It seems fitting to write this post as the BBC’s new Washington bureau chief arrives in town as there are a few things that Paul Danahar needs to know about his U.S. operations. In 2002, Richard Sambrook gave a speech stating that the BBC surrendered the 24-hr t.v. news market to CNN International during the early 90’s. Now, the Beeb is about to hand victory to Al Jazeera on a silver platter. As the Doha-based broadcaster beefs up operations to launch Al Jazeera America, the BBC has sat idle and failed to improve the programming intended for this market. While the Beeb can claim that BBC World News is seen in 27 million U.S. homes, there is no data illustrating how many people watch the channel on a regular basis. Katty Kay’s show, with its confusing and unoriginal name, goes out a time when most people are out on the road or are at work. But if viewers tuned in, what would they find? Unfortunately, a very straight-forward and sometimes boring newscast that is not dynamic enough against other shows on the channel such as Global. Maybe the folks in D.C. need a bigger set or bureau or both. It is also disappointing that Dani Sinha has not been offered the role of substitute anchor on World News America. I’ve seen too many of Kay’s colleagues present the show when she is unavailable and this aspect of presentation is rather confusing. Once programming wraps up for the Asian markets, it’s back to North America. Between the hours of 8 and 11 pm ET, viewers on BBC World News and PBS are treated to the amiable Mike Embley who deserves more credit for his work on the channel. Unfortunately, Mr. Embley is based in London and I have not heard of any plans to have him based in D.C. Despite internal issues and many flaws, Al Jazeera America is serious about this market and is about to shake-up the media in this country. A former BBC anchor was right: Al Jazeera has “run rings” around the corporation. With all my sincerity, best of luck “AJAM!”
Media: Al Jazeera America has poached CNN’s Ali Velshi. His last day with CNN/CNNi was Friday. Velshi may work with Kamahl Santamaria who presents “Counting the Cost” on Al Jazeera English. Santamaria tells DC Internationalist: “AJAM will be a separate channel, but we will of course share resources. Give it time and we’ll see :)”
Media: Yalda Hakim has begun anchoring newscasts for BBC World News.
Travel: Etihad Airways added non-stop flights from Abu Dhabi to Dulles to its schedule last weekend. The airline also unveiled a lavish lounge. The press release states the following: “Located next to the airline’s departure gate in Terminal A, the lounge provides premium passengers with unfettered and convenient direct access to the aircraft without having to go through a traditional departure gate.” Nice!
Food: Le Pain Quotidien is on an expansion craze in the D.C. area. Chevy Chase and Union Station will soon get the Belgian cafe experience.
After years in the making, the new home of BBC World News at New Broadcasting House was unveiled to viewers this week. The modern space at NBH features bolder sets, bigger studios, and new graphics/music to accompany some of the old and newer programming. The channel was lucky to snag veteran BBC presenter Jon Sopel. In his new show “Global,” you quickly recognize that Sopel stands for what the channel wants to be in its latest relaunch. Dynamic. Authoritative. Energetic. Did I say energetic? These are important and needed changes as the Beeb attempts to conquer America. We Yanks like a bit of flashiness and these monumental changes should not go unnoticed by the most discerning viewer. But if you miss watching Sopel, the “beacon” or “pips” of the BBC may grab your attention.
The theme music of BBC World News has been of particular interest to viewers. Over a decade ago, David Lowe, a composer based in Malvern, England, was commisioned to create a new sound for the corporation’s tv news output. His brief was to completely change the sound of news music. What Lowe produced in Malvern, the home of Sir Edward Elgar, was pure magic and attracted the attention of a worldwide audience. In 2013, his new work feels elegant and yet refreshingly modern.
At the core, viewers are looking for non-partisan and global reporting from the BBC at a time when most American outlets have shifted to a more commercial and ratings friendly business model. The question is whether the Beeb’s new look will attract more Americans to tune in. Probably. But if the corporation now feels that the cliquish American media should pay BBC World News – or any other international news channel trying to break this notoriously difficult market – more attention, then a brigade of PR gurus will be needed for battle. You see, no victory comes without a price.
You can watch ” Global with Jon Sopel” at 10 am EST / 7 am PST on the BBC World News channel.
The BBC has gained a bigger foothold in the U.S. market after landing a deal with communications giant Comcast. The arrangement allows for BBC World News to be seen in up to 15 million homes by the end of 2012. When the “Beeb” first secured 24-hour carriage on Cablevision in 2006, the corporation launched a morning news show called World News Today (later rebranded as GMT) aimed at the American audience. BBC World News America followed in late 2007.
But in announcing the deal with Comcast, we could not find any evidence to suggest more programming would be launched for us Yanks. We reached out to the BBC for clarification. Below is our Q’s & A’s.
1. Will more programming be launched at the U.S. in light of the arrangement with Comcast?
A BBC spokesperson said: “We believe the strength and attraction of the offer from BBC World News is its international journalism from around the world. That will continue to be our main focus and we don’t envisage major changes to the schedule.”
2. With the extended reach into more homes be supported by a marketing push?
A BBC spokesperson said: “We will be marketing our services on TV and online across the regions and cities that will be able access the channel through Comcast’s Xfinity TV. Whilst it’s important we raise awareness of the availability of channel, we know the hunger from US audiences for smart international news is strong.”
But another competitor has already modified its schedule in preparation of the 2012 U.S. elections. Al-Jazeera English is broadcasting its flagship discussion show Inside Story from Washington. Episodes will also cover stories of importance in North and South America.
Photography: Courtesy of BBC