Media outlets around the world are facing several headwinds including the challenges related to fake news, attacks on credibility of journalism, declining revenues and onslaught of digital platforms. Amid these challenges, BBC News is one of the few that has managed to thrive on both digital as well as traditional platforms. In a conversation with BusinessLine , BBC Global News CEO Jim Egan talks about surviving the digital deluge and maintaining journalistic credibility. Excerpts:
India is now the fourth largest market for BBC, in terms of revenues. What is driving the growth here?
India is one of our top five markets and we see very very high growth rates. So, for example, the advertising growth rates right here is in double digits, heading towards 15 per cent, whereas lot of other markets are growing between zero and not very much. With 5G and OTT coming in, we see India emerging as very vibrant marketplace.
Is there an issue of eroding credibility of mainstream media at a time when world leaders themselves are trying to discredit any media outlet that doesn’t match their own narrative?
I think its been a difficult few years. You’ve seen an erosion of trust and some actors willingly debasing truth in order to manipulate public debate. Having said that, from BBC perspective, to a degree it’s been quite good for us.
I think there’s a recognition that not all sources of news and information are the same. Journalistic practices are not the same everywhere. And people are being a bit more discriminating and certainly from a commercial point of view over the last 12 to 18 months its actually been quite favourable.
Brands concerned about brand safety in the environment in which the advertising messages appear are starting to shift more towards places where they feel confident about their message getting out there in a way that is carefully curated and managed. So there’s been a degree of commercial upside.
How does BBC remain neutral while being publicly funded?
We run a business where we don’t have any public money. We simply don’t take political advertising as a matter of policy. We just regard this a toxic category that we should avoid.
For example, we turned down a big campaign for Saudi Arabia because we felt it went straight from promoting trade and tourism into areas we weren’t comfortable with.
There’s been discussion on the future of ad-led business model for media firms. Are you looking at some of the other sustainable sources of revenue?
We would be strategically naive if we weren’t thinking about the long-term future of advertising as revenue source. We do have some evaluation work currently under way in some of our markets thinking about whether generating revenue directly from the users as well as from advertisers is something we should think about.
In the end, there’s only really four ways you can make make money in media — you can be publicly funded or you can commercialise the eyeballs. You can commercialise the content, or you can sell stuff — e commerce. We’re not publicly funded, we’re not going to get into e-commerce.
We are currently online solely advertising supported. On TV, we have a mix of subscription revenues from pay TV operators and advertising. We’re starting to think whether it should be a mixed model online. I think it would be very unlikely that we would go into a hard pay wall sort of subscription-type model. It might be something more along the lines of some sort of freemium model.
Do you think consumers are ready to pay for online content?
I think the market conditions are changing in certain parts of the world and for probably the first two decades of the Internet, the expectation was everything online is free.
That is now starting to move. For that, we have to thank the big beasts like Netflix and Spotify and so on, who’ve really helped enable the market.
You acknowledged having good working relationship with Google and Facebook. How have you been able to maintain that relationship?
We do have a good working relationship with Google and Facebook and others. At the same time, there are issues that we have about the amount of revenue that’s flowing to us from those relationships.
There are issues around the amount of sharing of data associated with BBC consumption on those.
We’ve always been very careful not to be too reliant on our relationship with those organisations. We carefully manage our own platform audience and distribution, and we look to build on that in a complementary way with the party distribution.
That kind of quite measured reliance has meant that when algorithms change or strategies shift at these organisations, we haven’t been left high and dry and the way that some of it some of the other new entrants in the digital marketplace have been.
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