Wednesday 30 November 2011

What is the BBC doing to adapt to the digital era?

Media giants have all been subjected to this world wind of media communications in the last few years. But what problems has the BBC faced and how have they been overcome?

With more than 40,000 hours of television available each week mass audiences are no longer being connected through a central meeting ground. This is just one problem that broadcasters face – not forgetting the explosion of internet based interaction. Media organisations and professional journalists have worked hard to maintain certain ideologies and viewpoints – but are audiences now accessing their news elsewhere, starting to reject or question what they are being told?

Fran Unsworth the head of news gathering at the BBC says “I think people will always come back to us when they want trusted reliable sources. People should feel confident with being able to trust the BBC, the potential and need for public value broadcasting has never been greater. I think people generally think that new media is a threat and is going to be a problem for us – I think it’s a great opportunity. We are using new media, such as the internet and working them together. I would say it has been an evolution that has benefited media. We have used it in many productive ways and have had no real difficulty adapting. It’s made things a lot easier”

The BBC is the most successful public broadcasting company in the UK. Since the start of the digital switch over back in 2008, the pressure has hit hard as the BBC prepare to make some changes in order to keep up with the forever changing and fast moving digital era. That’s not the only problems that face the BBC, as well as the BBC’s competition with other commercial stations (ITV) and the constant the supply and demand for more programmes.

Making sure their programmes stay at an exceptionally high standard is just one of the ways in which the BBC has continued to keep its audience reach. The BBC’s website is one of the most popular websites in the world. With 17.2 million users a week the content including, news, current affairs and the weather is updated frequently as well as a specialised services section that includes the BBC Bite Size which is often used in schools to help with exam revision.

The British Broadcasting company is renowned for supporting its British interests and sharing them with the rest of the world. To ensure its programming and aims to; inform, educate and entertain are kept the BBC has devised many strategies to keep its audience. Back in 2005, the BBC announced thousands of jobs cuts to fund more quality programming, BBC news channel being the first of many. Because of the jobs cuts the BBC heavily relies on the work of freelance film makers and ‘private sector providers’ for its programming.

“Public broadcasting offers the best quality programmes”, said Miss Unsworth, “Yes ITV will provide programming that’s well suited for individuals but the BBC will provide its audiences with a nationally shared TV experience!”
The BBC are essentially legally obliged to commission a minimum of 25% of its programming from independent production companies, “Don’t tell the bride, Life on the Transplant List and Russell Howard’s good news” are but a few of the extremely popular experimental range from the BBC.

There are reasons to believe that the BBC will not survive the digital age, with evidence to show that audiences are turning to a more complex multi-channel environment, with so much choice that viewers would rather watch a channel that matches their individual needs, interests and personality. The result is that in 2004 for the first time, ‘multi-channel television has attracted higher overall viewing figures than either BBC1 or ITV1’.

Despite the opposition of commercial channels, research has shown that the BBC still reaches 86 per cent of the population – the highest reach of any of the other big channels. The BBC always does a great job with bringing families together at Christmas. Take Christmas day in 2008 for instance, the BBC secured a resounding ratings victory with nine of the top 10 shows, at its peak reaching 14.4million people.

The rise of the internet and online sources has spiralled over the last decade resulting in a worrying decline of trust and accuracy within news reporting. Critics are now worried that the BBC will become venerable because of the values it has worked hard to maintain throughout the years is now being questioned or rejected by viewers accessing information elsewhere.

Simon Bucks associate editor at BskyB thinks that it is possible, “As long as news organisations are prepared to embrace digital technology and digital platforms and transfer their brands then people will trust them. If you look at the most successful news brands on the web, there still the same old brands you were used to seeing on old media whether on TV or in newspapers, just converted. So people are still getting their news from conventional brands. In some cases people are getting their news from what we like to call aggregators – there new brands but there just aggregated content from old media producers. Trust is all about trusting the brand and the organisations producing the news”

“I think what people are doing is not getting their hard news from newspapers anymore or not in very large numbers, it’s something people get from either rolling news channels or they get it from some form of the internet – it might be on the web itself or through mobile apps and it might be on some radio. All journalists and news organisations must understand the principle of multi-platform journalism, so that means journalists need to learn and understand how to use new media for their newsgathering but also for distribution. They need to be able to use new media to be able to get the stories, obviously understanding how Twitter, Facebook, Google and Youtube work and in what ways you can use it. Journalists now have to produce news in a variety of different formats. I would say that this is both challenges and opportunities. Now is the most exciting time to be in the business.”

So what’s next for the BBC?

Even though there is more choice in digital channels this does not always mean that there is more diversity or better programming. Many of the digital programmes are imported in from the USA because they are usually rerun that are cheap. With this in mind it is unknown as to how long the public are going to tolerate a compulsory “television tax” particularly because many people also pay for satellite or cable subscriptions such as Virgin Media and Sky. The popular service The iPlayer is a new way that the BBC has created in an event to modernise its broadcasting service, this service is also free. Some people have even gave up there television set just to watch their programmes online for free. Research shows that since the iPlayer was established more that 220 million requests have been made for programmes online.

As it stands the BBC’s future is said to look bleak as the governments long awaited proposals on the future of the BBC will reportedly enclose the conclusion that licence fee funding for all its programmes will not survive into the age of digital-only television. It is suggested that the public will be less inclined to pay the licence fee and, with the advances of digital television; people will start to become increasingly hesitant to paying a compulsory charge for a few channels that they don’t watch or don’t watch very often. The result might be that ‘as public support for the licence fee fades, so public respect and affection for the BBC may also decline’.


  1. Publication Analysis
    Can the BBC handle the digital era?
    I think my article would be best suited for the Guardian newspaper. This is for many reasons, the first being that there is a media section in the newspaper that often includes articles related to my topic. I think the editorial position of my article would fit within the media section of the newspaper – generally situated in the centre of the newspaper. Recent topics have included, ‘How ‘content curators’ are connecting consumers’ and ‘The Guardian launches Spotify app’ stories like these are frequent for this newspaper. The stories are usually three to a double page, consisting of around 500-1,000 words, although for topics that have been covered in great depth these can range from 1000 – 1,500 words.
    The types of articles that the Guardian feature says a lot about the types of people that read the newspaper. The Guardian’s target audience is generally upper class with a decent knowledge on finances. This is reflected in the articles about the economy and current finances, of course other newspapers will touch upon the subject but there is great depth within The Guardian’s articles spanning across the entire length and width of the broadsheet page. The Guardian also suggest that their readers do some travelling (with four out of five having flown in the last 12 months), thus the accentuated articles in the global sections. As mentioned before there is a media section within the newspaper this suggests that as well as the other topics covered, press standards and the future of journalism are areas that the readers are also concerned about. I think my article would be suited as a freelance piece as The Guardian does except freelance charter – if not as an article then a blog post as these are also excepted.
    A stated before the target audience is mostly middle-upper class intellectuals with a high income. This reflects the type of advertisement in the paper and the opinions. For example The Sun newspaper would include advertisements for ASDA or Tesco whereas The Guardian would advertise Harrods or have an opinion page of the new Christmas selection. The amount of money that the reader earns will also have influence on how much the reader will spend on the newspaper. The Guardian is priced at £1.20, which in my opinion, is a fair price to pay for the stories covered and the depth of information available.
    The Guardian is not the bestselling newspaper in the UK but its content and media is still read by 4.9 million British adults each week. In the last 12 months the Guardian News and Media’s total audience accounted for 1 in 8 pounds spent on women’s clothing, 1 in 7 BMW owners and 1 in 4 donators to Oxfam.