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Blog Post

The BBC World Service: a bold expansion against the grain

Shout! Communications
Shout! Communications
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by Alex Hesketh

2016 has been a year of nationalist resurgence. Borders, immigration and ‘post-truth’ are the new media buzzwords of the year; they’re inescapable. The BBC World Service’s announcement that it will be making the biggest expansion “since the 1940s”, launching 11 new languages, has made a refreshing change.

The extension means the BBC World Service will be available in 40 languages, including English, with most services aiming for a 2017 launch date. Lord Hall has set a target for the BBC to reach 500 million people worldwide by its centenary in 2022, and the World Service expansion presents the first landmark step into achieving this.

Born out of the British Empire in the 1930s, the service has evolved into the “jewel in the crown – for the BBC and for Britain”, according to Director General Tony Hall. The new services include languages from Nigeria, Ethiopia and Eritrea, India and perhaps most interestingly, Korea, with more on-location journalists being deployed around the world.

The World Service has a reputation for providing reliable, trusted news, so it will be interesting to see the effectiveness of an extension into Korea. “We do believe that there is an opportunity for North Koreans to have access to free and independent and impartial information,” said Director of the World Service Fran Unsworth. She admitted that the BBC Monitoring service reported that most North Koreans did not know Donald Trump had become the President of the United States, showing that penetrating the Korean regime could be one of the service’s biggest challenges.

Form a broadcast PR perspective, perhaps the most exciting news is the intention to expand digital services to include more video, mobile and social media content. Last Wednesday saw the launch of a fully digital service in Thai, after the success of a ‘pop-up’ service on Facebook since 2014. This is an example of the BBC finding new, innovative ways to connect with younger audiences around the world, by connecting via social media initially to then draw audiences to other services. Unsworth herself described the expansion as an effort to “follow our audience, who consume the news in changing ways”. Shout! has been asked increasingly more to create video content specifically for social media, which can then be translated back into more traditional formats of broadcast. It’s an interesting marker of how we continually have to change the way we think about broadcast news in order to keep ahead of the game.

“We will be able to speed up our digital transformation, especially for younger audiences, and we will continue to invest in video news bulletins”, said Unsworth. The BBC’s great efforts to keep up with the constantly developing world of broadcast news will mean more opportunity for video news production – a terrific prospect for a broadcast PR company such as Shout!

“As an independent broadcaster, we remain as relevant as ever in the 21st Century, when in many places there is not more free expression, but less.” This is an important thought from Unsworth, and one that broadcasters, and those who create content for them, should bear in mind among the current trends of certain media outlets. From the perspective of broadcast PR, it seems a fantastic move. The BBC appears to remain undeterred by the political climate, and is increasing efforts to uphold their commitment to their vision of “independent, impartial journalism and world-class entertainment”.

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