BBC Global News Chief Calls on Advertisers to Fund Quality News: ‘There Is a Social Impact Here’

At its NewFront, the organization touts its ability to connect communities across the globe

The presentation was hosted by BBC News' Beyond 100 Days presenter Katty Kay. - Credit by Getty Images
Headshot of A.J. Katz

BBC News held its third annual Digital Content NewFront presentation this afternoon at the Dream Downtown hotel in New York. The presentation, hosted by BBC News’ Beyond 100 Days presenter Katty Kay, included a conversation regarding “brand safety” that was atypical from what one often hears about the popular subject at a NewFront.

BBC Global News CEO Jim Egan made some strong remarks about the state of television news in 2019 and why advertisers need to be involved.

“We probably weren’t expecting this session to be a morality and ethics lesson, but this is a serious and a highly important point—that we are living through times, whether we like it or not, that our children will be studying and historians will be writing about for many decades to come,” said Egan.

“That’s not just here in the U.S., or in the U.K., but in places like Venezuela, or India, where the world’s biggest elections are currently underway—and if you want those events to be reported in meaningful and insightful ways, the quality of news has to be funded,” he continued. “I don’t think the right response to the understandable concerns that advertisers, agencies and brands have about news is to simply say: ‘Well we aren’t going to advertise on news at all,’ because that will make what we’re seeing in the industry worse, rather than better, and I think there is a social impact here that it’s appropriate for everyone to think about.”

Egan’s remarks were made in front of a packed room, with red lighting to match the BBC News logo. Network executives were surrounded by the audience on a round platform, and they walked around it to speak to different areas of the room. Last year, executives spoke to the audience in front of them.

This dynamic was far more effective.

The true theme of the presentation was “Evolution.” The network hoped to demonstrate to advertisers how it has stayed one of the world’s most popular news outlets for 100 years, while striving to evolve and innovate its voice with the times.

In terms of innovations—Simon Hancock and Stephen Beckett from BBC’s Click digital series presented Object-Based Media, a technology that allows viewers to customize their content according to their preferences.

BBC Storyworks director Krystal Bowden spoke about Project: Songbird, which is a plan to create automated audio versions of all BBC News’ online articles; new BBC feature verticals The Future Sound of Music, Future You and Discovery, as well as BBC Travel series The Future of the Past and The 20/20 Project.

“Hearing a story told with an authentic voice helps people connect to it more strongly. We are seeing a robust, increasing demand for audio content,” said Bowden.

Project: Songbird, according to Bowden, offers editorial storytelling without having to click on or browse through a story. The technology also allows audiences to be served with the most important, relevant news based on their browsing history, and presents an “always on” proposition for BBC News’ ad partners.

Bowden also spoke about potential opportunities for brands to get involved with BBC News’ branded podcasts. Sprint, OFX and BlackRock are three brands that apparently are already on board.

Brands seem to be interested in BBC News these days. The company announced that preliminary end of year results suggest that 2018/19 was the company’s best year ever for profitability, driven by 4% sales growth in both ad sales and distribution revenues. Americas ad sales grew 16% year-on-year, their best ever, and made it the strongest performing regional market.

Then there’s BBC Sport. BBC StoryWorks senior content strategist Kate Moriarty said the network will be providing extensive coverage throughout 2019 of women in sports. There are three women’s world cup competitions on the docket: Rugby, cricket, and most notably, football (aka. soccer).

The organization wants to tout full involvement for women in any aspect of sport, profiling more female role models for younger audiences, and creating inspirational content.

“The BBC is making a commitment to empowering equality by increasing our women’s sports coverage rights and increasing our representation across our BBC Sport editorial contributor teams and across our cultural marketing,” said Moriarty.

Kay, who American news junkies might also recognize from her frequent appearances on MSNBC’s Morning Joe—a show which doesn’t always bring people together—said BBC News is in the business of touting a voice of trust and impartiality.

“At the BBC, we believe that sharing our voice, connecting our stories, giving you the news and bringing people together, even in this very divided world we live in, is something to celebrate,” said Kay.


@ajkatztv aj.katz@adweek.com A.J. Katz is the senior editor of Adweek's TVNewser.
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