New BBC director general must continue focus on research

It is crunch time for the BBC, with the announcement of its new director general today: George Entwistle, currently director of BBC Vision, will take up the role after the Paralympic Games have finished.

Lucy Handley

Departing DG Mark Thompson told Marketing Week recently about the importance of market research to the corporation, saying the corporation gets a “vast amount of real-time data on what people think”. This is then boiled down to a one-page document that is accessible to everyone.

I like this emphasis on putting something succinct together. So often, there is so much information coming out of insight and research that gets presented as reams of charts that it can be hard to find the nub of the findings.

Short documents are also much more likely to be read and understood by non-marketing colleagues who need to apply the findings to what they do.

They also force those who put them together to condense the results into something could feed into a proposition for a new programme or advertising campaign.

Finding a single-minded proposition is one of the hardest things to do in marketing because you have to filter out important information to focus on the key point. It is much harder to be single-minded and simple than to clutter something up.

But the BBC admits that finding out what people think and want is difficult, which head of audiences James Holden freely admits.

While the BBC has a research panel of 20,000, its potential viewers number the whole population of the UK, and they, he says, ‘all want a personal version of the BBC, they don’t want someone else’s version any more.’

The Beeb was criticised for the tone of its coverage of the Diamond Jubilee last month, receiving 2,000 complaints. At the time it stuck to its guns, tapping into the thoughts of its audience panel. Thompson reported that the panel gave the coverage eight out of ten across the four days.

Entwistle will need to make sure that coverage of national events keeps the authoritative high ground. And with the licence fee frozen until 2016, it is crucial that the BBC knows what its audiences want, so it can spend their money wisely.

As Holden says: “The whole organisation is based on an understanding of our audience and what we should give them.” Let’s hope Entwistle focuses on that too.

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