News
Marketing can change the world

Why the BBC is app-ing the ante with messaging apps

With around 2.19bn people worldwide estimated to be on mobile phone messaging apps by 2019, it comes as no surprise that brands and publishers are looking at ways to reach these people who are continuing to communicate via chat applications.

The BBC is one such broadcaster that has been experimenting with chat apps in countries where mobile usage outstrips desktop to reach those people who would not necessarily access its journalism via traditional means.

But now, the BBC is taking a bigger bet and for the first time is pushing out a linear TV documentary about a real life kidnapping case in Mexico and breaking it down for users of Viber. Those following the platform’s BBC Public Chat will be able to see animations, text, stills and audio from the point of view of the victim, his wife, the kidnapper and the negotiator, as if it was happening in real time. The posts will run across the week, leading up to the broadcast of the 30-minute-long TV documentary on Friday 11 March.

Speaking to The Drum Trushar Barot, mobile editor, BBC World Service said the broadcaster chose Viber for its storytelling capabilities. “Viber has an interface that is one of the easier ones to use among the various chat apps we’ve tried out. Its public chats channels also seemed to be a good fit for the type of storytelling we wanted to experiment with – as it presents the content in an easy to follow timeline and those who subscribe later can still scroll through from the start of the timeline to catch up on the story.”

In addition to Our World: Kidnapped in Mexico, BBC Africa is turning to Whatsapp for the first time for its ‘Young, Angry and Connected’ series, which explores how young Africans are using social media and their mobiles to get their voices heard. The series will launch on 7 March and run until 11 March. A daily clip of around 2-3 minutes will be delivered to those who join the Whats app group and will be available in French and English.

Jo Mathys, BBC news producer, said that messaging apps are exciting for the BBC because it feels like a one-to-one experience between the consumer and the brand, particularly the younger people that the broadcaster is trying to reach.

“What really excites me is that there is an immediacy with the audience,” she told The Drum. “It’s like you are getting the interviewees to interact directly with the audience and that feels quite new and quite different to what traditional linear platforms can offer. I can see this working on a lot of other stories, for example the refugee crisis.”

While many brands are exploring ways to get on messaging apps to counteract so-called ‘dark social’ – Inbound web traffic coming from links on email, forums or instant message that can’t be tracked – Barot said that wasn’t a driver for the BBC but that the broadcaster is aware it needs to better understand how people are behaving on these apps. “That includes learning more about how they get their information, how they share it and ultimately how we can effectively measure it,” he said. “We have more access to this data than we’ve had before, but we’d love to get more and I know the messaging apps are working hard to provide this in the future.”

Natalie Mortimer

Natalie is The Drum's fashion, design, luxury and food & drink reporter.

All by Natalie