BBC. Just say those three letters to yourself and it’s hard not to
conjure up the image of a corporate suit with clipped vowels and the
gleam of authority in his eyes.
The BBC is a byword for Englishness, particularly abroad. It is well
mannered, decent and upright. It makes delightful costume dramas and it
broadcasts reliable news.
This stiff-upper-lip image is what helps to make the BBC one of the
strongest media brands in the world, but it was an association that did
not fit in with its new global Website, which aims to be cheeky,
irreverent and fun.
Hence the choice of a colloquial name - beeb - in an attempt to appear
more accessible than the parent organisation. Hence also the open-plan
office that houses the 70-strong team that produces beeb - all of which,
including the managing director, Rupert Miles, and the sales director,
Simon Sadie, have identical desks.
Beeb’s content is just as relaxed. During the rain-soaked first week at
Wimbledon, beeb played jokes on its users, one of which included
tricking them into accessing horrific footage of a singing Cliff Richard
(from last year’s tournament). It makes comments on the news items it
carries - ’what a snip!’, it opined, when Manchester United bought Teddy
Sheringham for pounds 3.5 million - and it invites viewers to comment on
everything from the soap opera, This Life (’Should Millie shag her
boss?’) to ITV’s Coronation Street (’Are the Battersbys dragging down
Like the up-to-date sports news and results - ’pushed’ to the user’s PC
by technology similar to that behind Pointcast, the US news-to-desktop
service - ever-changing images on the home page keep users hooked and
testify to the huge resources the BBC is putting behind this
Sadie, a former director of Mediapolis , says the BBC sees the site as a
future necessity and an immediate business opportunity. ’If the BBC
wants to be a global media player in the next century, it needs to be
across this medium.’
But it also expects to generate ’significant revenues’ from beeb. Most
will come from advertising.
Sadie is working with a number of advertisers to forge long-term
The Alliance and Leicester, for example, has attached itself to the
used-car section of the Top Gear site because used-car purchasers are a
key target in the personal loans business. According to Sadie, it will
use the informal, ’community’ atmosphere of beeb to build relationships
with potential customers with the aim of becoming ’synonymous with used
cars and the natural place to go for a loan’.
Sadie is also talking to an unnamed advertiser about sponsoring beeb’s
World Cup coverage next year, a deal that would involve building the
client’s own World Cup site as an add-on. OK, so it’s the Web, not the
telly, but this is still the first time that an advertiser has been able
to attach itself to such icons of TV football coverage as Barry Davies,
Des Lynam and Mottie.
Ultimately, though, it is heresy to whisper such things within
Television Centre - such associations will inevitably end up on TV. The
BBC will fight to the bitter end to preserve its licence fee, but the
very fact that it is experimenting now with this hybrid of
advertiser-supplied programming and sponsorship is an acknowledgment
that nothing lasts forever.
’It was great to see you,’ Sadie says as I take my leave. ’Pop in any
time. You don’t need to ring first, you’re always welcome.’ I have to
pinch myself but, yes, this really is the BBC. Or rather, this is the
future of the BBC - advertiser as well as user-friendly.