As part of its Charter commitment to review all BBC services at least once every five years, the Trust is today starting its second review of BBC Online and BBC Red Button.
Our original review of BBC Online was published in 2008. That was the Trust’s first review under the new Charter arrangements; it provided an opportunity to identify what audiences valued about the service and set out a series of actions to improve it.
Since that time the service has changed a great deal. What was bbc.co.uk has become BBC Online, reflecting the different ways in which audiences use and engage with digital content. The service has moved from being a series of static webpages that are viewed on people’s computers to one that offers audio, visual and interactive content across a range of genres, supporting and extending the BBC’s broadcast services.
And it’s not just this content that has changed hugely since the last review. The phenomenon of social media has grown and the number of screens we use has multiplied. In the last year alone, the usage of BBC Online through devices other than the desktop computer has doubled, with huge growth in smartphones, tablets and the development of smart TVs. In addition, the BBC iPlayer has set the standard for providing audiences with a live and on-demand catch-up service.
As high speed broadband becomes more prevalent, the potential for BBC Online to serve audiences becomes even greater. The Olympics allowed us to glimpse this potential being realised. Every sport was available across PC, mobile, tablet and connected TVs allowing audiences to keep up to date with the action, whenever they wanted and wherever they were. At times, I found myself watching live cycling on the TV while at the same time using my iPad to keep up to date on the rowing.
The Olympics also highlighted the continuing popularity of the Red Button. Nearly 24 million viewers watched the Olympic streams via the Red Button. Even aside from major events, around 12 million people use the Red Button each week and it remains an extremely important service for many of our audiences. Given the increasingly close way in which content is created for both BBC Online and Red Button, we have decided to review them at the same time.
Sadly, we do not get to experience the joys of a home Olympics every year. Now that is behind us, we have a chance to take a step back and think about how what we learned from the digital Olympic experience offered by BBC Online and Red Button can be applied to the rest of what the BBC does. How, for instance, can BBC Online News best serve audiences in the age of Twitter? How can BBC Online help connect audiences around its best drama or factual programmes? What creative or editorial opportunities does the BBC’s presence on a range of screens offer journalists or programme makers?
Our review will give us the opportunity to think about these and other questions. Broadly, we will consider how well BBC Online and Red Button serve their audiences, the future direction of these services and what changes are needed to ensure that they effectively support the BBC’s public service mission, as media, technology and culture continues to change.
As part of this review, we want to hear what you think about these services. We have launched a public consultation on the Trust’s website and would value your thoughts. You can access the consultation here.