Earlier this week I attended a talk by Alex Ayling, head of BBC Worldwide Digital Studios, an in-house creative team responsible for the broadcaster’s digital output.

In this post I’m going to cover some key points about the BBC’s strategic approach to planning and creating online video content

Ayling, who was speaking at Socialbakers' Engage 2015 event in London, believes an audience-led approach is necessary because of the way content consumption has evolved over the years. 

Anyone with a connected device can be a publisher or storyteller now. Brands are not just competing with other brands or publishers. They’re competing with anyone who has a phone in their pocket.

The threat, Ayling says, is not necessarily that branded content is going to lower in quality, but rather it is going to gradually become less relevant to its intended audience. 

He refers to ‘the ABCs of audience-led storytelling’ as a way to overcome this potential problem: 

  • A – adapt to your audience.
  • B – become like your audience.
  • C – comprehend your audience. 

Let’s look at each of those points in more detail, and you can also hear the BBC talk about the content marketing strategy behind Dr Who at the Festival of Marketing in November.

Adapt to your audience

Everything you do should be tailored to your audience. 

To illustrate this point, Ayling compares two related but very different mediums: Television and YouTube.

On television, he argues, people have not always chosen to see your content, so you need to introduce it to say who you are and why they should care about what you’ve got to say. 

But on YouTube the situation is very different, because the journey to get to that video starts long before the consumer presses play.

People (on YouTube) are arriving with context and expectation, so you don’t need an introduction. Just jump straight to the point.

Ayling also highlights the need to think carefully about the devices on which you would watch a YouTube video vs. the traditional television format.

Ditch the long shots of someone walking up to the camera from afar that you see in traditional news clips, for example, and instead replace them with close-up face shots that work much better on a mobile screen. 

Other techniques that might seem jarring on television are effective on YouTube, such as talking direct to the camera or using jump cuts. 

You can also get people to take action directly from the video, something not available in traditional television. 

Interestingly, Ayling believes the average length of time people spend on a video, rather than simply the number of views or 'likes', is the most important measure for success. 

Become like your audience

Forget the traditional broadcast content model. Put the audience at the heart of every stage of your strategy.

The BBC created a Doctor Who YouTube series using the above philosophy. 

In the development stage, it invited a Doctor Who fan named Christel to host the series on YouTube, then in pre-production the team asked the audience to send in suggestions for video content. 

In terms of production, one of the interesting ways the BBC presented an episode of the series was to have somebody create the Tardis in Minecraft, complete with Christel presenting as an avatar. 

Then as a post-production bonus the BBC posted behind-the-scenes clips of the series being created, a move that Ayling believes proves real people are behind the content and “removes the faceless corporation vibe."

As you can see, at every stage of the content production process the audience is driving the decisions. 

Comprehend your audience

If becoming like your audience is about listening to them explicitly, comprehending them is about listening to them implicitly using data.

The final stage in the BBC’s content strategy is all about using data to inform editorial decision making at production and strategic level. 

Ultimately it is about seeing which topics resonate most with your audience, and Ayling insists this is not something you should ever take for granted. 

Forget about the received wisdom or what you assume the internet is going to enjoy, because it might not actually be the case. You have to crunch those numbers.

For more on this topic, read:

Jack Simpson

Published 22 October, 2015 by Jack Simpson

Jack Simpson is a Writer at Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or connect via LinkedIn.

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