Earlier this month, viewers tuned into the BBC to catch the story of ‘Maria’ and her husband ‘Jose’ in a new documentary, ‘Our World: Kidnapped in Mexico.’ But rather than switching on their TV or loading up iPlayer, fans of the programme followed the action with the help of messaging app Viber.
Jose was kidnapped in central Mexico last year, and his story will form part of a wider half-hour documentary. Now users of the chat platform can watch his narrative unfold over the course of a week as if in real time, with access to a timeline of events, including text, stills and animation.
This isn’t the first time the BBC has experimented with chat applications. The network has used apps such as Yik Yak and Line for audio bulletins, to distribute content related to the general election, and health and safety information in response to the Ebola outbreak. But it is the first time the BBC has published a documentary using a messaging app. The broadcaster is calling it an “experiment in storytelling.”
So what’s the appeal of messaging apps? For starters, viewers can enjoy the intimacy of a one-to-one conversation with an interviewee. They also get access to content first – the BBC is airing the kidnapping documentary on Viber a full five days before publishing it on the BBC News Channel. With Viber, audiences can also tune in to the story at any time, those who subscribe later can scroll through from the start of the timeline to catch up with any previous content.
And if the personalised experience isn’t compelling enough, then the numbers certainly speak for themselves. An estimated 2.19bn people worldwide will be on mobile phone messaging apps by 2019. According to Google, more searches now take place on mobile devices than desktops in more than 10 countries around the world.
If this pilot project is successful, it could be a significant step forward for the BBC and broadcasting in general. At a time when more people than ever are accessing journalism via non-traditional means, messaging apps could provide a valuable new channel for reaching the next generation of digital audiences.
By Hope Simmonds