BBC Earth uses audience data for greenlighting its original series

Over the last year, BBC Earth, the public service broadcaster’s natural history franchise, has been refining its YouTube channel, sticking to a more consistent schedule and using audience data to inform the creation of original digital series.

BBC Earth’s YouTube channel was a natural choice to focus on because the animal kingdom videos, clips of young iguanas fleeing from packs of snakes, are shareable, according to Anna Rafferty, global director, digital marketing for BBC Studios.

There are three YouTube channels under the BBC Earth umbrella: BBC Earth, Earth Lab and Earth Unplugged. The team publishes on average 10 pieces of content a day to BBC Earth, a mix of archive footage reformatted and cut down for the platform, promotional clips to drive show tune-in and three pieces of content produced for the platform. Increasingly, it’s drawing on audience data and trends to inform how additional digital series are commissioned.

Take “The Big Question,” a new weekly franchise, the first episode airing Dec. 7 on BBC Earth Lab, a video under five minutes focused on smart cities and asked the question is technology improving urban life. The team uses tools like Google search trends, Tubular Labs data and audience comments to see what viewers are asking on BBC Earth, whether it’s tips on sustainable living, how to cut out single-use plastic, or where to find vegan face masks. The BBC then draws on its history, science and nature divisions to produce videos to answer the question. Depending on the topic it will air on different YouTube channels or other platforms.

“New trends are changing what defines beauty today but also new products entering the market such as skin care from the earth,” said Rafferty. “BBC Earth has always commissioned shows that take a historical look at civilizations, and this video is about asking a question that combines two periods of time to give people today a new perspective on beauty.”

Also coming up is a video on how the latest technology can help Santa do his job. Another episode will look at artificial intelligence after the team found there are almost 1 million Google searches on AI each month.

Since refining its process, BBC Earth has doubled YouTube subscribers in the last 12 months to 3.5 million, according to SocialBlade. Average monthly video views have also doubled over the year. In October, it had 45 million video views, up from 22 million in October 2017.

According to Rafferty, when thinking about commissioning new content strands on platforms like YouTube, audience trends and what works with the platform’s algorithm is as important as monetizing the content through advertising. Promotional content for shows appearing on linear in the U.K. is not monetized, but global content is. Rafferty was unable to share how much revenue YouTube has brought in over the last 12 months.

The BBC Earth digital team has one dedicated YouTube channel manager for its three channels, three who publish to other platforms like Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. There are also six people who work on publishing content within BBC Studios across all brands, including BBC Earth and its sub-brands.

Creating content based on audience needs comes naturally to digital publishers. For the BBC, this shows a growing relationship with the audience, but it’s much harder to implement beyond digital channels, said media consultant Andrea Olsson.

“The future of media relies on a direct relationship with audiences, and the traditional broadcasters seriously lag behind here. Often they all have social and audience teams that are quite separate to commissioning teams. This is a step in the right direction.”

According to the broadcaster, BBC Earth YouTube channel skews younger than BBC Earth’s other digital channels — another reason to focus on developing the strategy — with 34 percent are under 25 years old, and 70 percent are under 35 years old.

BBC Earth also released a podcast on Nov. 29 partly to reach younger audiences. The first season follows the themes explored in “Dynasty,” the latest series by broadcaster David Attenborough, although it can stand alone editorially. After two episodes, Rafferty said it’s had tens of thousands of listens.

Image: courtesy of BBC Earth via YouTube.

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