The BBC, already the UK’s biggest online brand, on Tuesday signalled its determination to join the fast-growing web world of blogs, open access and online communities.
The public broadcaster said it would relaunch its website to feature greater personalisation and more user-generated content as it laid out its strategy to adapt to the so-called “web 2.0 world”, where users increasingly create their own online communities.
Following the success of rock groups including Arctic Monkeys through MySpace.com, the community internet site, the BBC also set itself the goal of becoming “the premier destination for unsigned bands” through broadband, podcasting and mobile phone services.
Outlining the strategy, Mark Thompson, the BBC’s director-general, said: “There is a big shock coming”, warning that unless the corporation worked harder to reach younger audiences and those that felt increasingly distant from the broadcaster, the corporation could lose a generation forever.
“We need to understand our audiences far better, to be more responsive, collaborative and to build deeper relationships with them around fantastic quality content,” he said.
Channel 4, the publicly owned but advertising-funded broadcaster, also extended its reach into community-led online offerings on Tuesday, saying it planned to launch a user-generated comedy broadband channel. This follows the earlier launch of a channel that allows audiences to post their own documentaries.
The changes reflect the rapid growth in internet sites dedicated to building up communities and that allow the exchange of information and content.
Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation was among the first big media companies to invest in such social networking sites, spending $580m (£324m) last year on MySpace, the biggest of the sites with about 70m users.
ITV last year bought friendsreunited.com, which brings old school and college friends together online.
The big question for the sites, which reflect the changing internet behaviour of those aged under 30, is how to make money from advertising.
So far, internet advertising is small relative to traditional advertising but it is the fastest-growing sector. Continuing shifts in behaviour, such as decreased television viewing, are expected to accelerate the shift from mass advertising to targeted marketing.
The increase in such digital experimentation will not come cheaply for the public broadcasters, and both the BBC and Channel 4 on Tuesday laid out claims for financial support.