How has combining international news offerings across television and the Web worked so far for BBC globally? What has been the impact in India?
We’ve been doing the two separately for sometime but since last year we’ve had the two together.
Having a separate TV and Web does not makes sense anymore. Bringing them together allows the news rooms from all over to run alongside each other, breaking down the old fashioned definition of TV channels particularly in the news space. We are now seeing greater audience feedback. It’s early days, but so far I’m absolutely convinced that we cannot run TV and web separately. In India, there is the digitisation process going on. We’ve seen our TV audiences go up significantly in the four markets that are already digitised. Online audience has gone up by 30 percent over the last 12 months (according to Comscore). We are very pleased with the way things are going here in India.
How much of revenue comes from television globally? How much of television revenue is from advertising? How is this changing?
If I see the combined business, revenue breaks up into three parts: one third is TV advertising, one third is TV subscription revenue and one third is digital advertising. It is changing; the thing that is growing the most significantly is digital advertising. We started digital advertising about five and a half years ago.
Here in India, digital advertising in the last couple of years has grown very significantly. TV advertising has grown overall; some markets have grown more quickly than others but it also has to do with the economic circumstances in various markets. Some people are worried that the rise in digital media and digital news consumption implies the end of TV, but it’s certainly not the case with us, TV co-exists very peacefully.
Do you see a future when subscription revenue from across media including television surpasses advertising revenue? What is the outlook for India on that front?
No. The combined advertising revenue for us right now is two thirds, with subscriptions making up less than 40 percent of total revenue. I think the relative growth is on the advertising side rather than subscription side. Subscription remains very important for us and of course now we are running an integrated digital business. We also have digital distribution revenues through syndication. We are now providing content through windows in five languages, so that’s a new source of revenue for us.
It’s hard to be specific about the India outlook because of where we are in the digitisation process; we are somewhere between phase I and phase II. We are very pleased as we are seeing numbers and viewership going up but there is lots of settling down to do.
There are international news channels present in their international formats and through local JVs in India. Do you see this as an opportunity for BBC?
No, there are two reasons for this. The first is that we don’t have significant investment budgets. The second one is that the 26 percent limit on foreign investment in media holdings here in India will mean that BBC can only take a minority stake here in India in any venture and we have a very clear position: which is, as a channel BBC has to have full control on the news and that will not be possible with local JVs. We take our brand value very seriously and in case of JVs, we will not be able to take full control of our content.
What is the agenda behind the launch of a new look? Did you bring on board fresh digital and design agencies to create the new look?
The new look goes together with BBC moving into the billion pound news facility in London which is the new headquarters. It’s early days, but the feedback we are getting from people is quite positive.
No, there were no external agencies involved. The designing was done in-house. We also have a big marketing campaign launching in a couple of weeks which will be our first big consumer campaign in a number of years.
Is there a difference in the quality of journalism in different markets, including India? Or is it more a case of differentiation in terms of format and style of presentation?
I would say that there is definitely a difference in the field of the news sector across markets, but I honestly don’t know enough to venture against the quality of journalism. The style and format are extremely different but that cannot be a say in the quality of journalism; it solely depends on the audience taste and the way competition is shaping up.
Do you plan to recruit journalists in India to cover more local content?
Yes, but not aggressively. The BBC of course works in English and other languages such as Hindi, Tamil, Bengali, and so on. We are recruiting a very small number of journalists. Something that we are doing very aggressively is getting our existing journalists to work in a range of languages and not just in one language. For this we have active programs at BBC called Bi-lingual Journalist Training Program which is seeking to promote multi-lingual news.
There have been allegations of paid news and the like in India. Are there practices / examples from elsewhere that can be learnt from (on dealing with it)? Do these instances impact credibility of news media in general?
I’m going to state the obvious that it’s not there in BBC. We hear of it; in fact, there are some parts of the world where it feels like the evening news is up for bids. I can’t comment on what may or may not be happening here in India but one general observation I would make is that there is lot more news around it than there was years ago. There are more people now producing news. I still very strongly feel that the ideals that BBC stands on are not just long standing ideals but they are very relevant and having that gives us the extra competitive strength. In the long run, I feel the audiences are smart enough to figure it out.
Post restructuring and elevation of Preet Dhupar as COO of India operations, do you plan to bring in new people?
There isn’t a big restructuring in the process or underway. But India is a very important market for us. About a tenth of our total full-time TV distribution has been in India. India is our number four market for BBC.com. Preet has the responsibility to ensure that across the teams within BBC we are doing the right things in order to capitalise on the market. But it’s neither the beginning of a very major restructuring nor a massive hiring campaign.
Is social media also becoming a source of news gathering? How will this work, given the lack of authentication of the source?
Social media definitely plays a role in news gathering. But I don’t think it’s a replacement for any of those established tools of professional journalism. Twitter and Facebook in particular have more impact. In the event of breaking news, somebody somewhere who has a video camera can be active in providing the very first footage through our UGC hub, and audiences accept a slightly shaky and grainy first footage while the camera crews are sent on site.
Would a large part of news consumption on the internet be search-led, rather than destination-led? Would the BBC brand’s equity not have so much of play, as it does on TV, when news is consumed on, say, the mobile?
A significant part of it, for us, is search-led overall - people still search BBC when they search for a story. In case of a big international event happening, people will always come to us for news. Where I do think we lead is that we are the second source where people, after seeing something on a local channel or elsewhere, come and check it on BBC for authentication. That is very significant for us (according to BBC cross platform news consumption survey, to be released in March 2013).