BBC News announced towards the end of the last month that they were cutting 450 jobs, all part of a plan to save £80m by 2022. The news came on the heels of another axing – the demise of BBC Two’s Victoria Derbyshire programme. Other programmes likely to be among the most affected are Newsnight, BBC Radio 5 Live including Morning Reports and World Service’s English language output.
Fran Unsworth, head of BBC News said that it’s time to start focusing more on digital broadcasting and less on the traditional linear style such as television and radio. In other words, the BBC is very aware that the way we watch and listen to the Beeb’s content is changing. Audience figures for many radio and television channels are dropping, as young people in particular watch and listen via on-demand instead.
The cut in news jobs is part of a plan to centralise reporters, so that a reduced number of journalists work across several different broadcast outlets. Until now programmes have had their own dedicated teams of journalists, specific to them; whilst this means the programmes retain their own style it also results in a lot of duplication, several BBC journalists all covering the same story albeit in slightly different ways.
What does this news mean from a PR perspective?
From a PR point of view this brings bad and good news. On the negative side it does mean fewer stories will be covered, therefore competition to get on air will be even more intense. However, on the plus side, when you secure that coverage your story will go far and wide as one journalist will provide content for several different programmes.
The change means we as PR professionals need to work even harder to get our stories seen and heard. We’ve always worked on the theory that if you make life easier for the journalists, you’re more likely to get your story used. That means writing the press release in a broadcast style, flagging up what a TV journalist could film, clearly stating who and where are the spokespeople and providing assets like B-roll. For more about B-roll footage, what it is and how to use it, read our blog on the subject here.
Changes in how content is consumed
Radio and television audiences may be diminishing but not they’re not going away, they’re just consuming content in a different way, and the BBC is responding to this change in a positive way. BBC Sounds, for example, is making good headway in this direction. BBC Sounds, launched in 2018 as an alternative for audio to iPlayer, is an app that brings together live and on-demand radio, music and podcasts. A bit like what Spotify does for music, the app is designed to learn from your listening habits, so you get introduced to new audio you might not otherwise have found.
The first BBC podcasts were merely recordings of radio programmes. But now you can find unique content. For example, Radio 4’s Today programme can be heard again, but it is now accompanied by a podcast called “Beyond Today”. The BBC describes it as:
“the daily podcast from Radio 4 that asks one big question about one big story in the news – and beyond. Tina Daheley, Matthew Price, and a team of curious producers search for answers that change the way we see the world.” The podcast Brexitcast, meanwhile, was so successful it earned itself a regular Thursday night slot on BBC 1.
From a PR point of view we should see podcasts as an additional opportunity for coverage. We have, for example, placed our client MLex on Brexitcast – a relationship we hope to continue as Brexitcast is rebranded Newscast.
Unlike radio and television, where a story generally only lasts for a day, a podcast can be available indefinitely, given a longevity to a broadcast PR campaign that we’ve not enjoyed before. And the good news is that the BBC has more big plans for BBC Sounds.
How can social media video be leveraged?
We believe similar broadcast PR opportunities can be found with social media video. ITV’s This Morning, for example, has an app where they generate extra content as well as re-edited interviews and clips. This means that your client could not only be on TV, but prolonging the coverage on the app. We predict this could be the way forward for these types of shows.
2020 has got off to a lively start for the world of broadcast. As well as BBC job cuts, Director General Lord Tony Hall announced he will be stepping down, Sarah Sands, Editor of Radio 4’s Today programme revealed she has resigned and ITN’s Alistair Stewart is also off, following some much–criticised social media comments he’d made. In better news, the BBC children’s programme Crackerjack is back after a 35–year break and Spotify launched a series of podcasts – for dogs! We look forward to some interesting times for broadcast PR.