Questions for BBC’s Digital Media EVP

CLBradleyJones.Luke.jpgIt’s been a year since the BBC decided to serve ads to its Web audience outside the U.K., and just six months since its in-house team started courting brands here in the U.S. Unfortunately for the Beeb, those six months overlapped with a serious decline in demand for display ads.

No matter. Luke Bradley-Jones, EVP business development and digital media for BBC Worldwide America, is taking the long view — as evidenced by the site’s light banner load (just two ads per page) and by its decision not to work with ad networks.

“It may mean losing money in year one or year two, but when it comes to year four, year five, it’ll be a huge competitive advantage,” he said.

ClickZ recently sat down with Bradley-Jones to talk about The BBC’s approach to building its ad sales team and packaging its audience.

Q. Why in-house sales?

A. Discovery [BBC’s previous ad rep] has been a great partner. But they’ve got 13 channels, and BBC programming was sitting at the bottom of that pile. We pulled that in April.

Given we’re coming into the market very late in a very competitive ad market both in TV and online, [we asked] how can we put that to our advantage. Well, we decided, let’s put television and online together. Every single sales agent is going to sell online and on-air.

Q. How many of your sales and support staff had online experience coming in?

A. Out of 35, half is front-line sales, and about two-thirds of those had extensive digital experience. We’ve got offices in New York, LA and Chicago, and in each of those we put together the teams.

Q. How has it gone so far?

A. From April to June was a period where it was literally about pounding the pavement, introducing our brand and products to Mad Avenue, which had never seen us before.

We met with people like Martin Sorrell, who through WPP controls 45 percent of ad market. He’s a huge fan of the BBC.

A couple months later we’re meeting with their 25-year-old buyers. A lot of them haven’t even heard of the BBC. That first three months was a massive go-to-market exercise. In many ways we’re still in that phase. Since July we’re seeing the fruits of that come through. We had a strong July, August, September.

Obviously that’s from a standing start, but given how tumultuous the market is that feels quite gratifying right now.

Q. Would you spell out what digital audiences and programming packages you’re selling?

A. For BBC America, we are selling against the network, carried in 60 million homes; against individual shows; against the newscast, our first U.S.-facing newscast.

For BBC.com, right now there’s one site. It’s primarily put together and wholly published in London. Around the world that has 44 million unique users. It’s the second-biggest news site. MSNBC.com is larger.

Of those, 7.5 million are in the U.S. That’s what we’re selling.

Q. Doesn’t that create challenges in terms of knowing your audience?

A. That’s true. One of the things [we want to do] is sort out our research. That’s rolling out an analytics program through Omniture, allowing us to track every single minute spent by territory, and really start to speak to our audience.

Q. What ad formats and targeting methods do you offer?

A. We offer two advertising units per page, [very light] compared to WSJ, which has four to five. CNN has five or six. You have a leaderboard and a middle page unit.

In terms of click-through data we’ve gotten from clients, the click through rates are four or five times higher than [comparable ad placements].

That’s not going to be enough. I’m not saying display is going to be completely commoditized, but there is an overabundance of inventory. Ad networks are playing a larger part in the purchase of display advertising. As all the belts get tightened, there’s a flight to quality, moving toward sponsorship, customized solutions, and advertiser-funded content.

That’s the next phase of our advertising product strategy. We’re now offering sponsorships around key areas programming, such as sports and entertainment.

Q. Are you selling through ad networks?

A. We have used none. When it came to the question, how can we use our late market ad strategy to our advantage, ad networks [stood out]. It may mean losing money in year one or year two, but when it comes to year four, year five, it’ll be a huge competitive advantage.

Q. Will you tailor more content and ad products to the U.S. market?

A. We’re working toward providing a U.S. version of BBC.com to launch early next year. To keep pace and keep ourselves in the top tier, we have got to be able to tailor our coverage to the U.S. audience. It means having the site and the product having a U.S. sensibility.

[From an ad point of view], we need to be able to respond in a timely fashion. If Apple wants to run a leaderboard position, if it doesn’t conform to BBC’s standards, we have to go to the U.K. to change the specs so we can accept the ads. If it takes longer than a few days, Apple’s going to spend the money somewhere else. In order to meet their needs, we have to have a U.S. version of our products.

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