5 ways the BBC grows engagement - Reuters News Agency

5 ways the BBC grows engagement

Dmitry Shishkin, digital editor of languages at BBC World Service, spoke about the five ways the network has expanded its reach.

Nov 16, 2017

The BBC World Service has seen a huge expansion since the 1940’s with nine languages launched in 2017 including, Afaan oromo, Amharic, Gujurathi, Korean, Marathi ,Pidgin, Punjabi & Telegu.

The network’s audience currently averages at 111 million people per month, across all platforms.

Shishkin said one billion more people are predicted to be online by 2020 and this provides a “huge opportunity” for the BBC World Service to adapt. This emerging audience will mostly come from Africa, the Middle East and Asia, and nearly all will be accessing the news on mobile phones.

Let’s take a look at the five ways the BBC World Service is adapting to facilitate a rapidly expanding audience…


1. Diversifying their content

The BBC World Service team travelled around the globe to find out people’s perception of news and their needs.

“Not a lot of editorial teams consciously appreciate how tunnel visioned they have become. You need to constantly challenge them”, explained Shishkin.

The team found six key things that people require from news:

  1. Update me
  2. Give me perspective
  3. Educate me
  4. Keep me on trend
  5. Amuse me
  6. Inspire me

“If a journalistic team starts creating content that satisfied those six different things then growth will come. Surprise, surprise it really did,” said Shishkin.

Last August, the team found that 70% of stories produced by BBC Russia were satisfying the ‘Update Me’ category. This content is often short, factual news lacking context, which only brought 7% of total pageviews. The output has since diversified its content.

80 percent of my time is doing culture change in newsrooms said Shishkin”

2. Making data-informed decisions

Shishkin said he is “obsessed with data” because data helps influence decisions.

The network has built an in-house data analysis platform called Telescope which provides data metrics on: top stories, individual pages, all sections, page views and all sources. BBC World Service also uses third-party platforms including: Dataminr, Socialflow, Crowdtangle and Chartbeat.

“The tendency in newsrooms is to celebrate the most popular but what I’m trying to do is to focus on the unpopular because money has been spent on that,” said Shishkin.

Using data, the BBC Russia team found that “inspiration” news was far more popular than news that updated. Consequently, this data prompted the team to pilot the production of more ‘Inspire me’ stories which proved successful.


3. Reacting faster to editorial needs

The BBC World Service recently decentralized several visual journalism teams from London to eight editorial teams around the world.

Shishkin told Reuters News Agency that this has sped up the ability to react to editorial needs.

He said, “for example, a team in Jakarta (catering for the needs of 6 East Asian teams) could produce graphs, charts, maps etc in a timely fashion, to local timings. In the past the teams would have had to wait until the relevant items were distributed via London, and with the time difference it was almost always too late.”

He added, “It also allows us to create more locally relevant content – the London central offer tends to be for everyone, and thus is rarely able to cater for specific geographical needs”.

The tendency in newsrooms is to celebrate the most popular but what I’m trying to do is to focus on the unpopular because money has been spent on that” said Shishkin.

4. Collaborating between departments

The BBC News Labs is an example of how the BBC has maximized its expertise across departments. The News Labs bridges the gap between journalism, data and technology.

The BBC World Service have been working closely with BBC Connected studio to create various technology startups in Africa.


5. Automating and scaling

A video editing tool called Stitch has been rolled out at the network to speed up the process of changing English subtitles in videos. Currently, 900 videos per week are translated across 37 languages saving a lot of time.

The five lessons in a nutshell:

  • Broadening agenda to satisfy different news needs
  • Introducing data informed decisions
  • Iterating output by trying new formats
  • Bringing innovation by working across boundaries
  • Using scalable solutions to ensure sustainability.


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