With the Huffinginton Post launching its UK site last week and the Mail Online and Guardian making a push overseas, it’s certainly an exciting time to be a global online news provider. These developments made me reflect on the progress we’ve made with BBC.com, the BBC’s international website that launched commercially in 2007.
Since then BBC.com has travelled a long way and I’m thrilled to say that we have, as a standalone business, reached profitability – two whole years ahead of target. Our sales have grown by a staggering 83% in the past year (and by 113% in the US).
Today, BBC.com has the largest international reach of any UK news website with comScore reporting 50m users outside of the UK. And, it’s not just English speaking markets that love BBC.com: just last week the latest EMS survey that measures the media use of Europe’s most affluent households confirmed that we’re the most popular news website in Europe in that most sought-after demographic (again that’s without including the UK). BBC.com also reaches a monthly audience of 21m in North America and over 10m users in Asia Pacific (making us the largest international news website in that key growth region). It’s clear to see that even with with the proliferation of celebrity news and opinion online, the appetite for authoritative, impartial news and quality original lifestyle content is greater than ever.
What we learnt very quickly when we commercially launched BBC.com back in 2007 is that in order to grow audiences and revenues around the world we needed to focus hard on three main areas: understanding our international audience needs; tailoring our editorial and product offering; and building our sales and marketing capability.
We understand our audience better than ever before and are equipped to know what they want from the BBC online internationally. This allows us to strike the right balance between maintaining our global perspective, but also tailoring our news offering and extend into new areas where there is clear audience appetite and the BBC has something distinctive and valuable to offer.
The ‘global vs local’ feel of the site has been a big priority. Over the past year we’ve launched a North American version and invested in a new team of journalists based in Washington DC, to curate the BBC’s news output from over 2000 BBC journalists around the world and prioritise the content that is most relevant for US audiences, and to generate even more news stories that would be relevant to them. Our latest local edition is the Asia Business edition, again with a dedicated team, this time based in Singapore and Hong Kong to deliver fascinating stories from the fastest growing economy to business professionals around the world. This is already attracting millions of new users to the site and a full Asian edition will follow later this year. BBC.com/travel also launched over the past year, this is our dedicated travel site in partnership with Lonely Planet.
A big focus has also been expanding and developing the BBC.com portfolio of products across multiple platforms. We were a launch partner for Apple’s iPad back in April of last year with our BBC Global News app, following that up with an iPhone app in the summer. We’ve now had just under 4m downloads outside of the UK to iOS devices and four weeks ago we launched an Android news app which has already notched up half a million international downloads. Plus just this summer we have now also launched the BBC News smart TV app on all Samsung IPTV products outside of the UK. Our audiences increasingly expect a seamless and personalized three screen experience across TV, online, and mobile, and that is exactly what we are giving them.
Finally, to bring the ad money in, we have needed to educate the international media buying market that the BBC could deliver the sought-after audiences they so require online. This may seem like a small point, but even as one of the largest news-based websites in the world we still had to assume that the media buyer we were pitching to in, say, Chicago had never heard of us before. However I’m glad to say they do now! We carried over 500 advertisers in the past year, made up of many of the top bluechip brands in the world, and more than two thirds of these customers came back for repeat business.
So what does this mean for the BBC and BBC Worldwide? Well it means that as well as paying BBC News a multimillion pound rights payment for us to run the BBC.com business, and jointly funding new product developments such as smartphone apps, we can really move ahead this year to start delivering profits on top of what we already give to the BBC. We’re also directly funding journalists in key international territories such as the US and Asia that contribute online content that is then carried on the BBC’s UK website – so that’s great for the licence fee payer too.
For BBC Worldwide, it’s fantastic that we’ve succeeded in developing a major global digital proposition that offers a unique and compelling experience for our audiences alongside our channels and DVDs, and a valuable commercial opportunity for our advertising customers. And we have big ambitions for the next year too, with new local editions as I’ve mentioned already, a slate of original feature commissions, new lifestyle sections following the success of BBC.com/travel, and more multi-platform apps.
More than anything this journey for BBC.com over the past few years has shown me there is a clear and growing demand around the world for a premium quality, impartial digital news service such as the BBC’s – and that maintaining a leading position as a global news provider is a fascinating but complex challenge, one which we fully intend to continue to lead the charge on.
Source: comScore unified Q1 2011 monthly average & comScore unified Q1 2011 monthly average (custom set)
Omniture measures BBC.com unique users as 58m outside of the UK