UK broadcasters make inroads in digital media

Last week, during MIPTV in Cannes, the Digital Emmy awards were handed out. English-speaking productions dominated the awards with UK projects taking two and an Australian production taking the third, for fiction. Realscreen spoke with Lion TV's Kirsty Hunter about the win for Britain from Above and Raw TV's Lucy Willis and Airlock's Chris Mair about their win for Battlefront.
April 6, 2009

Last week, during MIPTV in Cannes, the Digital Emmy awards were handed out. English-speaking productions dominated the awards with UK projects taking two and an Australian production taking the third, for fiction. Realscreen spoke with Lion TV’s Richard Bradley and Kirsty Hunter about their win for Britain from Above and Raw TV’s Lucy Willis and Airlock’s Chris Mair about their win for Battlefront.

Multi-platform content has become increasingly important to broadcasters the world over, but UK broadcasters are taking it more seriously than most. BBC and Channel 4 are putting money into developing web components to their programs (or building online experiences to branch TV programs from). Raw TV’s Battlefront and Lion’s Britain from Above are examples of successful multi-platform projects, that also won 2009 International Digital Emmys for the Children & Young People and Non-Fiction categories, respectively.

Lion TV has put a lot of faith into digital. The prodco has its own interactive department which specializes in developing online, mobile, broadband and interactive TV projects and has produced sites for channels, including PBS’ History Detectives site which they have produced for the last six years.

Headed by Kirsty Hunter, the interactive team created an online component for Lion’s hit program for BBC One, Britain from Above, which gives audiences access to extra footage, allows them to view stories by location and to see historical stories throughout Britain. The prodco sees a clear future for multi-platform projects, actively pursuing funding through commercial sponsorships and broadcasters who are willing to put money into online. Hunter says that through attending digital conferences in the States, she’s seen the admiration others have for the BBC, in that it’s clearly willing to fund multi-platform work.

And so is Channel 4. Raw TV’s digital project didn’t come from an internal desire to work in the space, but rather was initiated by C4. At the end of 2007 the channel moved most of its eduction funds from TV to online. At that time, C4 contacted some of the production companies it works with on a regular basis to see which ones would like to develop multi-platform projects aimed at a youth audience. Raw TV jumped to the challenge and executive producer Lucy Willis came up with the idea of Battlefront; a project promoting teenagers’ campaigns to change the world through the web and then following their campaigns through a TV program.

Willis says the experience of working on the multi-platform project has given her and Raw TV the digital bug, and the prodco is looking to develop more such projects in future. ‘I think it’s fair to say it’s also been a huge learning curve,’ says Willis. ‘When a TV company comes together with a digital agency it’s two very different cultures coming together and you both have to learn very much about how the other industry works. After the success of Battlefront we’ve decided to make a commitment to multi-platform so we want to develop a lot more projects that work online, and might only work online as well. We think it’s the way forward.’

The digital agency Willis is referring to is Airlock, a company with experience developing websites for brands, companies and broadcasters, including BBC and MTV. Both Willis and Chris Mair, strategy director for Airlock, agree that the online components of the Battlefront project were more important that the show itself, and Mair says that even the site they developed for the project takes a backseat to spreading the word of the campaigners’ projects across the web. ‘From a digital perspective you have the website which was never really intended to be a long term thing,’ he says. ‘It was merely just a place that would aggregate content from what’s happening related to the project throughout the web. When the project ceases to exist we can flip the switch on and all the content that was created by the campaigners will continue to live throughout the web.’

The project partnered with social networking site Bebo, where the 20 campaigners would write blogs about their projects which would connect back to the Battlefront homepage. The Airlock team made sure the campaigns got onto MySpace, YouTube, Facebook, Vimeo and any other social networking site it made sense to hit.

Mair says this was a refreshing project to work on because of how much it integrated the online component. ‘Certainly, with some of the other projects we’ve worked on, not just in broadcast but in the wider marketing area, digital has been something that is a bit of an afterthought,’ he says. ‘[With] some projects that we’ve worked on previously for the BBC, the production had been completed by the time we were getting involved in the project, which means we’re limited to what we can do in turning something around for the website, because we’re working with existing materials. We’re working with stuff that has already been produced.’

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