Thursday 9 June 2005
Broadcasting is changing. Reach to TV is falling, especially amongst
18 to 24-year-olds. But total consumption of media for this supposedly
fickle audience is not: it's just they're getting their entertainment
elsewhere - five hours a week on the net in Broadband homes, around
the same on Playstations. For broadcasters, to reach them, multiplatform
is not a nice to have, it's a necessity.
In the last two years, traffic on the internet has doubled: strong,
but linear growth. By comparison, rich media content consumption - video
and audio - of which bbc.co.uk is a good example, is increasing exponentially
on the web.
40GB per second of content is being consumed in the UK - the equivalent
of 100,000 TV channels. Issues around access, availability, and awareness
are all largely being resolved by the market; and even affordability
of hardware, with £399 PCs and MiniMacs, is no longer the barrier it
So, if demand is growing exponentially, and barriers gone or falling:
what is holding up mass adoption of the net for rich media - for telly,
radio, video-on-demand? It's not, I don't believe, an issue of the PC
not being connected to the TV: for a start it increasingly is, with
sales of TV-connected Microsoft media centres passing the one million
wi-fi distribution becoming commonplace in the home.
But more significantly, and somewhat surprisingly, our audience appear
pretty relaxed about watching video on their PC monitor. After all,
most PC monitors at home are in effect flat-screen hi-def tellies: just
a bit smaller. No, the real barrier to ushering in the brave new world
of non-linear media, of I.P. or internet TV and audio, is simply supply.
There's nothing bloody out there… I'll come back to the why: let's explore
first what our audience is doing with the few broadband bread crumbs
that we throw them…
The Multiple Platform approach
The first important point is that most of the consumption of our rich
media content on different platforms, like the EastEnders website, has
up to now not by and large been substitutional for TV: it's most usually
been complementary, frequently adding audience consumption more than
reach. Put another way, it's mostly been about extending the offer to
the same audience.
That's changing now, with faster and easier mobile and broadband services
giving birth to the cyber-siblings of time-shifting and place-shifting.
In this on-demand world of anytime and anyplace, the consumption is
increasingly substitutional for TV viewing, but on the positive side,
it also often attracts new audiences, adding wholly unduplicated reach
to the BARB figures.
Extending the Offer - Anyplace
It's worth quickly reviewing where we've come from: the world where
our websites on bbc.co.uk were often extensions of our existing programme
brands, the equivalent of a fact sheet, available 24 hours a day, once
the programme had gone off air, and giving audiences something extra.
Over time, these online pages grew in sophistication, so that EastEnders
offered not just background details of all the characters in the Square,
but tracked characters while they were off screen. As far back as 2001,
the BBC experimented with a 'soap bubble' allowing viewers to follow
Sonia's progress as she went off to nursing college. The site was accessed
by around 20,000 users, in comparison to 7.4m regular viewers. That's
around 2 per cent of the TV drama.
But compare this with the year-on-year growth around our online animated
Doctor Who series, and immediately you can see how such a proposition
The BBC's online community kept Doctor Who alive and kicking during
his time off BBC TV airwaves, by embracing an animated series put out
by bbc.co.uk. The first iteration of the online Doctor in 2001 averaged
around 15,000 unique users per episode. However, by the time a third
series, starring Richard E. Grant, appeared on the web in 2003, some
100,000 unique users were logging on for each episode.
And today, with the Timelord returning to our television screens,
the importance of an off-air presence is reflected in the 500,000 visitors
playing the online Dalek game - and that's within the first month of
it going live. That's some 15 per cent of the television audience. But
still probably largely the same audience as watched the TV series.
Same Content, Same Time, Different Platforms
But as we've moved beyond simple brand extensions to time-shifting
and place-shifting, and as web users became more sophisticated, and
started to use the web more at work, we are seeing the early signs of
more fundamental shifts in behaviour.
This second generation of on-demand multi-platform content takes different
forms: the simplest is just offering the same TV content, at the same
time, over the web or mobile. No mean feat technically, I might add
- as dynamic reversioning of content, multi-platform authoring is bloody
hard, but a simple consumer proposition.
On the Day of Pope John Paul II's funeral, for instance, the BBC offered
streamed coverage of the event - in addition to its coverage on BBC
ONE and News 24. Over 300,000 users accessed this content across the
web, around one-third of them staying for almost a quarter of an hour.
This created an additional 10 per cent of viewers over those who chose
to watch the events unfold on TV.
Most recently, just last month, the BBC provided its most comprehensive
coverage of the Eurovision Song Contest in the 50-year history of the
competition, with three hours of linear television coverage; a red button
interactive TV service; and the chance to download videos from all 39
participating countries via our Broadband Player and through our WAP
portal, bbc.co.uk/mobile. In so doing, these services encouraged 19
per cent of the available audience to press red for more than 30 mins,
with an extra 11 per cent requesting video streams on the web and mobile
And during the two weeks of last year's Olympics, the average 3.1m
viewers who sat in front of their television screens every day were
joined by 2.8m requests for video streams on the web from 5.7m unique
users to bbc.co.uk/sport. Overall the Games generated more than 73 million
online page impressions, much of this via mobile.
Suddenly, the idea of multiple platform media consumption seems less
of a pipe dream. But these services, achieving perhaps 10 to 20 per
cent of the TV audience reach, are just the beginning.
On-demand and Catch-Up - Anytime
It starts to get really interesting when we begin breaking completely
free of the linear schedule to offer two perhaps more profound services,
that of Catch-Up On-Demand TV, and the deep programme back-catalogue
online service - or in BBC speak, the iMP and the Open Archive. Let
me also say that what I used to dismissively call 'the tyranny of the
schedule' is of course a massively useful navigation tool, and will
probably be with us for many many years. I see the internet delivered
catch-up iMP service and the long-tail Open Archive service as complementary,
but they will one day account for a considerable share of media consumption
time and eyeballs.
The world we're leaving is one of Spectrum Scarcity, as Chris Anderson,
Wired's editor-in-chief puts it: "Not enough shelf space for all the
CDs, DVDs, and games produced. Not enough screens to show all the available
movies. Not enough channels to broadcast all the TV programmes, not
enough radio waves to play all the music created, and not enough hours
in the day to squeeze everything out".
And still in his words, the world we're entering is "A world of abundance.
And," he concludes, "the differences are profound."
Last month I announced the content trial of the BBC's interactive Media
Player (iMP), which will begin in September and last for three months.
The service builds on the success of our RadioPlayer and offers BBC
audiences the chance to catch up on TV and radio programmes they might
have missed for up to seven days after the original broadcast. For those
of you that haven't seen it here's a taster.
At the BBC we believe that iMP heralds a new era for programming, allowing
audiences to get to our programmes when they want it.
It is still early days; our recent research put this right at the top
of audience demand for new services from the BBC, with over two thirds
showing a keen interest. Even conservative estimates suggest that by
the end of this decade some four million people - 15 per cent of the
UK population - may be likely to use a catch-up TV service. And this
is not TiVo or Sky+ - brilliant services in their own right - but with
iMP, you don't have to remember to record it: its all there, whenever
you want it.
But time-shifted programming isn't just something for the net. The
BBC has also been working with third parties like ntl to look at what
catch-up packages will work on Cable TV. They expect some 50 per cent
of their subscribers to be regular users of on-demand by the end of
2010, and our findings to date show, perhaps unsurprisingly, that it's
popular BBC programmes such as Dr Who and EastEnders that attract huge
on-demand audiences. But what we have also discovered is that there
are other programmes - traditionally broadcast out of peaktime - our
lower-rating, more specialist programmes, that also attract impressive
cumulative audiences, albeit over a longer period of time.
The Longtail - Anything
Welcome to the long-tail. Its value to commercial providers of deep
back catalogue is well known. Online bookstore Amazon gets one third
of its sales from the long tail, outside the 125,000 books that Barnes
and Noble can stock. And for them, the larger margins on these books
contribute even more than a third of their bottom line.
The long-tail offers a return on investment in the broadcasting world
too; not only delivering public or commercial value by providing quality
programmes to our audiences when they want to watch them, perhaps again
and again, but also by attracting new audiences to a programme who may
not otherwise have come - extending a programme's appeal, its lifecycle
and consequently its potential to add long-term cumulative reach.
The longtail takes the control away from the broadcast schedulers and
puts it in the hands of our audiences - making anything available, anytime,
It is within this environment that we aspire to grow and develop the
creative archive - a partnership currently comprising the BBC, Channel
4, the BFI and the Open University, but open to all public organisations.
With a wealth of material made available online, the opportunity to
search - and find - programmes opens up huge possibilities. This is
our vision for it.
So, with 10 per cent reach up for grabs with rich media programme extensions,
15 per cent for catch-up TV, 30 per cent for the deep archive, why aren't
we rushing headlong to get our content up on the net?
Well, we are.
The barriers are well known. And most have solutions in sight: this
is going to be one of the glibbest sentences I've ever made, but for
sake of time: piracy will be solved by ease to use legitimate sites,
rights with good DRM and open licences like the 'creative commons';
distribution costs will be solved for streamed TV by multi-casting;
and for downloaded TV by peer-to-peer, quality of service will be solved
by ever-increasing bandwidth going up, meeting ever more efficient video
encoding coming down; getting the signal to the TV screen will be solved
by convergence, mediacentres, and wifi. And almost free storage will
solve everything else. So, problem solved! Well, not quite…
The Need for Good Metadata
Because, if you are offering material outside of a linear schedule,
audiences need to be able to find what they are looking for. That means
good Search tools, next-generation Electronic Programme Guides, which
will require content to have next-generation, awesome levels of metadata.
The value of metadata in content management cannot be understated.
Metadata is dull, no doubt about it: but it's so much more than the
ISBN of the book world - it's not just a code that only computers can
or need to understand. Metadata is closer to the synopsis and even the
critic's review of the book: information that forms an intrinsic part
of your decision on whether to consume the content or not.
How it all works
Traditionally a manual and arduous process, the creation and collection
of the data that describes content is becoming increasingly more automated,
although nowhere near perfect.
BBC News is currently trialling the Virage software as a means of capturing
data on news programmes to help you find the right clips, the news stories
of interest to you. It's clever stuff: it works by not just by looking
at a programme's description, but by converting the speech and dialogue
within it to text, and putting that in a database. It's more accurate
and comprehensive than compiling metadata from subtitles - and, after
a number of years of hard slog, it works.
Together with projects like TV Anytime, a set of standards developed
by the BBC's Research & Development department, which labels and manages
content across a number of platforms, you can start to see the future
possibilities of finding the content you want no matter what device
it is stored upon.
Indeed, one such product in development from the BBC will rely heavily
on such advanced metadata if it is to succeed. Stapler is an aggregation
tool in development, which in essence pulls together diverse BBC assets
and 'staples' them together around an editorial proposition.
Still in its early development stages, the service uses cutting edge
'barcode' technology which is read by a camera phone and enables you
to grab content when you see the special BBC Stapler barcode on a poster,
a magazine, or the TV, and then provides you with the right content
- tailored for you, tailored for the device you're using, and tailored
for where you are.
The service requires amazing levels of metadata - from both our archive
and current broadcast output - to work well, and true multi-platform
authoring of all our content. To give you a taster of what you may experience
in three to five years' time, here's a brief working demonstration.
Of course, it's not just the BBC doing this.
Large organisations like Google, Yahoo and Blinkx (hmm, didn't notice
many other broadcasters in that list) are using advanced algorithms
to generate metadata on existing content and footage from broadcasters
like the BBC to make our content findable through their platforms. Guess
who's going to get the brand credit and a slice of the ad revenues in
We are on the very edge of a broadcasting revolution. From a slow start
at the beginning of this decade, the increasing consumption of content
across multiple platforms is finally becoming less the exception and
more the rule; from a single platform programme extension, to a multi-media,
multi-platform format, giving audiences the power to pick and chose
anything they want. And it will not be at the margins, but somewhere
around a third of all consumption could come from outside the current
linear broadcast schedule, within five years.
We broadcasters need to move quick, if we're not to be as irrelevant
as the Encyclopaedia Britannica in the world of Encarta, Wikkipedia
and the web at large. We must create 'platform-agnostic content packages'
- not quite as snappy as TV programmes I'll grant you, but flexible
content, where there is a meaningful, appropriate experience for the
audience on whichever platform they chose. Moreover, we need to look
hard at clever and cost-effective ways of tapping into the heart and
context of a programme, to create the wealth of necessary metadata to
help our audiences find their way around this infinite supply: whether
that be through the internet; third parties like Google; storage devices
like PVRs; or even advanced on-demand EPGs.
The benefits of such an approach are enormous. A multiplatform approach
can give our audiences access to our content when it suits them, but
it can also extend the lifecycle of our programmes, giving them a reach
beyond their original audiences, and increasing their value, public