In a year when future media teams in BBC World Service focused on building deeper relationships with global audiences, it became easier for users to access and share content on the web and other new media platforms.Websites in Arabic and English were relaunched and access to video was enhanced in a range of key languages.
Behind the scenes a more flexible system was introduced for journalists to produce and publish multimedia content. A new global satellite distribution system transformed delivery of audio, video and online material worldwide.
The new bbcworldservice.com website, launched at the end of 2007, gives immediate access to a rich mix of audio content in English. The facelift is designed to make the site clearer and less cluttered. "We wanted to put the fantastic breadth and depth of our audio at the heart of the user's experience," explains Sally Thompson, Managing Editor BBC World Service Future Media. "Audiences can find their favourite audio and schedules more easily as well as experiencing the serendipitous nature of BBC World Service radio output."
With the relaunch of bbcarabic.com to coincide with the new Arabic television channel, the website became the place where audiences can discover the full range of multimedia content now offered by the BBC in Arabic. With a new, modern look, the site makes video and audio as easy to access as text.
The technology of 'embedding' video, making it unnecessary to launch a separate window to watch a video clip, is being extended to other major language sites. It offers the same user experience as websites such as youtube.com. "It places video in the story instead of it being an add-on," explains Thompson. "That really works where video adds value to the story." By the end of the year, broadband video was available in six languages, and take-up levels were encouraging.
Work also began on tailoring the look and feel of all language sites to suit the diversity of tastes and reflect designs more competitive with local providers' services. Known as 'localisation', the aim is to showcase a wider range of content in a more accessible way.
Increased functionality gave users more opportunities to discuss issues among themselves as well as giving their viewpoints in BBC debates. Multimedia votes are now taking place, using images, audio and video. Improved blogging tools allow users to add their view to other people's comments. Greater personalisation has been introduced, allowing users to extract content and use it in ways that suit them. Experiments with uploading information to social networking sites gathered pace during the Bangladesh by River journey.
The redesigned bbcworldservice.com won the 2008 Webby Award for best radio website
"We want to develop a deeper, richer relationship with our audiences. Increased interactivity gives us the opportunity to do that," says Thompson. "With the phenomenal success of social networking sites where you can aggregate content from many different sources, audiences have now grasped the power of personalisation."
The BBC World Service's online sites attracted a record 259.6 million page impressions in March 2008, compared to 189.8 million in March 2007 – an increase of 37%. The success of partnerships played an important part in achieving this result. Syndication with third-party sites has been facilitated by new developments to improve the speed and consistency with which content is delivered.
'Best of radio' showcase
In its first facelift for four years, bbcworldservice.com made it easier than ever to enjoy the wealth of content produced for BBC World Service radio programmes in English."We have made audio central to the site – 'this is our best radio content, get it here' is the message," says Managing Editor Kelly Shephard."We are not going to wait four years to change the site again – it should be an ongoing process, so we are going to be continually adding to it and revamping it." The launch was the start of a major programme of work to improve websites in all 33 languages.
BBC World Service programmes were made available as part of the new BBC podcast service launched in the summer of 2007 after a two-year trial. Initially seven programmes were offered. By the end of March 2008, a summary of BBC World Service global news was the BBC's most popular daily podcast, with more than 1.24 million monthly downloads. BBC World Service now provides 31 programmes to the podcast service.
To reach growing audiences seeking content on mobiles,Wap portals were also launched in four languages – Arabic, Russian, Spanish and English. Users can download news content onto their mobile devices from the BBC sites and view it on demand.
The ability of new devices to offer a full multimedia service means that users are demanding more and better content. BBC World Service is providing relevant content in flexible and innovative ways.
In Africa and the Middle East, which accounts for 70% of all new Business Development investment, we gained two million extra listeners via FM relays and 0.8 million new listeners via FM partners.And in the United States, 5.3 million people listen to the BBC every week through our distribution partner, PRI – our highest figure to date.
Partnerships on the internet are also increasingly important. They helped our Brazilian service exceed its reach targets by over 100% and serve 1.4 million unique users weekly. On the strength of partnerships, our Learning English content for China tripled its traffic, reaching 44 million page impressions monthly.
The new Global Satellite Media Distribution System completed in January 2008 has transformed distribution of all BBC World Service content around the world, including FM and video content. The system, installed in over 1,200 locations, delivers better quality audio, uses smaller receiver dishes and saves £0.2 million per annum.
"We completed on time and on budget, including in some pretty challenging locations such as Afghanistan and Iraq," says Mike Cronk, Controller Future Media,Technology and Distribution." The new system enables us to reach audiences with an industry standard technology. Anyone can go out and buy a DVB receiver and a dish in their local store and start listening to BBC World Service. In time it will enable us to do a lot more for the audience."