While the BBC is planning to take on Netflix by building its own “Britflix” on-demand video streaming service, on the news front, it looks like the UK media giant is cutting back to shore up its funds and figure out a better way of competing against (or within!) Facebook.
Today, the many-tentacled public broadcaster confirmed that it would be closing down and consolidating several apps and online properties in specific verticals like food, local news and travel, while also paring down ring-fenced budgets for original on-demand content, as it aims for a “more focused and distinctive service.” The BBC estimates that the cuts will take place over the next 12 months and will save it £15 million ($22 million) — or 15% of its annual editorial spend.
The “Britflix” report from yesterday noted that the BBC is toying with a subscription-style service for iPlayer, something that a BBC spokesperson has now confirmed directly to TechCrunch.
“Obviously S4C [a Welsh-language public broadcaster] is a channel on iPlayer already – but what we’re talking about is more content such as what we did with the RSC for Shakespeare,” the spokesperson said.
iPlayer has been one of the BBC’s big successes in terms of new digital initiatives, so it’s not really surprising to see the company look for ways of growing it. As the same time, the company has been experimenting with more third-party content on the platform — for example during those recent Shakespeare anniversary celebrations — so it’s clearly an area where it hopes to be more relevant to today’s audience.
And relevance seems to be the name of the game with today’s news, too. The corporation is spinning today’s closures — a product of a wider review of its digital services, the Online Creative Review — as a proactive move, and says it’s doing it to remain at the “forefront” of digital broadcasting.
But it’s also defensive: the BBC has been seeing its position in UK news viewing (and arguably world viewing) eroded over the last several years. Specifically, it now needs to respond to the rise of aggregating platforms like Facebook, which have become both go-to places for people to read news from other sites, and to find information that is actually only created to live and be consumed on Facebook itself.
As a case in point: today the BBC says that its share of online viewing time is only around one-fifth of that of Facebook’s in the UK: “The online market is global and the BBC only accounts for around a 4.5% share of UK adult’s time online compared to Facebook’s 20%,” it notes.
It’s not the only one learning how to better reckon with the new generation of content consumption that is focused around social platforms. Facebook is encouraging some publishers to create content specifically for its new video push, for example. Others are raising questions about what the right cost is to get promoted on Snapchat’s Discover platform.
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Will a £15 million cut — and a more streamlined operation — help the BBC find its place a little more easily in this brave new world? We’ll see.
The cuts will be coming in the next year, and they touch a number of popular areas, but also ones that the BBC could justify as overlapping with other parts of its operation. From the BBC’s statement, these are the plans:
- Close the iWonder service, “but redeploy its formats across BBC Online”
- Close the BBC’s Food website but “BBC Worldwide’s Good Food site will remain”
- Focus on “distinctive long-form journalism online under a Current Affairs banner and close the online News Magazine”
- Integrate Newsbeat output into BBC News Online, but close the separate Newsbeat site and app (Newsbeat was first launched back in the 1970s, when using ‘beat’ in a name was very cool, and was aimed at a younger audience, so it’s really not a surprise to see it getting axed.)
- Close the Travel site and halt development of the Travel app. BBC says it will continue to put some travel news into BBC News.
- It will halt indexing local news, “offering instead an open stream on our rolling guide to BBC and local news provider stories, ‘Local Live’”
- Remove ring-fenced funding for iPlayer-only commissions (it’s unclear if these are news-only but if they include drama, then it seems that the Britflix initiative will not exactly be like Netflix, which has doubled down on original content.)
- Reduce funding for Connected Studio, the digital innovation programme, “with innovation increasingly funded within business-as-usual and the Studio maintained as an enabler of innovation”
- Reduce digital radio and music social media activity and other programme content considered “not core to services.” Again, it seems like BBC may be clearing the decks on social considering that there are other routes, like Facebook Instant Articles, that it may choose to pursue instead.
The review — launched last fall — was led by James Harding, Director of BBC News & Current Affairs, who is taking the view that to be stronger, you have to be leaner.
“The internet requires the BBC to redefine itself, but not its mission: the BBC’s purpose online is to provide a distinctive public service that informs, educates and entertains,” he said in a statement. “The Review sets out what we want to be famous for online: trusted news; the place where children come to learn and play; high quality entertainment; live sports coverage and sports news; arts and culture, history and science; and historic moments, national events. And we are going to focus our energy on these six areas: BBC News; iPlay and BBC Bitesize; BBC iPlayer and BBC iPlayer Radio; BBC Sport; the Ideas Service; and BBC Live. We will stop doing some things where we’re duplicating our work, for example on food, and scale back services, such as travel, where there are bigger, better-resourced services in the market.”
The BBC has made a number of efforts to tailor and shift its service to platforms and formats that will better capture attention in today’s digital world. There have been lots of reports in the past about how it would work with companies like Spotify to develop new services, although up to now it’s been very intent on creating its own platforms that incorporate third-party content, rather than partnering on new platform efforts outright.
Updated with more details about streaming service.