Keynote speech given at FT Mobile Media Conference, London
Tuesday 15 May 2007
The promise of mobile phones being used for so much more than peer to peer communication, whether voice or text, has always been so tantalisingly and frustratingly close. From the first faltering steps in using SMS to send news headlines when I worked in mobile in the early Nineties, to the high hopes of WAP in the late Nineties as a provider of information, education and entertainment, mobile has always promised a great deal – but has it been able to deliver?
We have always taken the potential of mobile phones seriously at the BBC, and getting in early to the market, taking risks and innovating repeatedly has paid dividends – we are, according to ComScore research released yesterday, the UK's leading mobile website, with 2.3 million regular users a month, reaching some 40% of all users of mobile data services.
Yet, our PC based web audience – the number of people in the UK who regularly use bbc.co.uk on a PC or Mac - is over 16 million, seven times the number who access us via mobile. And the internet is in 60% percent of homes whereas mobile phones have an 85%+ penetration. Some of this disparity in usage of BBC content (the 16 million or 56% reach for internet vs the 2.3 million or 40% for mobile) can be explained away by the fact that fewer than half of all mobile phones are fully data enabled. But this still doesn't nearly explain the disparity. And it's not as if the mobile data market has stalled: the growth in the content-enabled mobile phone market has pretty much matched the growth in broadband take-up over the last five years. So why the discrepancy? Is the BBC's content less appealing to mobile users? Are mobile users just not interested in content outside a few niches like ring tones, adult content and perhaps news headlines? Maybe. But I don't think so.
I think a number of factors are now coming into alignment that will presage an explosive growth in the consumption of content over mobile. We are I believe, from a close examination of the consumption trends of our own content, at a tipping point between Mobile 1.0 and Mobile 2.0. These factors include:
- The advent of simple price plans for mobile data. This is a brave move by the industry that when combined with...
- A more open approach to the mobile web, by which I mean less closed gateways and easier routes from content producer to their audience and back, are together creating a solid platform for more innovative services whilst removing the most significant barrier to growth. Naturally the BBC applauds this innovation.
- Further, we have been waiting for a number of years for the more advanced handsets to both stabilise and make their way to the key audience we hope to reach through mobile. This is clearly happening with the arrival of devices such as the Nokia N95 which promise a usable web experience, and the ability to offer geographic-based services through its built in GPS.
- Higher bandwidths, faster connection and download speeds make a huge difference.
- More efficient multi-platform content production systems and more flexible rights frameworks are making it cheaper for content providers.
So, right across the value chain, from the content provider to the handset, everything is loosening up, and speeding up, and I really feel we are on the edge of a great opportunity.
Why it's important
Taking a step back, why is mobile content important for the BBC at all? A number of reasons – it should help us remain relevant in the digital age. It helps us to reach younger audiences who consume less of what the BBC has to offer. It helps us build a new relationship with them and engage with them in a two way dialogue.
But we also have a wider role, that of creative R&D for the UK. With the BBC Trust approval framework for new services, we will not always be able to be number one to market. But that does not mean we can't and shouldn't still be innovators, taking the risks, piloting and trialling new services, and sharing our findings, helping to create the right market environment – be that new rights frameworks that we negotiate with industry bodies on behalf of the whole content industry, or open standards that help all boats rise on the tide. We must also innovate editorially, finding the new formats that capture the imagination of our audiences.
And, within the strictures of a tighter licence fee settlement, and the tough decisions that that entails, I have increased our investment in enabling mobile content, and appointed a new controller of Mobile, Matthew Postgate.
So, what has worked so far?
Our current audience of over 2 million have very diverse tastes. There is already a long tail of demand, even with the relatively limited amount of content we make available. News has the largest audience, but Sport is by far the most consumed genre, with 51 million pages watched a month. Entertainment is increasingly popular, from Top Gear at over a quarter of a million views to Life on Mars at 127,000. We have even had one or two breakthroughs with mobile services that have no direct TV or radio spin-off: GCSE Bitesize and CBBC amongst the best examples.
We have led the way in the use of MMS to interact with both radio and television programming. While MMS remains far smaller in terms of volumes incidents such as the Buncefield Fire show that it can be a really useful tool in supporting the BBC's public purposes and is a platform that we expect to become increasingly important.
15,000 MMS's were received around the Buncefield story. Not only were the volumes high but the response rate was extremely quick – the first explosion at the oil depot was at 6.03am, the first picture received at 6.16am (before any newswires, including PA had even run story) and first video at 6.23am.
As the capabilities of the devices and network speeds have increased, so have our ambitions. From the Olympics in 2004 where we offered our first video streams over mobile, we have offered more and more rich video: unique clips around Doctor Who – the Tardisodes – which were watched by 60,000 is a good example, and our daily news on-demand video has a 20,000 audience – small but growing fast.
Finally we have been pursuing mobile broadcasting research for our radio and television networks since 2005. What started with limited, closed user group trials in Oxford with O2 (of the DVB-H system) has evolved to open trials of both digital broadcasting systems with Virgin mobile (DAB-IP) and most recently internet systems with 3, Vodafone and Orange (3G services).
While there is a lot of debate about spectrum, technologies and business models, a key question for us is what do consumers really want from this platform – do they want long-form, live TV? The BBC wants to see a framework that enables operators and content creators to experiment and take risks and to learn what it really is that audiences want from mobile TV. It is the editorial innovation that will ultimately deliver a significant new market for all.
We know the value chain for mobile is complex and that there needs to be an industry-wide push to make mobile broadcasting happen. The BBC is committed to supporting the mobile broadcast industry and, as we stated in our Digital Dividend Review response, we want to see spectrum released for this purpose.
So far, our strategy has been predominantly about reversioning or supporting existing content, about experimentation and understanding audience needs. We now need to move into the second phase, of mobile 2.0, by playing much more strongly to the unique benefits and features of the mobile environment.
The key attributes of our mobile offerings going forward need to be immediacy, personalisation, enabling real engagement and producing content relevant to where you are right now – that's where we want to be.
Take a BBC programme like SpringWatch with Bill Oddie. In Mobile 1.0 we'll offer a live broadcast of it, and perhaps some supporting text. For Mobile 2.0 though we'll make it available on-demand, the full version and perhaps the five minute version, and we'll cut it up into bitesize chunks, and add context like still photos of the birds and bees.
With personalisation you could click a button against each country animal or bird you've spotted, you could tag the programme with your own sightings, cross referencing to your own photos on Flickr. And with location based content, it really starts to get interesting. You could say "show me the sightings of less-spotted plovers within a five mile radius of where I am right now."
"Immediacy" we are already delivering with services such as the BBC news reader application.
"Personalisation" is embryonic but hugely important. As fundamental as the shift in the way we use telephones. We now call people not buildings. The BBC must shift too – we too must engage with individuals, not just broadcast at whole regions.
We're at the beginning of the journey with "location-based" services too. We have already had some early successes such as the TV programme Coast where programme support material was made available for the locations featured in the television show. More recently we have continued our experiments merging location-tagged content in trial with Google Earth.
Perhaps more than with any other platform, on mobile we, and other content providers, really need to work with partners across the supply chain, from network operators to handset manufacturers...
- We should work together to understand how we can further simplify user experiences to open up much of the advanced functionality to mainstream audiences.
- We should have consistent, detailed measurement that allows us to personalise services and build the business case internally.
- Just as on broadband we believe that mobile TV can be built into a platform that offers more than traditional broadcasting. Again this will require collaboration across navigation, interactive systems and advertising platforms.
- Further, we should explore how location metadata can be standardised and opened up to stimulate the development of location-based services.
- Finally, syndication is an important aspect of all digital platforms in a converged world; and we should explore the opportunities alongside our other platforms.
In return the BBC can guide our audiences through new mobile experiences and help build the market on behalf of all, just as we have on other platforms.
Our editorial innovation can stimulate the market to help the UK develop into the most exciting mobile environment in the world.
There is a genuine opportunity right now to create a world-leading mobile media environment that can support both a vibrant commercial sector and public service propositions. We are looking forward to the next few years working alongside all of you...