The BBC is on track to reach a weekly non-UK news audience of 500m this year, according to an executive tasked with North American growth.
Jennie Baird, who joined the broadcast giant from News Corp in January, said BBC News “currently reaches 456m people outside the UK each week and we are on track for that figure to hit half a billion this year”.
The BBC’s coverage of the Ukraine war will likely be a major contributor to its audience reach this year. Baird revealed that the BBC’s Ukraine live page recorded 396m page views between 24 February and 13 March. She said the Ukrainecast podcast has attracted more than 1m listens since its launch on 24 February.
“We have seen a big demand from audiences for clear, fact-based, impartial journalism on the war in Ukraine,” said Baird. “It is the kind of global story audiences turn to us for, to help them understand the world around them, make informed choices, and take an active part in democracy.”
The 456m figure is based on a Global Audience Measure (GAM) score recorded last November. This found that the BBC’s international news services reached 456m adults a week in 2021, up 18m from the previous year. This includes audiences for the World Service in English and other languages, World News TV, BBC.com and BBC Media Action.
The BBC’s total global audience, including non-news content, at the time was judged to be 489m adults per week. The corporation’s ambition – set in 2013 by then-director-general Tony Hall – is to reach a global audience of 500m by 2022, its 100th anniversary.
Baird, the executive vice president and managing director of digital news and streaming for BBC Studios, the BBC’s commercial arm, is in the process of building a larger North American team and audience.
She plans to double the BBC’s 18-strong news journalist team and is recruiting for 20 new roles in the US and Canada.
Currently, said Baird, the BBC has a weekly American audience of 50m and nearly 9m in Canada.
“Just over 10% of our audience comes from the US and we definitely think there is scope to grow this further,” she told Press Gazette. “It’s a large market and one in which BBC News really stands out from other news sources.
“The growth we’ve seen in recent years shows the demand from US audiences for fact-focused and globally minded quality news and we plan to continue investing in content which appeals to this audience.”
BBC Studios recently recruited Katty Kay, a former BBC News anchor, to front some of its new digital content. In a separate interview with Press Gazette, published on Thursday, Kay said there is a “real commitment” by the BBC to expand its reach in North America.
She said: “There’s money behind it. There are exciting new products to do it with. And there’s a determination on behalf of top executives of the BBC, both in London and in America, to make this happen.”
Asked about her plans for the BBC in North America, Baird told Press Gazette: “The aim is to enhance our news coverage and to invest in new formats and the kind of digital storytelling today’s connected news consumer has come to expect.
“There will be more analysis, data journalism and original investigations, as well as additional capacity to offer live coverage of key moments – all with the high level of quality and accuracy that’s the signature of BBC News.
“In a world increasingly flooded with misinformation, the BBC’s increased focus on data and analysis will help more people find facts, as opposed to just opinions (or worse).
“Today’s news consumer is hungry for impartial journalism that allows them to make up their own mind about a story. News, not views, if you like.”
The BBC’s new North American roles will be based in its main bureau, Washington, DC, as well as Toronto, New York and Los Angeles. Baird said the BBC would also soon be adding roles in Singapore and Sydney.
The majority of the BBC’s funding comes from the licence fee in the UK. But BBC Studios is responsible for commercialising BBC News outside of the UK through advertising, sponsorship and licensing.
Baird added: “With growing interest and demand in the US and global markets for the kind of trusted, unbiased news BBC is known for, we need to ensure that the content we are delivering across our digital channels (BBC.com, BBC News mobile apps, BBC Select and Podcasts) is as relevant and necessary to non-UK audiences as it is to those in the UK.
“Access to trustworthy news is more important than ever. The rise in recent years of dangerous misinformation and division within society coincides with the coronavirus pandemic, a global story on an unprecedented scale.
“The demand for news has rocketed across the board as people try to make sense of what has been going on in the US and beyond.”