Personalisation Key To The Future In BBC Annual Plan

‘Personalisation’ has become an over-used term in the TV industry but it was refreshing to see the BBC use it authentically and in a similar way to how we see it, recently.

Rather than a catch-all term for programme recommendations, viewer targeting and advertising, personalisation should be about delivering a completely unique viewing experience to each individual.

This idea featured heavily in the BBC Annual Plan for 2017, published earlier this month. The plan highlights many of the challenges associated with delivering this consistently and to a level that younger viewers are increasingly coming to expect.

Facing up to these challenges is key for TV companies that want to remain connected with their audience in the future.

So it was encouraging to see one of the biggest in the business address these challenges head on, and to lay out its plans for adapting to its changing audience demands in the digital world.

Summary of the BBC Annual Plan

With the Annual Plan, the BBC acknowledges that it is entering a new chapter in the organisation’s proud history. Not only does it have a new 11-year charter and a new Board but the BBC also has a full external regulator (Ofcom) for the first time in its history.

BBC Annual Plan 2017/18 — image copyright BBC

The Annual Plan is therefore partly intended to help define the relationship between the BBC and Ofcom, describing a “performance framework that the Board will use to judge” and including the BBC’s budget for 2017/8.

But key to the plan is how to address of one of the BBC’s main challenges: to develop in the online space and remain as a trusted provider in the hearts and minds of its audience in the future. It considers how to “strengthen the visibility, consumption, and recognition of news from trusted, impartial providers and to counteract the spread of so-called fake news”.

Quality and personalisation are identified as central pillars of the BBC’s philosophy for the future, with the philosophy that “everybody should have access to the best, whoever they are, wherever they live, rich or poor, old or young”.

While staying on course with its fundamental principles to “inform, to educate, and to entertain”, the BBC also acknowledges that the broadcasting world is in major transition; that it must build its organisation around the changing viewing habits of its audience.

It recognises that, while most people currently view or listen to programmes in a traditional type schedule, this will rapidly be replaced by on-demand programming. People increasingly want to choose not only what programmes to watch, but when and where. The BBC predicts that this could become the new ‘norm’ by the middle of the next decade.

It foresees an “internet-only” broadcasting world. So the biggest challenge for broadcasters is to facilitate the changing viewing habits driven by the younger generation. This involves no less a task than “reinventing” the BBC to become “internet-fit” and more geared towards younger people.

This process of ‘reinvention’ for the new generation will start in 2017 and include strategies such as:

  • Growing iPlayer and Live services
  • Developing a digital hub of creativity
  • Reinventing and growing audio
  • News-stream and slow news
  • Reflecting the diversity of the UK

The BBC has long been at the forefront of producing high-quality content. But many of the points highlighted in the plan reiterate the need to move towards more personalisation and innovation.

This does not come without many challenges — not least of which is managing audience perceptions during this transition: while the BBC may see the requirement to log into the iPlayer as an important first step to personalisation, its audience may interpret it as a way to track licence fee payments, for instance.

The licence fee also presents other challenges: as the drift away from TV towards the internet gathers pace, a significant portion of older people may feel that they are no longer getting the value to justify their license fee, and do not receive the trusted information they have come to expect from the BBC.

Attracting the younger generation

A key driver behind the BBC’s push for personalisation is to attract the younger generation.

The BBC recognises that millennial viewing habits have changed. The expectation for children growing up now is to view content wherever and whenever they want it.

The old broadcasting model is clearly not adequate to provide this. So, new ways are required for delivering content. This includes content that is always on and available (by signing in to iPlayer/iPlayer Kids the BBC plans to make age-appropriate content available all the time).

Additionally, more short-form content is required; and it must be frequently updated. No-one is interested in yesterday’s content — and this provides some unique challenges for broadcasters.

In particular, how does this model influence the commissioning and production processes in the future? This would clearly require a huge shake up for the BBC but, in doing so, it could make them truly innovative and far ahead of other PSBs globally.

The over-riding challenge for the BBC is no less than this: can it become the go-to place to “inform” the next generation?

To achieve this status, the BBC is acutely aware that personalisation and innovation need to be at the forefront of its development; and embedded into the modus operandi of the entire organisation.

For a company like Covatic, which is helping to facilitate such personalisation, this is an exciting development. But more about this below.

How will the BBC approach personalisation?

“By personalising the BBC and understanding more about what our audiences like, we can make our content more relevant and deliver it to audiences more effectively.”

How will the BBC provide a truly personalised viewer experience, according to the Annual Plan? There are some good examples of the BBC’s strategy contained within it, including:

  • Plans to further develop BBC News Online and incorporate personalised notifications from its news app for mobile users. The BBC will also soon be piloting a “digital-first approach” with its news delivery services, in topic areas like health and the environment. This will have the potential to be rolled out to all news areas in the future.
  • Live video will also increasingly play a more prominent role — just as it has with Facebook and YouTube in recent years.
  • News daily bulletins will prioritise “specialism” — rather than just coverage of unfolding events, so that specific areas of interest are well catered for.
  • Sport content will become more personalised — even with such intense competition in sports coverage, the BBC still runs the most popular TV, radio, and online sports content services in the UK. But it recognises that, to maintain this position, it will need to offer more personalised streaming services, develop its sports participation initiative called ‘Get Inspired’ and promote more sports journalism initiatives.
  • Music will be at the forefront of the drive for personalisation — the BBC currently airs over 40,000 hours of music content every year. It plans to maintain Radio 1 as the spearhead platform, with new outlets for its digital music content through iPlayer Radio: this is seen as the key to meeting the ever-more demanding expectations of younger audiences for rich music offerings.
  • New channels are planned online and for iPlayer in HD for Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. In fact, local digital radio, which turns 50 this year, is seen as a great opportunity for the BBC to provide more personalised and engaging content for communities around the UK.

How can true personalisation be achieved?

The BBC should be applauded for recognising that true personalisation is more than making programme recommendations and targeting certain demographic groups. It needs to connect individually and allow access to the content they want — where, when and how they want it.

True personalisation needs to be relevant to activity, schedule, and niche interests. So, for instance, when I embark on my 20-minute commute to work, I have preloaded news content that is 100 percent relevant to what I want to know and is designed to fit my schedule — not that of a generic viewer.

In order to achieve this, and to satisfy the changing needs of its audience, the BBC will need to make its content adaptive. In crude terms it will need to be stretchable, squeezable and switchable to fit in to each viewer’s requirements.

But how can that be achieved in practice?

Firstly, it needs a fully connected data strategy. The plan has some ‘big picture’ aims but each channel/division then has its own way of approaching this; there will need to be some general agreements on how it’s all going to fit and work together.

It also need to involve the wider broadcasting industry and include innovations from other sectors. This will require forming strong partnerships with those that provide the technology and expertise to overcome the key broadcasting challenges with personalisation.

As the BBC says in its report, broadcasters are essentially storytellers. They should focus on innovative content curation, while other parties focus on providing the means to deliver these stories.

This requires buy-in and the budget to form the partnerships that facilitate personalisation through appropriate technologies and delivery systems. The BBC has the beginnings of this set out in its report, which is very encouraging.

Challenges with privacy/trust

Before we wrap up, there is another major challenge for the BBC and other broadcasters to overcome. That is the matter of privacy and trust.

There’s no escaping the fact that media is one of the least-trusted industries when it comes to privacy and security of private data. While people generally trust their banks and their hospitals to look after sensitive data, it is certainly not the case with media outlets. The massive recent Yahoo security breach in the US is a good example of why this is the case.

Increasing regulation with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) coming into effect in May 2018 has further highlighted this issue for media.

With plans for a more personalised future, the BBC and other media organisations need to address how they will introduce the necessary new processes and procedures around the collection and storage of personally identifiable information.

How can the BBC assure its audience that the information they gather for the personalised viewing experience is kept secure and private?

Final thoughts on the BBC’s Annual Plan

The BBC recognises in its Annual Plan that, in order to maintain its status as the nation’s leading public service broadcaster, it needs to innovate and adapt to a younger generation. Not at the expense of older viewers but with a plan to educate and aid all viewers to enjoy a more personalised media experience.

This is to be praised because broadcasters that fail to make the changes necessary to satisfy the demands of the younger generation for on-demand content will struggle to remain relevant.

Rather than paying lip-service to personalisation, the BBC and the wider industry must focus on making it effortless to discover relevant and timely content.

And this can’t be tagged on as part of an overall solution; it requires a wider data strategy that puts personalisation at the centre of how the broadcaster operates, helping to define it as it moves into the future.

It’s very positive that the BBC recognises that doing this in-house would be difficult and potentially ineffective. It acknowledges that it needs to move away from its ‘buy and build’ philosophy.

Instead, it understands that there are partners currently investing time and energies into innovative solutions that can help broadcasters achieve their main personalisation aims.

Partnering with such varied and forward-thinking organisations is the future for the BBC and will encourage innovation and new ways of approaching personalisation. This will be the best way to compete with the likes of Google and to remain relevant in an on-demand world. It will then help to retain the BBC’s respected name in worldwide broadcasting into the future.

Our role in facilitating personalisation

In order to maintain audiences, we believe that broadcasters must treat personalisation as the major consideration behind all key decisions: they must connect to each user on an individual basis and the user must always come first.

In order to do this, data must be gathered, applied, and securely stored in such a way that the user is made to feel like they are getting a one-on-service.

It goes beyond knowing where they are and what they are doing; it requires knowing which football team they support and who their favourite comedian is.

To achieve this requires complete trust — which can be a problem in media.

The Covatic solution helps create a bespoke channel for each viewer. But it does so without the need for the viewer to divulge sensitive information. All personal data remains on the device and within the user domain.

You can find out more about how we help broadcasters solve their key challenges with our innovative, user-centric approach here.




Revolutionising the audience experience through personalisation and contextual delivery. University of Oxford spin out, 2017.

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Revolutionising the audience experience through personalisation and contextual delivery. University of Oxford spin out, 2017.

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