BBC World Service audience touches 183 million

MUMBAI: BBC World Service now claims to have more listeners than any other international radio broadcaster, with an increase in its audience to a record 183 million, a rise of 20 million on the previous year.

According to the annual review for BBC World Service, audiences rose in the Middle East, the wider Islamic world and Africa.

BBC World Service on FM is available in 152 capital cities, up from 150 last year. The report says BBC's international news websites attracted a record 763 million page impressions in March 2007, up from 546 million compared to March 2006. Around the world, there were a record 38.5 million online users in March 2007, up from 32.8 million a year ago.

BBC Global News services – which include BBC World Service, the BBC World television channel and BBC international online news sites - attracted a record global weekly audience of over 233 million during 2006 - 2007.

BBC World Service director Nigel Chapman says, "Audiences overall are going up in some of our biggest markets in Africa and Asia, including India, Pakistan and Nigeria. This is a significant achievement because these markets too are highly competitive and such large numbers are always vulnerable to rapid falls. But English language audiences for radio dropped back in parts of Africa, contributing to a decline from 42 million to 38 million in the global English radio total. Official discouragement of partnerships which would enable us to broadcast English programme material on any scale in Nigeria is a major obstacle.

"In Bangladesh, troubled by political unrest, the weekly audience figure almost doubled in a year, demonstrating once again how listeners return to the BBC at times of crisis. In Afghanistan, the first nationwide survey showed that there were 10 million listeners a week, 60 per cent of the adult population.

"The work of our technical teams enables BBC World Service to compete effectively in some of the world's toughest environments. Five sites are now solar powered to keep them on the air independently of local supplies”.

"It is clear that a tri-media approach, combining radio, television and online is essential if BBC World Service is to compete in the multi-platform digital age." But it is a more mixed picture in other regions. The difficulties we can face as markets develop are apparent in Latin America and parts of Eastern Europe, such as Romania and Ukraine, where burgeoning choice has led to a decline in our audiences. In Russia, distribution problems in a difficult political climate have been a further setback, leading to the loss of FM services in Moscow and St Petersburg and a decline in listening to under one million. In China, poor access to BBC news content in what is now a bustling aggressively competitive market has resulted in a further loss of audience.

“The silver lining is the success of new online partnerships in China, including one deal with a key national portal. They offer access to BBC educational material and 90 per cent of the traffic to BBC content in China now comes from these partner deals.

"The worldwide growth in online audiences, led by the BBC's international news site, has steadied and it is recognised we need to build this audience further in the coming years. The spectacular growth rate of the early days of the internet is much harder to achieve now that most initial adopters of the technology have found us. As in China, we are building partnerships with major portals to showcase our work better and increase traffic.

"Continued investment in technology will be necessary for us to compete in a world where the ability to find and share information and content is fundamental. In the most sophisticated markets, the generation growing up with social networking sites such as YouTube and MySpace takes sharing video content for granted. We have taken significant steps this year with the launch of broadband video news in six languages and new sites for downloading content to mobile devices."

He added, “Everything from audio and video technology for reporters in the field to the way programmes are put together and distributed is now being digitised, giving us the flexibility to deliver programmes in new ways. The opening of the Production House of the Future at Bush House which is a digital production space is a first, showing the way forward for the whole of the BBC and other media organisations. Investment in production centres overseas has brought us closer to audiences. More than 30 per cent of BBC World Service's production staff is now based in the countries to which it broadcasts.

Preparations to launch BBC Arabic Television in the autumn of 2007 were on track and its staff will be the first part of BBC World Service to occupy the new Broadcasting House centre that we will eventually share with all the BBC's domestic news operations. The go-ahead for a Farsi television service announced in October 2006, was very welcome, he said.

"In this far-reaching transformation of our activities, one thing which is not changing is our commitment to traditional BBC values, starting with the quality of programmes. The past year has been one of further innovation in programme making, helping audiences to make sense of a world that is increasingly globalised and interconnected. Generation Next gave a voice to the under-18s who are often neglected in the mainstream media. India Rising offered a deep insight into winners and losers in this booming Asian economy. Business Daily shed new light on long-term trends taking place behind the world of work”.

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