BBC Global News CEO Jim Egan talked to Business Today about the lurking threat of ad blocking for content publishers and combating the rise of native advertising.
Ad blocking is becoming a major concern for publishers. What is your view on this?
In the UK, the industry is completely obsessed with ad blocking and it is becoming one big strategic issue. There are certain parts of publishing industry that are getting affected by it very profoundly. Those would be people who have very cluttered and busy properties for the user.
With ad blocking getting adopted at the device or network level, whether it is a good publisher or not, everyone will get caught up by it. We are seeing more and more publishers such as New York Times reminding readers that good content doesn't come for free and has to be paid for.
At the moment, at BBC we are talking about it rather than doing anything about it. Till date, it has had limited financial impact on us. It might be because we have a relatively low ad to content ratio on our site. We don't have a fixed percentage of ads to content but you tend not to see BBC page that is choc-a-bloc full of ads.
We are looking at what others are doing but we are not yet at that stage of saying that please remove the ad blocker. The big debate, however, seems to be that publishers are recognising that audiences have had enough of bad ads and are seeking to reset their relationship with them.
With native advertising on the rise, how do you ensure journalistic content is separate from sponsored content.
We work on that in a very literal way. We have different teams for each. Both are BBC expert content producers but there is never any confusion about the nature of content they are working on. That's from the production perspective. From the point of view of how it gets to the audience, it is always clearly marked.
Last year we launched BBC StoryWorks - a content marketing team lead by a former BBC journalist with over ten years' experience. The team brings newsroom values to content creation - spotting compelling narratives that will engage audiences and deliver for brands. Earlier this year, we conducted some research into the emotional impact of content-led marketing by measuring consumers' subconscious reaction to campaigns on BBC.com through facial coding. The study, called the Science of Engagement, showed that, when well executed and clearly labelled, content-led marketing is considered trusted and persuasive and has a powerful emotional impact for the brands involved.
Have there been cases where you have been asked by advertisers to make the branded content subtle so it comes through as editorial content.
Intelligent advertisers understand that they have a very carefully-developed corporate reputation and so does BBC. Our corporate reputation rests on the trust the audience have in us and as a result they understand that it is not in our interest and it is not in theirs either. We tend not to have these awkward conversations where advertisers say, can you slip in the reference in the content or talk a bit more about our fantastic product.
There are certain advertisers we tend not to work with for very long. We have this kind of approach, but I am afraid I am not going to give you any names.
Indian news channels are moving from studio news to having a debate in the news rooms. Is BBC also thinking of introducing this strategy?
I think in some ways this is something BBC can learn from because those channels are certainly engaging and lively and there is a lot of energy in them. And, they would make sense for news organisations to do news this way. It is not how BBC does it nor I ever will be able to pass judgment on the way news channels do news here.
We have our own particular style that works for us. Some people may find it a bit dry and arid. It is not our goal to be boring but if you watch BBC World News there is a single ticker running across the screen. We don't overload the screen with graphics all the way through to the editorial treatment of stories. This reflects BBC's lifelong commitment to impartiality and giving a balanced view. We believe our audience is intelligent and we leave it to them to make up their own mind and just give them the different specs on it rather than provide the answers.
I don't think we will have newsroom debate just like that but there is always a row for dynamism, personality and colour and those are the things we are having more in the channel. But that doesn't mean 9 pm at BBC will all of a sudden become a lot like 9 pm on other channels.
Can you share an example of a crisis situation in the recent past and how did you handle it?
There was a recent issue around a programme on politics in Russia that we broadcasted. It was regarded very unfavourably by the Russian authorities and we were under a lot of pressure on not broadcasting it in Russia.
In such situations, one thing I have learnt is remaining calm and when the pressure is on never to send an angry email. I wrote that angry email and saved it in drafts folder and then came back the next morning and decided whether I wanted to send it or not. Generally, I never want to send it when I come back after a night's sleep. The other thing I believe is in the old saying: experience is what you get when you don't get what you want. Normally, when you look back at these experiences they are quite a rich source of learning for next time round.
What are the top revenue generating countries for BBC?
Those would be countries like the US, Canada, Japan and Australia. India is in and around in the top five revenue generators for us but it varies from quarter to quarter. It is a mix of advertising on TV, BBC.com and also the subscription revenue from Indian Pay TV.