The BBC will double digital news team in North America to grow the commercial side of the business￼
The BBC wants to fill more than 20 editorial positions in the U.S. and Canada, which would double its digital news team in North America and expand its coverage for BBC.com and the BBC News app. Execs hope it will help grow revenue opportunities.
The new roles will mostly be based out of the BBC’s main U.S. bureau in Washington D.C., as well as in New York and Los Angeles. The BBC has 18 journalists on the digital news team in North America, most of them based in D.C., according to a spokesperson. The BBC news team in North America in total is roughly 50 people.
At the heart of the expansion is BBC Studios, the commercial subsidiary of the BBC, which will be overseen by Jennie Baird, who was named to the newly-created position of evp and managing director of digital news and streaming at BBC Studios last month. “Part of the role of BBC Studios is to commercialize BBC News outside of the U.K., in order to make money which is reinvested into our journalism,” Baird said.
“The Americas business has grown to bring in around a third of our total sales, with most of those revenues coming from the U.S.,” she added, referring to North and South America. Baird declined to share raw revenue figures. The BBC’s U.S. sales team has offices in L.A., Chicago and New York. The BBC has recently created branded content campaigns with advertisers like Hyundai and Corteva.
Though the exact breakdown of U.S. versus Canada roles wasn’t provided, a “small number” will be hired out of Toronto, Baird said and roles will be posted in the coming weeks.
The plan is for the new hires to produce more analysis, data journalism and original investigations, as well as live coverage of big news moments, Baird said. They will also work to improve “curation of the North American edition of the website and international app, and at weekends,” she said.
The BBC is not the only large U.K.-based media organization expanding its presence on the other side of the Atlantic. This year Future plc and the Financial Times are also expanding their teams and coverage in the U.S.
- Future, which owns titles like Tom’s Guide, TechRadar and Marie Claire, is opening a new office in Atlanta this month and wants to hire 100 people out of Atlanta in editorial, sales and production roles. The office will serve as the U.S. home base for Future’s video production business, Future Studios.
- In the last six months, the Financial Times opened new bureaus in Houston and Los Angeles to deepen coverage of the sectors and regions where American companies are dominant players on a global scale. The Houston bureau focuses on global energy and how it’s affecting oil, gas and tech companies based in the U.S, while the bureau in Hollywood covers the entertainment industry business and the creator economy. Christopher Grimes was named L.A. bureau chief in August — and two correspondents were hired out of the FT’s Washington, D.C. office to strengthen its coverage of the U.S. economy under President Biden’s administration.
The expansions are an effort “to fish where the fish are,” said Melissa Chowning, founder and CEO of audience development and marketing firm Twenty-First Digital. “If a publisher has streamlined the funnel and monetization strategy in one country, expanding into another country to find more audiences that can grow that funnel makes sense.”
The BBC also plans to expand its audience growth team soon, with a focus on the North American market, Baird said. Fifty million Americans use the BBC’s news services each week, she said, making it the second-largest, non-U.K. market in the world (India is the first). Digital reach outside of the U.K. grew by 23% year over year, according to Baird. U.S. traffic to the BBC’s sites, in particular, is up 28%, representing over 10% of its total audience, she said, citing internal figures. However, according to Comscore data, BBC.com traffic growth isn’t notable: it had 29 million U.S. unique visitors in December 2021, around the same size audience it had in December 2020.
The BBC has bureaus in 73 cities around the world, reaching 456 million people outside of the U.K. each week, Baird said. The goal is to get that to half a billion this year, she said.
The BBC’s expansion in the U.S. is also a bid to grow its commercial business. The BBC is a public service broadcaster in the U.K. and is funded by the license fee, which is paid annually by all households with a TV set. But outside of the U.K., the BBC operates on a “commercial basis,” Baird said. BBC Studios creates, develops, produces and sells TV content. It also sells advertising and sponsorship deals on BBC.com, its apps, its TV channel BBC World News and on the BBC World Service.
BBC Studios pledged to deliver £1.2 billion (roughly $1.6 billion) to the BBC in five years (an increase of 18% from the previous five years), which ends March 2022. Baird said the company is “on track” to deliver this target, which effectively subsidizes the BBC license fee in the U.K. Last March, BBC Studios announced it would increase returns to the BBC by 30% to £1.5 billion (about $2 billion) over the next five years, by March 2027.
Ava Seave, principal of Quantum Media, a management consulting firm specializing in media, said the BBC is “making a bet” that it will be able to attract more ad revenue than it costs to staff a U.S.-based team. “They must have an understanding of where [the audience] is coming from, and that American-style news attracts advertising.” Otherwise, “it’s an incredible expense with no additional budget,” she added.
Putting even more pressure on the commercial side of the BBC? The British government announced in January that it would freeze the license fee at £159 (about $215) per household for the next two years. Almost £3.7 billion (about $5 billion) was raised by the license fee in 2019, accounting for about 76% of the BBC’s total revenue. (The license fee is guaranteed to exist until December 2027.)
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