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Annual Review 2006/07


A Year in Review – Future Media & Technology

Accelerating into a multi-media future

"When there is a big news story we can run a multilingual debate that really is a 'global conversation'."

As the digital revolution gathered pace, BBC World Service strengthened its commitment to future media with more interactive programming and the launch of online video content in six languages. An increasing range of programming in English and other languages was made available through podcasts and more web content became accessible on mobile phones.

The process of changing from a radio broadcaster into a multi-media network is a fundamental part of BBC World Service's strategy to compete as the digital age transforms the way millions of people access news and information. By March 2007 the number of international users of the BBC's international online sites had reached nearly 12 million a week. A new generation of users is increasingly likely to opt to listen to or view content on mobile phones, mp3 players or via high speed broadband connections.

'Convenience to the individual is now the most important thing, not the platform itself,' says Alan Booth, Controller, Marketing Communications and Audiences. 'There's no reason why people won't soon be able to get everything they want on one device. This isn't science fiction or something that's only happening among the really wealthy in Europe and America. It's something that's going to happen around the world.'

Interactive programmes such as World Have Your Say and Africa Have Your Say already make it possible for audiences to share their views and contribute directly to news programmes every day, whether by telephone, email or text message. Divisions between communities which are separated by geographic location and language are being eroded as BBC World Service's online teams share content in different languages. 'When there is a big news story we can now run a multilingual debate that really is the 'global conversation' in action,' says Sally Thompson, Managing Editor Future Media. 'If you just run a debate in English you will probably get very Western-style opinions. Once you start bringing in languages like Arabic, Persian, Urdu and Hindi there is such richness of debate. You get people together who would never normally communicate with each other.'

Content submitted by users is now an integral part of websites in every language. Some of the most valuable contributions are received from countries such as Burma and Uzbekistan where conventional reporting is dangerous or impossible. Emails and pictures from China broke the story of campus violence, which the Chinese media had not reported.

During the year broadband video news reports were launched in Arabic, Portuguese for Brazil, Persian, Russian, Spanish and Urdu to meet the explosion in demand for video on the web. Paulo Cabral of BBC Brasil typifies the new generation of multimedia-trained producers. Covering the war in Lebanon, he was able to file reports for radio, online and video services. New technology is being introduced to make it easier for users to find the content they want, including audio and video content as well as text. Effective searching is essential in an age when social networking sites such as MySpace, YouTube, Odeo and Second Life account for a growing share of the time and attention of young audiences, who are more interested in showcasing content than consuming traditional media.

'We are moving on from linear broadcasting into an age of find, play and share services,' says Sally Thompson. 'Our content already appears on myriad partner sites and social networking sites. Users see it as audio rather than radio. We have to enable them to find what they want to listen to, then take it away and share it just as they do with music.'

During the Generation Next season a MySpace connection linked to the Next Big Thing competition to find the best under-18 unsigned band. 'People of that age group are not normally going to visit a BBC World Service site,' says Thompson. 'MySpace provided a much more appropriate environment to attract their interest and it worked really well.'

Partnerships have proved particularly effective in competitive markets such as Latin America, where BBC content in Spanish and Portuguese is widely accessed through partner sites. In China, where access to BBC news websites is blocked, partnerships have established portals for BBC learning and education material, delivering 13 million page impressions a month.

Listeners set the agenda and can even take part in the World Have Your Say editorial meeting every morning. The value of hearing what listeners have to say was demonstrated when the programme went on air just after the military coup in Thailand in September 2006. 'Listeners in Bangkok told us there was no mood of fear, no violence and, yes, there were tanks on the street but it was pretty calm, says Editor Mark Sandell. 'Those voices changed the way we covered the story.'

A co-production between BBC Caribbean's interactive programme and Africa Have Your Say marked the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the British slave trade. 'It was a very good example of the global conversation, connecting communities that have a very strong link through a subject that is very important for both of them,' says Americo Martins Dos Santos, Executive Editor, Americas and Europe Region.

Internet diaries or blogs featured on BBC sites generated worldwide attention. A remarkable example is the case of a Pakistan rape victim, Mukhtar Mai, who fought for a change in traditional attitudes to women through a weekly blog on the BBC Urdu website. Unable to read or write, her words are written up by a local BBC journalist and also translated into English. 'She drew enormous response from people all over the world and generated a lively debate about traditional attitudes towards women and other issues that are rarely talked about in Pakistan,' says Behrouz Afagh, Head of Asia & Pacific Region.

'Today we are on something like 15 different delivery platforms or technologies, from traditional short, medium and long wave and FM through to proprietary satellite systems, online, DAB, DRM and mobile phones,' says Mike Cronk, Controller Distribution & Technology. 'Every market we serve is different. That's a real challenge for the way we put our technology together.'
The emphasis is on maximum flexibility in responding to the changing market. The year's key development is a revolution in the way programmes are produced. The launch of the digital Production House of the Future took place at Bush House, with services for South Asia. Traditional studios are replaced by a suite of glass-walled production modules and stand-up 'pods' for newsreaders, all communicating through state-of-the-art WiFi and internet links. 'It is already helping us to work better, work faster and move closer to audiences,' says Sabir Mustafa, Head of BBC Bengali. 'We can now announce an interactive phone-in at very short notice because we know we can handle it - we have the technology.'

Photo montage: website screenshots; wifi logo; close up of mobile phone showing video footage










BBC - Many voices, one world

A year in review
Future Media and Technology
Many voices, one world
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