The BBC has for the first time collected its entire range of content into a single dedicated hub, BBC+, to make it easier for users to discover and personalise content from its many verticals.
Users will be able to customise the content they see based on their interests, while editorial curation will play an important role in pushing out less-known areas of the BBC.
What makes the app distinct from the BBC’s already existing apps is that it will aggregate content from the entire range of the BBC site including articles, programmes, clips, video and radio content from the BBC World Service, BBC Three, and BBC Sport to name a few.
Clare Hudson, executive editor, homepage and BBC+ told The Drum: “When we first started thinking about this and content discovery in general we realised there were around 1500 pieces of content a day that the BBC produces and we have no hope of getting people to see absolutely everything, there is no point turning your fire hose at them.
“So through curation and allowing people to follow the collections that interest them we think we can give people a much more relevant service so that they can take advantage of the fact that all this content exists.”
The BBC is unique in that it doesn’t have a target audience, its audience is “every household in the UK”. It means the BBC is producing a huge amount of content in a wide range of genres of varying relevance to each individual. As a consequence having one channel that is serving the same content to everyone means the BBC is “not doing its job properly”, Paul Owen, head of product, homepage and BBC+ told The Drum.
“We have known for some time that we need to try harder to get people to access the wide range of stuff that we do and that is our responsibility” Owen added.
It’s why the BBC homepage was updated 18 months ago to allow signed-in users to personalise their topics of interest, the beginning of its journey to better serve the licence fee payer with content that is relevant to them rather than having a “one-size-fits all” selection. To date, more than 6 million people have signed-in to the BBC to benefit from more personalised experiences. What’s more, in its fourth quarter (Oct-Dec 2015) signed-in users consumed 44 per cent more BBC content than those who weren’t.
“You know what it is like online, you can’t expect people to seek things out, they just don’t unless they have a specific motivation. You have to try very hard to get the right things in front of them," Owen said.
“The responsibility should not be in the hands of the licence fee payer, we are the experts in the content we produce, we should be bringing it together.”
What differentiates the BBC from other media companies is that it is licence-fee funded, with none of its properties containing advertising. While other newsbrands may be concerned about launching an app that could pull traffic away from its existing apps, the BBC is “relaxed” about drawing people away, with Owen saying “if they want to use one thing and not the other, that is ok”.
“Ideally this will become complementary to the other apps, and reach a range of people and fulfil a need that is not being satisfied at the moment. There is a whole group of people that don’t use our services that need to have a more coherent and sensible way of using them. If it ends up taking some people away from the News app then that is because they are finding this more satisfying then they are finding News.” Owen said.
This relaxed view means there is currently no deep linking within the BBC+ app to its other properties, but Owen added “this is just the start for us, and over time the app will evolve and add new features based on user feedback”. Since the BBC+ app is a bounded proposition, meaning there is no endless scroll, it seems the natural next step is to refer people who wish to consume more news on to the News app, but this will depend on user needs.
The development of the app began in January 2015, after which it went into testing for six months. The team were surprised by how much initial testers “value the editorial voice of the BBC” and its ability to curate content that is important right now, as well as the discovery proposition that suggests content “you might not have thought of”.
It’s why editorial curation will be layered on top of the customised verticals, with the opening screen showing key topics that are “non-negotiable”, regardless if they are in a user’s interests or not. It’s part of the BBC’s mandate, to inform. Over-personalisation has the danger of leading users down an ever-narrowing editorial path, which can result in bias.
“We have a responsibility to make you aware of what we do, but if you are only allowed to remove things then it becomes narrower and narrower, and when you start to produce a customised offer you have to keep topping it up. Otherwise it becomes self selecting. We have to constantly try to find moments of interests and serve those to people.” Owen said.
“The responsibility in personalisation is making sure it is not limiting, especially when your public purpose is to make sure people are aware of what you do.” Owen added.
Social media works to exacerbate this problem, with Brexit shining a light on the role media played in informing the result of the EU referendum. While Twitter users only see content from the users they follow, Facebook’s algorithm and its constant iterations mean a user is only served content that is relevant to them. With the viewpoint constantly narrowing, users can “lose out on important things”, Hudson said.
As a result, consumers are turning back to legacy newsbrands, a trusted source of news over social media. The BBC saw an enormous 52 million web browsers visit the site on the day of the EU referendum.
“Whether they are doing that because of what is happening on social media I don’t know but everyone always turns to the BBC in moments like that because that is one of things we are good at; providing a whole wide ranging view of what is happening.” Owen said.