Live the Story”. Egan pointed out the three elements that put the BBC well ahead of its rivals.

The first is the BBC’s extensive reach. The BBC has more reporters in other countries than any other news organisation.

Moreover, while the growth of the internet and the advent of new technology have encouraged other news providers to retrench—which has “wreaked havoc” on their coverage, he said—the BBC has invested in extending its reach.

In sub-Saharan Africa, there are no fewer than 65 correspondents, and there is a similar number in India, he said.

And the bureau in Japan is kept busy with difficult stories, including the ongoing crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant.

The BBC’s next competitive advantage is that it operates in 27 languages. Although it has been doing this for many decades, advances in translation technology have made it easier and faster to put together multilingual news reports and repackage them for different media, including radio, television and online.

Japanese is an exception to the BBC’s language options, Egan admitted, although viewers here are able to watch 120 hours of Japanese-language news every week on BBC World.

The third area in which the institution has an edge is multimedia—rather than “many media”, he said. While many news organisations are investing in a wide range of media types, few of them are creating genuinely multimedia news.

“Print may be moving to digital, but this is being done in separate, un-integrated teams”, he said. “At other news organisations, story planning, for example, is surprisingly un-integrated”.

The BBC operates a single news planning team across its television, radio and online output, and has invested £1bn in its state-of-the-art news centre and technology.

Egan’s presentation was followed by a panel discussion on the state of the media in a rapidly evolving world, with the BBC chief underlining the organisation’s commitment to verifying and checking details before releasing its news—although he admitted that no news organisation is infallible in this respect.

With the rapid growth in footage that can be provided by viewers equipped with little more than a mobile phone, this is an issue that will continue to cause concern.

Another area of discussion was media reaction in the aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear disaster, with William Pesek, the Tokyo-based columnist for Bloomberg News, saying that Japanese media had declined to use the term “meltdown” when describing the situation at the plant’s reactors.

“The foreign media may have exaggerated the situation, but the Japanese mainstream media underplayed the danger”, he said. “The Japanese media was far more interested in maintaining stability than in informing people about what was really going on”.

In his final comments, Egan said, “We are admittedly—and proudly—British, but we are aiming to provide a global perspective for the rest of the world”.