BBC Trading in a B for a C?

Posted by Elliott Hurst

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Feb 17, 2016 12:39:07 PM

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  “Is the The BBC dropping its television and radio divisions?” 

In a recent article by Digital Trends, the BBC is reported to be axing its television and radio divisions to streamline its broadcasts and offer more content and audience-led divisions. This is a pretty significant development for quite possibly the free world's best funded media company.

The headline seems misleading, as it could be read that the BBC was simply re-labeling the departments in light of gradual conversion of TV, Radio and Internet access and content. However, if you dig into the “why” of such a movement, you start to come to some conclusions. The official answer to drop the channel-based television and radio divisions was to help reshape the company’s future for “content and audience-led divisions.” That’s the line that makes your Spidey-sense go off.

It's important to remember the BBC’s position in the world of broadcasting - is unique.

Unlike any media company of it’s size in the world, it is a government-owned “Crown” corporation, which makes it funded by, and beholden to, the public. Any change this significant to their organizational structure, better be worth the headache. This may be the largest organizational overhaul in the broadcaster’s 93-year history. Hierarchies will be flattened. Many will lose their jobs. This type of “change management” means loss of jobs, and governments tend to get booted for such management. More so they have to explain that they are now transforming their organization to compete and lead in the digital era.  

Consider Lord Hall’s statement in the article: "The blurring of boundaries between television, radio, and the internet will lessen the demand for traditional broadcasts”.

Simple economics suggests that less demand equates to less supply. In response, the BBC will be supplying less “B” as in Broadcasts, and more “C” as in Content, which can be wholistically produced and marketed via our omni-channel digiverse. The BBC is transforming itself into the BCC, British Content Company. They are unifying how they produce and market content. It is platform agnostic. The value is in the content itself, and much less defined by the delivery vehicle. So that kind of implies that the current delivery infrastructure is, let's say, less meaningful.

Remember, every Brit's paycheck is garnished a few pounds for the BBC. They're in such a unique situation because they don't have to compete based on advertising pandering, so they can afford to innovative. They can afford to think ahead and radically change how they operate their business. So many of Radio’s virtues have been pioneered and perfected by this advantage. But on the flipside they have to answer to their boss, the public. And while there is a movement in Britain to curb funding for the BBC, it is such a part of their accepted social structure, that they should be able to stem the tide during the transformation, albeit a transformation they have to do gradually.  

I read this article as the first domino in a series that will turn the BBC into something very unlike the BBC we’ve come to know. If you read these tea leaves as I do, you start thinking about not if, but when this modern approach to broadcasting will come to your company. If the BBC is leading the way, the advantage of following is to learn from their mistakes, as well as their successes. In the meantime, Radio execs should be thinking about their brands as content companies, untethered from the limitations of the audio signal, which is a fairly radical thought, but one that has been embraced more in recent years.

In the most recent Borrell Associates industry survey, 82% believe there’s strong potential in digital, “the highest we’ve seen,” according to Gordon Borrell, CEO. While believing it is the first step to doing it, here are some additional tips on how to think more like a manager of a content-driven company:

  1. If it’s not good enough for on-air, it’s not good enough for online
  2. Digital content comes from your talent, the same thing that keeps you competitive in the market. What goes on “between the records”, is what will drive your audience online
  3. Continue to experiment, but to quote Lord Kelvin “if you cannot measure it, you cannot improve it”. So ensure your feedback mechanism gives you the data you need to see what works

Chances are most people reading this do not work for the BBC, however; the Beeb’ is merely proactively responding to the changes that will continue to uproot broadcasting. Commercial Radio stations are constantly changing hands, and why not? Regardless of their digital footprint, Radio stations will never be more valuable than right now, while the same Borrell study stated digital revenues represent an average of a mere 5.4% of totals today. Radio hasn’t seen the same erosion of their core business as print publishers have, so their value remains intact.  

Yet, consolidation in Radio is happening differently today - it’s not just about grabbing market share anymore. We are seeing forward thinking companies growing comfortable with digital content creation and publishing, and making money off of it. Furthermore, they are actively seeking out those owner operators who unabashedly do not “get it”, not so they can own more FCC awarded licenses, but so they can grow their local network of brands and content to eventually fold into a solitary funnel of content and audience. Regardless if you’re working for a company that’s looking to buy stations or sell them, leaders in the industry are looking for Radio operators who “get it” to lead the charge.

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Topics: Future of Radio

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