INTERACTIVE: Staid old Auntie lets her hair down for a fun and user-friendly Website - CASE STUDY/BEEB/The BBC’s global Website is refreshingly upbeat and informal - and it’s wooing advertisers

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.

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.


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