As the world lays witness to the wrath of climate change, its inhabitants try and look for solace or some salvation as to what may be the future of their planet. During this time of crisis, BBC Global News is launching BBC Future Planet, a hyper-targeted, premium vertical dedicated to the environment.
Communicate spoke with Mary Wilkinson, head of editorial content at BBC Global News, to understand the idea behind the concept.
What is hyper-targeting?
From an audience point of view, it’s responding to the signals and data from the audience and tailoring a platform that appeals directly to them. From a commercial point of view, it allows advertisers to reach a particular target audience that aligns with their product or service. In the instance of BBC Future Planet, for example, we can offer brands direct access to a targeted audience with a particular interest in sustainability and the environment. More than two-thirds of BBC.com users say they would pay more for sustainable or eco-friendly products, so there is a clear benefit for brands in being in this space.
Climate change is a topic we’ve been talking about for almost 30 years. Why the initiative now with Future Planet as a separate vertical on the BBC?
We’re responding to a renewed interest from our audience. Two-thirds of visitors to BBC.com say they are interested in the environment. There’s definitely been a shift in public perception around the topic. As you say, the knowledge that carbon dioxide is warming our planet has been there for 30 years. At one stage, there were a number of people who were skeptical that climate change was due to man-made factors, but the overwhelming weight of scientific opinion now agrees that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are causing global warming.
Audiences across the world are acutely aware that weather patterns are no longer the same as they were 10-20 years ago, and that has likely created a renewed interest in climate change. On this topic, our audiences are looking for solutions because they want to feel optimistic about the future. The BBC has been reporting these stories for a very long time, but we’ve created BBC Future Planet to send a strong signal to our audience, and to advertisers, that we’re taking the subject seriously.
What kind of content can we expect from the new vertical?
People generally know the BBC for news, but we offer the same quality journalism in the features space and our audience enjoys going into depth. There is a demand for long articles that take five minutes or more to read because it allows you to go into much more detail. Our audience comes to us because they trust the BBC, so we want to take the science seriously, explain it, and look at the options – something you can’t do in 200-400 words – so we’re typically publishing 1200-1400 words, if the subject is worth it. We’re also constantly exploring new formats. We know that our audience likes data, interactive stories, and video journalism, so we’ll be featuring all of those.
On what basis do you decide if a topic is worth it?
That decision is based on experience. At the BBC, we know our audience very well and we know what our audience is consuming. One of the benefits of digital is that it allows for much quicker feedback. You get the signals very clearly, such as where we’re getting a lot of traffic from, whether it’s on a particular type of article. We use that to inform what we commission next. We also do a lot of social listening to see what’s trending, what people are talking about.
The website follows a unique solutions-focused approach. Can you elaborate more on that?
We all know that the climate is changing and that it’s having quite frightening consequences in some parts of the world. What BBC Future Planet will focus on is solutions-based journalism – the innovations helping to alleviate these problems, how they are being implemented, and the impact they’re having.
We’re also looking at the initiatives being put in place to reduce climate change in the longer term, such as new technological breakthroughs. It’s more than just climate change, we’re looking at the sustainability of the planet as a whole, covering off topics such as air pollution, plastic, and renewables.
Everybody wants economic growth and to see living standards improve, but it’s the ‘how’ that BBC Future Planet will be investigating. For example, how do we ensure there’s enough food to eat without destroying the planet?
How would you describe the BBC Millennial reader?
Generally, our audience is very interested in the world around them. They’re well-read, want to make change happen and have a global outlook. Almost two-thirds of our global cross-platform audience consists of affluent millennials so we have a good insight into what they want.
Is this an approach you plan to incorporate throughout the entire BBC in the near future?
BBC News recently announced it’s branding all of its environmental coverage as ‘Our Planet Matters’. This sends a very strong signal to audiences that the BBC is determined to reduce its impact on the planet. As well as plenty of editorial coverage, we also want to play our part in reducing our own carbon footprint.
Why have people only fairly recently began to take notice of this issue?
The devastating impact of climate change has traditionally been portrayed as being decades away but it’s now within our lifetime. With the rise of social media, there’s a generation feeling empowered and being mobilized, having their voices heard. That, coupled with the fact that we’re seeing more extreme weather across the world, I think it’s reached a tipping point where enough people are concerned and want to do something about it. With the rate of development in science and technology, I think people are no longer frightened by the scale of the task because they can begin to see a way through it.
Another new premium vertical which the BBC plans to launch is Future You. Wilkinson gives us the details on the upcoming vertical.
What kind of content we can expect from Future You?
We know that our audience is interested in their health. There are a plethora of stories spread across social media about different aspects of what’s good for you and what’s bad for you, often with conflicting information, and so it becomes increasingly difficult to sort the wheat from the chaff.
BBC Future You will trade upon the BBC’s reputation for trust and impartiality. It will feature relatable, beautifully designed stories about health and well-being, written by experts and backed by science. We’re going to look at everything that impacts your health and wellbeing, from how you exercise to what you eat and how you sleep.