BBC unveils big online revamp

Its "Creative Future" strategy embraces mobiles, podcasts and user content. Will it take on the likes of MSN and MySpace?
Written by Jo Best, Contributor on
The BBC has unveiled its "Creative Future" strategy, along with plans for a revamp of its online arm that could see the network taking on the likes of MySpace.

The move toward a more tech-savvy BBC is prompted by the broadcaster's fears that it may be failing a younger audience who are shunning TV in favor of spending time on the Internet.

Research by the BBC found that 60 percent of those aged between 16 and 24 watch fewer than three hours per week of BBC programming, and about a quarter of those watch no BBC programs at all.

Announcing the strategy, Director-General Mark Thompson said there was "a big shock coming" because the audience's relationship with the BBC and technology in general is changing.

The broadcaster is lining up some major changes, including the growth of user-generated content and an emphasis on new distribution channels such as mobile phones and iPods.

"We should aim to deliver public service content to our audiences in whatever media and on whatever device makes sense for them, whether they're at home or on the move," Thompson said.

Among the other changes prompted by the Creative Future strategy is a greater emphasis on online music across all the BBC's properties--radio, TV and online. As part of the drive to become a music brand, the BBC will aim to become the "premier destination for unsigned bands."

The BBC will also begin to focus on encouraging its audience to participate and contribute to its online content. "We need to reinvent (BBC Online), fill it with dynamic audio-visual content, personalize it, open it up to user-generated content," Thompson said.

Simon Grice, founder of etribes, which provides publishing tools for user-generated content, questioned the move.

"I think you have to step back and say is (user-generated content) what the BBC should be rushing after? Is that their core competency? The BBC should be focusing on what it's really good at: creating high-quality, nonuser-generated content," Grice said.

While details about what form the user-generated content will take have not been made clear yet, the BBC may be able to learn lessons from the successes and failures of other Web 2.0 companies.

Maintaining quality
JupiterResearch Senior Analyst Julian Smith said the BBC's newfound interest in "citizen journalism" poses questions about how user-created content will be managed.

"The BBC plays an interesting role as a public service provider," Smith said. "In the past, they've provided educational information and had a paternalistic attitude almost. How will they embrace this?

"A lot of these (user-generated content) sites can be rubbish. They have to play a role in identifying what is quality. If the BBC is to continue to be seen as a source of authority, it will need to have some sort of filtering process."

With an emphasis on both music and user communities, the BBC seems to be squaring up for a battle with MySpace, the popular social networking site that Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. bought last year.

A MySpace representative declined to comment.

MySpace has already proved to be one of the rising stars of Web 2.0, receiving more than 1.5 million visitors per month, according to Nielsen/Netratings. The site also is credited with starting the career of indie band the Artic Monkeys, responsible for the fastest-selling debut album of all time.

User-generated community sites such as Bebo and MySpace have one key advantage among media companies trying to build brand loyalty: Community site users tend to view more pages within that site than elsewhere.

Nielsen/Netratings found that the average Faceparty user will view more than 700 pages in the site each month--more than the BBC, eBay and Google averages combined.

Thompson also revealed that as part of the Creative Future strategy, the BBC is less than five years away from allowing viewers to create "drag and drop" personalized TV and radio stations.

The BBC's on-demand service, which allows viewers to download programs broadcast within the last seven days, will be renamed BBC i-player. It also will start to open up its archive and put it online.

The BBC will be running a competition in which viewers will be asked to help redesign its Web site, using popular tech sites such as Technorati, Wikipedia and YouTube as examples.

Jo Best of Silicon.com reported from London.

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