When he’s evaluating the BBC’s ongoing expansion efforts into Asia and Africa, BBC digital development editor Dmitry Shishkin finds himself returning to one question: “Is our content good enough for someone to skip lunch for?”
The line emerged after a conversation he learned that people Kenya regularly skip meals in an effort to save money to spend on Internet data. For Shishkin, the concern gets at the heart of one of the central questions for the BBC World Service as it ramps up expansion into Africa and southern Asia: How can the BBC create content for these markets while being conscious of the on-the-ground realities of people’s lives there, particularly those that relate to money, Internet access, language, and cultural differences?
To ensure that the BBC gets things right in India, where the first of its new sites went live in October, BBC Connected Studio, the organization’s innovation unit, is partnering with local technology companies to come up with solutions to some of its biggest technology challenges — specifically those that relate to personalization and what it calls “anytime content.” In November, the BBC made a call-out to local tech companies, requesting proposals for project ideas that would help it serve more relevant content to smartphone users across South Asia. Beyond geographic personalization, the BBC is also looking for tools that would let it curate content for users, as well as other ways of personalizing content based on users’ habits and reading routines. (It isn’t, however, interested in apps or editorial ideas.) Ideally, these solutions would be ones that the BBC could deploy more broadly in other markets.
“Ultimately, what we’re looking for are technical solutions that our journalists and producers can reuse in other languages all around the world,” Shishkin said. “It’s mainly about ways of delivery and of packaging that are smart and that we don’t have as part of our product portfolio right now.”
The project is a product of the BBC’s £289 million expansion — its biggest since the 1940s — which it announced last November. As part of the growth, BBC World Service will launch 11 new language services in India and Africa (and one in South Korea) and hire more than 1,300 new staff members — all in an effort to help the organization reach 500 million people weekly on all platforms by 2022. The BBC’s focus on India and Africa is a recognition that the future growth in its readership will be dominated by non-English speakers consuming content on mobile devices.
Shishkin has high hopes for the India project, in large part because India is the most developed market his team has expanded to so far. “We are hoping that, by getting deep into the local tech scene, we will find interesting companies that will be interested in helping,” he said.