The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) is the world's second-largest broadcaster, renowned for high-quality news and entertainment. Its global commercial subsidiary, BBC Worldwide, has harnessed the power of advanced data analytics to bring the venerable broadcaster's brands to lucrative—and previously unexplored—new markets.
A world-class brand seeks a worldwide market
The BBC's world-renowned programming is provided without advertisements, financed by an annual television licence fee. BBC Worldwide, the broadcaster's commercial arm responsible for selling BBC programmes internationally, generates about one-quarter of all BBC income. Realising that traditional television audience ratings are in an incomplete and sometimes backward-looking measure of underlying demand for content, BBC Worldwide has turned to advanced data analytics to identify new markets and to seek out new niches in existing ones. The Corporation's Insight team has worked with external partners to leverage a diverse array of data sources and technologies. They interpret this information to provide insights into market-specific viewer demand levels all over the world and to identify fresh opportunities to meet consumer needs.
New tools for a new age
Television may be experiencing a new golden age, but its mechanisms for audience measurement are often badly out of date. Traditional ratings services, the go-to barometer of viewership in North America, are focused on conventional TV channels and cannot track viewers effectively in today's fragmented media landscape. "The multibillion dollar body of TV measurement data is both currency and a sacred cow for the whole industry, and it's becoming less relevant every day," says David Boyle, Executive Vice President of Insight at BBC Worldwide. "To understand consumption these days, we need new data systems, new processes, new tools and new metrics."
Pirates and start-ups
The firm has met this challenge by integrating every data source that can reveal underlying demand, including social media interactions, YouTube views, Wikipedia engagement and, perhaps the most unexpected source of insight, P2P piracy data. "We think of [piracy] as a signal of demand for our content," explains Mr Boyle. "Taken together, the amount of data from these sources is absolutely massive and very granular."
BBC Worldwide boasts a highly capable internal analytics team, but it was already tasked with responsibilities for gathering data, interpreting and visualising it, and disseminating the resulting knowledge across the organisation. So Mr Boyle turned to external partners to make sense of the numbers. "We rely on many different analytics partners, because we've found that the data science and computing tasks are so big and complex that it doesn't make sense to build a system ourselves," says Mr Boyle. "It's a new thing for us—it's not how we've handled things in the past—but so far it's been really wonderful."
Breaking new ground
What these partnerships accomplish is simple in concept but complex in execution. Through deep-dive analysis of disparate data sources, they provide BBC Worldwide with a clear picture of demand levels for every piece of content in dozens of markets around the world. The process completely bypasses traditional ratings systems by distilling innumerable inputs into actionable outputs. The resulting insights are unprecedented both in their accessibility to decision-makers and in the depth of understanding they provide. According to Mr Boyle, the process is both fascinating and "completely groundbreaking."
Moving from enthusiasm to action
Realising the potential of advanced analytics to reveal new markets was not without its challenges. Successfully moving an initiative out of the boardroom and into the analytical trenches is never easy, and Mr Boyle cautions against empty enthusiasm. "It's easy to impress with flashy visualisations and a handful of identified business opportunities," he warns, "but keeping up that energy from the initial meeting all the way through to business action can be a real challenge."
For BBC Worldwide, clarity of purpose has been the key to addressing this challenge. This means keeping a strong focus on the business challenges being addressed and asking very specific questions that can be answered through advanced analytics. "You absolutely have to start at the business problem and that's the core of what my team does," Mr Boyle says. "We'll go see what data we need to solve that problem and try to provide a long-lasting and global self-service solution. We have about fifteen business problems that we actively support right now."
Paging the Doctor
BBC Worldwide's advanced analytics strategies have paid off with a series of success stories. One was discovering the appetite of television viewers in South Korea for the adventures of the time-travelling Doctor Who. Revenue figures for the brand suggested the opportunities in the region were minimal. But the analytics told a different story. High piracy levels for new episodes revealed huge underlying demand and a sizeable fan base for the 50-year-old show. This pointed to a new source of revenue if this demand could be monetised by driving it to commercial channels. "We took the cast [of Doctor Who] to South Korea as part of a global publicity and fan tour," Mr Boyle recalls. "The hall we booked had 4,000 seats available, but tens of thousands of people applied for tickets within a few minutes of them becoming available."
The traditional audience measurement tools had not indicated this market potential because they were not designed to look at the relevant data. But now the model is in a state of transformation, thanks largely to analytics-driven insights. "We're doing the same analysis now for many of our other brands and we're seeing new opportunities everywhere," says Mr Boyle. "We're very excited about the possibilities."