BBC, 15 years online, and the future of communications

The BBC is celebrating 15 years of BBC Online, revealing that since it launched its presence it now has an audience of 22.7 million UK adults a week, approximately 50 percent of which see iPlayer as the crown jewel of the company’s online offering.

[ABOVE: The second half of futurist Gerd Leonhard’s remarkably prescient presentation concerning the future of broadcasting in 2009.]

“Last week we surveyed a representative sample of 9,200 BBC website users and asked them to choose from the top moments over the past 15 years of BBC Online.

“Of those surveyed 50% said their top moment was the launch of BBC iPlayer, 15% chose the launch of the BBC website in 1997, 8% said the BBC’s first truly digital Olympics at the London 2012 Games this summer and 5% the launch of websites for children of all different ages – Cbeebies and CBBC,” said BBC director of Future Media, Ralph Rivera.

These statistics reflect the changing nature of broadcasting in the digital age.

DARPA’s cultural bomb

These changes shouldn’t surprise anyone: way back when what became the Internet was originally established by the US military division known as DARPA, it was intended to be a decentralized way by which disparate locations could maintain communication with each other.

In other words it was originally developed as a cheap to deploy command and control solution. The technology reached the universities and then spread and proliferated across the public domain.

Given that broadcast television, like magazines, music or any other creative medium is inherently about communication, the match between the Internet and any form of mass market communication system is predictable.

Today the Internet is part of almost everything we do. From the creation to the production; to distribution and the consumption of content, the Internet has presence at every point.

Rivera notes: “In 15 short years our websites are now at the heart of BBC broadcasting and have fundamentally changed news gathering and distribution, programme research and production and how our audiences share, interact, engage and get immersed in BBC content.” [ITALICS OUR OWN].

This was the early Internet as it was in the 80's, as developed by DARPA.

This was the early Internet as it was in the 80’s, as developed by DARPA.

“It’s only the Internet…”

This fundamental change is both a problem and an opportunity. Entire industries have been transformed and new services put in place, services which have benefitted from the perception that “it’s only the Internet”. These days those players who said that are on the Internet.

Social media, Wikileaks and changes in the ways in which people communicate together on an ad hoc basis are also reflective of these changes.

Though the pace of change hasn’t stopped — meaning we’re not through with change yet. Rivera puts it like this:

“The pace of change is rapid – looking back just five years smartphones were in their infancy, there were no apps, tablets or internet-connected TVs – and part of the role of the BBC is to innovate at scale and bring the audience with us as the internet and digital platforms develop.”

Television remains dominant, according to a November Lightspeed Research survey which found 48 percent of UK viewers still get their news from TV: but 21 percent find it on news Websites along with 5 percent more who source it via Facebook or Twitter.

The iPad generation captures the spirit of future broadcasting: Decentralised, multinational, using multiple devices, multiple sources and connected in new digital tribes

The iPad generation captures the spirit of future broadcasting: Decentralised, multinational, using multiple devices, multiple sources and connected in new digital tribes

The future audience

There’s also a demographic change going forward. There are fewer 18-34s using television as their source of news: interestingly, 9 percent of those in that age group get their highlights from Facebook.

“Websites are also more likely to be cited as the main source for 18-34s, with 29% of them referring to a newspaper or news website, compared with 17% of 35-54s and 13% of 55-64s,” the report states.

It is revealing that this research reflects how social networking is impacting news consumption and will have an even greater impact in the future.

It’s yet another reflection of the changing nature of how news is identified, reported and shared using a distributed communication technology. You could argue that viral video on YouTube also reflects this.

What might the impact be? That’s hard to determine, but for anyone in the communications business: journalist or PR; brand marketing to self-help therapy; health to research comms; wherever you are in the chain, it clearly makes sense to distribute what you do across multiple outlets (and to multiple devices).

What’s also interesting about that is that the evolution of the communication of intellectual or creative assets is becoming less and less about the medium, but, in defiance of Marshall McLuhan’s ’60’s claim, ever more dependent on the message itself. The question is if this future evolution will favor a world of vibrant and diversified voices, or a move toward a medley of the mundane? Here at Dreamtek we work with clients at all levels to help them put their content out to the multi-channel, multi-device audience.

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