Content Marketing

Why sending BBC Food to the firing squad would shoot itself in the foot

By May 18, 2016 No Comments

I’m going to say that as a keen amateur chef I am one of the many, many people in the UK, and indeed around the world, that was to lament the loss of 11,000 recipes from BBC Food’s online content. As it happens, things didn’t turn out quite so serious, but under a recent and somewhat contentious charter renewal, where the BBC was told to focus on more ‘distinctive content’, a number of cuts have been made to its online content. BBC Food, the BBC’s online archive of recipes from professional chefs, many of which were taken from BBC cooking shows, looked like a very notable one.

The BBC was told to focus on more ‘distinctive content’

The hit wasn’t quite as final as everyone first thought (a petition to reverse the decision yesterday garnered 120,000 signatures, and a Telegraph poll revealed 79% of its readership opposed a move to get rid of the content). Rather than get rid of the recipes, the BBC has since suggested that BBC Food will no longer be updated and over time will become harder and harder to find online. The 11,000 recipes aren’t going anywhere, technically speaking, but that’s a mistake in itself. I’ll come back to that.

Eroding trust

I don’t particularly want to go into the politics of it all; if you’ve read the story in the national press you’ve probably formed your own opinion on why all this is happening. But I do want to point out, from a content marketing perspective, that this is a fantastically stark case study of what happens when you erode public trust in a genuinely valued brand. Whoever you deem to be ultimately responsible for the BBC recipes debacle, and whatever its true circumstances, what has unequivocally happened is that the BBC’s considerable, and deserved, online status has been weakened. I’m not being dramatic.

I, like many other budding cooks, implicitly trust BBC Food’s content

It’s easy to cry sensationalist when you’re just talking about a load of recipes, most of which you can almost definitely find elsewhere, but the issue goes far deeper. The recipes thing is a tip of an iceberg that extends to eroding thought leadership, as well as restricting a free knowledge base that many thousands, likely millions, of people treasure.

What it comes down to is this: I, like many other budding cooks, implicitly trust the BBC Food’s content. It is my first and usually last port of call and it never fails me. There may be a million recipes for a pork pie out there, but when I want to make one, I will follow the BBC’s first, forsaking all others.

As chef Dan Lepard, whose recipes appear on BBC Food, quite rightly said of this “extraordinary, world-class archive” to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme yesterday: “With the BBC recipes, you know they work. I can tell you that loads of recipes out there, don’t work; they will fail. The BBC ones work.”

This is distinctive

This is trustworthy, valuable content of the highest order. Trust, as we always say, is your most valuable currency online. The charter renewal says BBC must focus on ‘distinctive content’. To chefs up and down the country and across the globe, BBC Food is the very definition of distinctive content, and the current backlash is reflective of just how important that is to a dedicated audience. Indeed, not to mention that the licence fee paid for the programmes these recipes were taken from, so why the public shouldn’t continue to be able to have full access to this continually updated source of content is baffling.

This is exactly the sort of content that any respectable online company should be producing. If we think of it in the same way as a business blog, this is generating SEO plaudits on a massive scale. The BBC has said that with this content being archived it will no longer be subject to search engine indexing through links or optimisation. To me, this is crazy. It’s a case of putting your best foot forward, not shooting yourself in it.

I want BBC Food to be the top of my search results when I look for a recipe because I believe it is distinctive, trustworthy, unique and it deserves to be there. And the public on the whole seem to agree.

I want BBC Food to be the top of my search results

Maximise the ROI

If anything, the BBC should enhance this kind of content – repurposing it with new fangled tools and apps, stunning design and imagery, unique video content, maybe even 3D or virtual reality versions. In terms of exploiting this new era of interactive content, can you imagine the possibilities when it comes to cooking? Perhaps you could have live Q&A sessions or problem-solving forums with chefs. How about bringing me into the professional kitchen so I can stand there and moonlight the chef as they prepare a masterpiece?

You could use live streaming video like with Facebook Live. Indeed, Jamie Oliver is doing exactly that as we speak, so purely from a standpoint of staying competitive online, it makes sense for the BBC, and pushes other publishers to up their game in terms of quality. For the user, it’s a win-win.

Why not enhance the edu-tainment potential of this kind of content? This sort of archive isn’t a drain on resources; it should be up there with some of the most treasured and usable parts of the BBC website, which itself is a pinnacle of trusted content and I believe should stay that way.

Why not enhance the edu-tainment potential?

To my mind the value of that trust to such a large and loyal audience far outweighs the minutiae of cost-savings you make by consigning it to the internet’s catacombs. Rather than seeing the tiny savings of not updating to the point where it eventually become unsearchable, how about looking at maximising the ROI of truly brilliant content?

In content marketing terms, this BBC recipes thing goes against all the rules of promoting high quality, online content. I want to say the BBC has misplaced priorities here, but I suspect some other godly hands are turning the tides. But we probably shouldn’t get into the politics of it all.

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