Photo of Tim Mulligan
by Tim Mulligan

BBC director general Tony Hall has today laid out his vision for the British Broadcasting Corporation over the next ten years. It strikes a somewhat contradictory line between the need to evolve in order to stay relevant to its increasingly international audience and the necessity of appearing to be heeding the powerful political and industry forces demanding that it moderate its ambitions. Although these are seemingly different demands on the service they do seek to focus the minds of its board on the challenges looming for the BBC.

The Need to Re-engage With Young Digital Natives

The most striking aspect of today’s statement was the announcement of the creation of iPlay – an iPlayer for kids TV. Belatedly the corporation has decided to do something about the hemorrhaging of young viewers from children focused programming channels such as CBeebies primarily to YouTube. This in not a problem unique to the BBC-Viacom’s Nickledeon has also been losing viewers as well. Google’s recent launch of its Android App YouTube Kids was a direct acknowledgement by YouTube’s owners of the increasing demand for appropriate YouTube content by time scarce parents. YouTube has experienced a 200% year-over-year growth in the family entertainment sector from 2014 to 2015.

The reasons for YouTube’s increasing popularity over linear the TV programming offered by the BBC are twofold - ease of access and effective curation. Children are now being raised on mobile devices as toys, pacifiers and educational tools. As the kids age they turn into active entertainment consumers and their natural preference is for mobile friendly short-form content-which the BBC currently does not provide. Kids know what they want and how to get it and with the likes of parental controls through YouTube Kids, parents feel secure in letting their kids navigate their own way towards relevant content. Plus crucially mobile content use frees up the main TV for the adults in the household.

With launch of iPlay the BBC is in position to start winning back those young viewers who will become the future viewers of the service. Losing them is not a viable option. But in order to do so thy will have to ensure that the new player has content that effectively matches what is on offer on YouTube, otherwise there will be no compelling reason for kids to reduce their YouTube viewing in favour of the new iPlay service.

The Disparity Between Online Spending And TV Spending

The announcement of the launch of the new iPlay highlights a currently overlooked aspect of the BBC’s readiness for its new stated strategic direction. Online spending by the corporation is only one tenth of the amount currently spent on TV. Whilst historically there have been good reasons for this and indeed the political enemies of the corporation are keen to flag up the BBC’s online operations as a classic example of “imperial overreach,” the reality is that every media organization now lives or dies by its online presence.

If the BBC is serious about its new ambitions for the service then it needs to start increasing the allocation towards its online operations significantly in order to both effectively deliver on those goals. By 2019, 50% of the global consumers will be consuming online video content and resources need to be increased to effectively serve this new audience otherwise they will go to the competing video services.

What Competing With Netflix Really Means

Tony Hall stated that he intends to invest significantly in new content making “Quality drama” a priority alongside commissioning “bigger and bolder” series which will be made available in their entirety on the iPlayer. This is a welcome recognition by the BBC that the online Video consumer expects to have unrestricted access to content and so can consume it in a manner and rate of their own choosing –the so-called “binge viewing” phenomenon.

However the flip side of this is BBC content will then become directly comparable to that produced by its online competitors such as Netflix and Amazon Instant Video. The Director General clearly believes that the BBC still holds a creative edge over its new rivals with his statement that he wanted to enable “producers, directors, writers, artists to have the creative freedom to do things they would find it harder to do elsewhere". However both Netflix and Amazon are investing heavily in original content with significantly larger budgets at their disposal than the BBC and the recent nomination successes for both companies at the Emmies are an industry recognition of this.

If the BBC is going to really go head to head with the likes of Amazon and Netflix then it needs to get better at doing more for less and with a keen eye to the commercial appeal of its content offerings.

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