BBC Good Food in 2020: Here’s the business model

Likewise if overall digital revenues doubled between 2011/12 and 2014/15 and digital advertising overtook print advertising in 2013/14, with programmatic and native advertising coming on in bounds.

But these are only the first steps of an ongoing journey for BBC Good Food, Chris Kerwin, BBC Worldwide’s head of publishing, told FIPP’s Cobus Heyl at the recent FIPP/VDZ Digital Innovators’ Summit in Berlin, where he was one of more than 50 international speakers. 

Here is how BBC Good Food aims to be a digital-led, mobile first brand, their plans for accelerated audience growth and the ongoing development of the revenue model through to 2020.

(Worth noting briefly, for purpose of context, is that the brand is produced on a partnership model. Owned by BBC Worldwide, BBC Good Food print magazine is contract published by Immediate Media (the company also manage digital ad sales for BBC Worldwide, as well as international business), while its UK event business is licensed to River Street Events. BBC Worldwide develops and operates the website itself.)

Building out verticals

BBC Good Food magazine was launched in 1989 and the first Good Food Show followed in 1990. In 2003 it published its first book range, and in 2006 – late in the game – launched its website.

Over time, the brand came to represent a “go to place” for people looking for recipes to cook at home. But by Kerwin’s own admission this strength is also a potential weakness, because the brand “boxed itself into a corner somewhat” with this focus.

Around the world special interest verticals (for example arts and crafts) with enthusiastic fans or participants offer strong opportunities for magazine media. Now BBC Good Food plans to get out of “its corner” and tap into this, too.

“We are the biggest food website and magazine in the UK, but we were left exposed because we only talked about home cooking, rather than covering everything to do with food.” 

So the plan is to use the existing position it occupies within the broader food segment and add deeper verticals such as “baking, healthy eating, cooking with the family and so on” around which to then develop commercial opportunities.

Being digital-led, mobile first

Kerwin described their overall development strategy as “publish print for profit, digital for growth.”

On print, Kerwin said it “continues to make sense for us, not because it is where we started, but because it is profitable.” There will be continued investment in the channel “to keep it profitable for as long as we can.”

That said, growing the BBC Good Food website audience “is at the heart of our plans, along with driving video volume.” 

Here, as for most media today, mobile is crucial, and the most likely model is ad-supported, free access. 

BBC Good Food has a paid-for mobile app, but since its site became responsive the free site is now the dominant model. (Kerwin was forthright about their paid content attempts: “It has not gone well, but we’ll see.”) While the app remains available to consumers, the plan is that it will also become free, with users signing in to create personalised experiences. 

Tapping audience ‘states of mind’

According to Kerwin, there is some overlap in audience between the web and print platforms, but “people’s state of mind is different when they consume content.”

“[The print magazine is] read in bed, in the bath, for inspiration, for relaxation. The website is much more functional, they use it when they want to cook and on mobile when they’re in the supermarket (for ideas, ingredients and so on). It’s the classic lean-back, lean-forward experience.”

That’s brought about a change in the content for the magazine, for example with more features than before. At the other end of the scale, the Good Food team is looking closely at opportunities around content engagement on mobile while people are out shopping. “That’s something to crack.”

Positioning for social as the new search

As with most content sites, social and search are key drivers in audience development.

While many sites now report higher referral traffic from social media than from search, search remains BBC Good Food’s top “external” traffic source. “We expect it to remain crucial because of our recipe content.”

However, acknowledging social’s increasing importance, Kerwin said BBC Good Food has a job on hand. Outside of Google+ (where Good Food was a launch partner) “we are punching below our weight with social media so we need to do more.” 

BBC Good Food has some 290,000 likes on Facebook and some 220,000 followers for BBC Good Food and another some 95,000 for BBC Good Food Shows on Twitter. Pinterest, where the brand has 45,000 followers, is its biggest social referrer (likely because of “of the brand’s very visual content”).

The editorial, rather than dedicated social media teams, handle social, but there is sufficient evidence “to give credence to the business case for specific teams,” Kerwin said.

An advantage the site has over many others is that its recipe pages has always been optimised as landing pages for search traffic (i.e. traffic by-passing the home page), making the most of each page as an ecosystem for the rest of the site. This stands the brand in good stead on social, too.

Gearing for the visual web

While the brand has always invested in photography, “what we are now trying to do is develop even more visual content around topics. For example, if we do something on a cake, we will now also shoot step-by-step photos, we will do video, do how-to infographics and more.”

Leveraging content across platforms

One of the stated aims of BBC Good Food is to “create once, publish everywhere.”

With the print magazine published by Immediate Media, BBC Good Food’s print and digital teams are separated. However, take a closer look and you see the strategy at work.

The teams for example share a central Good Food kitchen-hub, with “around 90 per cent” of content produced going to both platforms. “It gives us the core of the content for both platforms, with the rest (including video content for the website) commissioned specifically by the print or digital teams,” Kerwin explained. 

Growing beyond the UK

BBC Good Food magazine is fully licensed in six markets outside the UK, but – in the majority of cases – internationalisation here is more about the syndication of recipes rather than full brand licensing.

Online, around 70 per cent of the 18 million unique monthly visitors to the website are within the UK (that’s around 12.5 million, giving it an enviable position in this market). Other strong markets include the US and Australia (around a million unique users each), Ireland, Canada, South Africa and other mainly English-speaking markets.

To build its international base, Kerwin said BBC Good Food could potentially look at rolling out some localised versions of the site in key markets. “We rebuilt the site in Drupal, which will allow us to spin out versions of the site internationally, for example with the same core content but reflecting different language and market trends, and with some local content on top of it. But we still need to develop plans for this.”

Back in the UK, going local

Tapping into a trend around locality (e.g. a restaurant sourcing its food in the local area), another potential development is that of Good Food Local. Although Kerwin says “there is not much to say on it at this stage,” the idea will be to “spin out local versions of the BBC Good Food website to cater for different regions (for example a Good Food South West in the UK, covering producers, restaurants and food news in the area, as providing a shopping platform for local goods). 

Developing the advertising model

Programmatic advertising now makes up around a third of all digital advertising for the brand and partnered (native) advertising another third. “We believe general display (ads) will decline to zero over the next five years.”

The BBC Good Food team implemented programmatic some 12 months ago, through its partner Immediate Media, which “is heavily invested in programmatic expertise.”

Most of the programmatic revenues are UK-generated, with some “good” international contributions. Asked about the so-called race to the bottom of programmatic advertising, Kerwin said “a lot of agencies and clients now trade in this way, so if you do not participate, you will lose a substantial amount of revenue.”

He listed the top programmatic advertising pros for publishers as:

  • Access to thousands of new buyers
  • Improved yield management and inventory control
  • Frees up advertising teams to focus on high value partnership deals

In respect of the latter, Kerwin explained that while sales teams still do display deals, the switch to programmatic has not only secured a revenue stream, but also enabled increasing investment into partnered advertising resource, better equipping the brand in another hot area of development. Examples of partnered advertising include print advertorials, home page take-overs, original video with celebrities and newsletter and social placements.

Video in general is of course, as for most publishers, a key development area for BBC Good Food. This may come as a surprise given the “BBC” part of the Good Food brand, but it requires investment. “It is a real change brought about by digital, and we’ve had to re-equip our team to move with this almost whole new medium.” 

Developing the offering is crucially important not only because of higher advertising CPMs (£25-£35 for BBC Good Food), but “the majority of requests for proposals by agencies now require a video element to the campaign.” Despite the some 350,000 video streams on BBC Good Food per month, this is not enough, Kerwin says. To make advertising sense, “we need 500,000 as a minimum.”

Last, social advertising for Good Food grew by 74 per cent in 2014, but Kerwin sees it as a “limited opportunity” and advises a circumspect approach. “Social is the new search, so we do not want to bombard the audience with advertising. They’re too valuable to us.”

Building “live” to include experiences

BBC Good Food Live is an area of continued innovation and experimentation. Apart from the larger events (eight across the UK), there is “experimentation within verticals such as baking.” 

This experimentation has also brought a broadening of audience. “The Eat Well show was for example different from the others, in that it attracted more professional people (like dieticians, scientists and so on) than our enthusiast audience.”

The brand is moreover looking at increasingly offering intimate “experiences,” such as Good Food Holidays and Good Food Cooking Schools. Hiring out restaurants (100-150 people), the brand charged £100 to £200 to participate and “sold out quickly. We were so successful we had to book an additional night instead of the what we planned will be a single night with the first one we hosted.”

Expanding into retail product licensing

A new development is BBC Good Food retail products, such as cookware. “BBC Worldwide has a big consumer product business around a lot of our brands, but this is the start of the Good Food journey. We are pitching retail at the moment and will see how it goes.”

Remoulding the money pot

For the overall BBC Good Food brand, licenses included, the print magazine is the most profitable, followed by events and then the website. For BBC Worldwide it is the print magazine first, website second and events third.

The current profit breakdown between digital and print is 25 per cent digital and the rest print, but Kerwin believes digital will contribute more than 60 per cent by 2020. 

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