BBC Lacks Primetime Strategy in U.S.

As Al-Jazeera America ramps up efforts to launch in the U.S., the BBC will need to re-tool their primetime strategy. It is surprising if you consider the simple fact that BBC World News has expanded its distribution in the states over the past year. Currently, GMT with George Alagiah and World News America with Katty Kay are the corporation’s flagship morning and evening shows respectively for the U.S. market. But Kay’s show is the one I take issue with. It has a confusing and un-original name: BBC World News America. Hence, I am watching BBC World News America on the BBC News channel known as BBC World News. Don’t worry if you cannot keep up. I get confused too. I thought the channel refresh in January would encompass a complete rebranding of WNA, but the name and presentation stayed the same.

Moreover, WNA goes out on BBC World News AND PBS at a time when most people are still at work or are on the road. You have to wait till 9 pm EST to watch a newscast aimed at the U.S. It’s a typical BBC “bulletin” with a special introduction welcoming PBS viewers. That’s it. Uh, what about all the viewers who have access to the 24-hr news channel in the states? What I expect from the BBC, Al-Jazeera or any other foreign broadcaster is to invest in distinct and incisive programming that people can watch at a reasonable hour. Anything less tells me that you are not serious about this market.

Since the Beeb is looking to fill the position of “Head of News,” I would make a few changes if I got the job (I can dream, can’t I?). I see plenty of potential in Dani Sinha. She could flourish on an attachment in the Washington bureau and as stand-in presenter for Katty Kay. The channel should hire Imran Garda who left AJE under a year ago. He makes on-air journalism look just as natural as breathing when it is not. He could give Mishal Husain a run for her money. The programming and scheduling for the U.S. market will need re-tooling as it is unfocused and disjointed. And finally, the Beeb needs to form a partnership with CBS. Under the leadership of David Rhodes and Jeff Fager, the Tiffany network is becoming a source of serious news and measured reporting at a time when most broadcasters are placing speed above accuracy.

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