BBG Watch Commentary

The troubled U.S. media agency, the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), released Tuesday its detailed Fiscal Year 2016 Budget Request. The agency, which oversees civilian international news and information programs for people in more than 100 countries, is seeking $751.5 million in U.S. taxpayers money “to increase global engagement, move more aggressively into television and digital media, and support high priority audiences.”

What is most striking about the BBG document is its length, bureaucratic language — lots of it — and shortage of specific information about truly measurable reach and impact, as opposed to audience and impact claims that cannot be easily measured or otherwise verified. Overall, the document is full of empty bragging and pages and pages of meaningless bureaucratese phraseology.

One could never accuse BBG bureaucrats of lacking hutzpah in the face of a broadcasting and digital media outreach disaster they helped to produce. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton described the agency as “practically defunct.” Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA) called it “defunct” and “broken.” Secretary of Sate John Kerry agreed with him “100%” that the agency needs to be reformed.

Employees of BBG’s federal entities are deeply demoralized. (Non-federal grantee entities are believed to be better managed.) Office of Personnel Management (OPM) surveys show some of the lowest levels of employee morale among BBG’s federal entities compared to the rest of the federal government. Voice of America journalists complain of being squeezed out by a bloated, arrogant, incompetent and out of control bureaucracy, as seen in this email to BBG Watch.

I’m a VOA employee who needs to remain anonymous, but who wants to make sure BBG Watch and its readers understand the day-to-day basic lack of professionalism throughout the Cohen building. Take the email (posted below) sent out at 9:01am this morning announcing a budget briefing at 11:30 this morning. Nothing says professional respect like 2 and a half hours notice – for any meeting let alone for a briefing on a subject critical to every single person in any way affiliated with the BBG. This comes not long after employees and staff were given just hours of notice for their chance to meet in the newsroom with then brand new CEO Andy Lack. Turns out that meeting wasn’t all that crucial anyway. But these short notices beg some questions: is management trying to hide something? Is management trying to protect itself from questions from the masses? Is management just not organized enough to give appropriate advance notice for important meetings? No mater the answers, it shows a fundamental lack of professionalism from BBG management.
This morning’s email:
IBB Notices Admin
Tue 3/10/2015 9:01 AM
To: IBB Notices Administration;
Interim CEO and Director André Mendes and Global Strategy Director Rob Bole will host a briefing for employees on the BBG’s FY 2016 Budget Request for U.S. international media.
The discussion will include an overview of proposed enhancements and other changes along with time for Q&A.
When: Tuesday, March 10, 11:30 AM

Among many meaningless and outright deceptive phrases and claims in the BBG FY 2016 Budget Request, we did find one statistic buried in the document that can’t be easily manipulated, although it’s possible that it was, as the BBG admitted to changing its web traffic measurement methodology. The statistic shows that in web and mobile traffic the Voice of America is so far behind BBC or Russia’s RT that it can be truly considered now largely irrelevant in global news competition in the digital age unless it can be quickly reformed and changed.

BBG FY 2014-2016 Web Traffic

The BBG FY 2016 Budget Request does not list social media outreach and audience engagement numbers because they are even more dismal compared to BBC’s or RT’s. BBG and VOA executives should be resigning en masse instead of bragging about their nonexistent accomplishments and “Digital First” strategy.

Globally, particularly in English language news and information digital outreach, the Voice of America is leagues behind both BBC and RT. But VOA is also far behind BBC in digital outreach in most foreign languages.

There are a few bright spots. The VOA Ukrainian Service TV program, one of the few radio and TV broadcasts which BBG bureaucrats did not manage to kill as they protected their jobs and expanded their ranks, is doing extremely well thanks to the dedicated and talented VOA broadcasters. A few VOA foreign language services have much better web traffic and social media engagement than the rest of VOA. BBG grantee media organizations also have some digital media outreach successes despite small budgets, little support and mostly interference from BBG bureaucrats.

On the bright side, the VOA Burmese Service has 1,145,829 Facebook Likes and the VOA Khmer Service has 1,475,321 Facebook Likes. But most other VOA language services don’t even come close to getting such numbers.

Not just BBC, but even Deutsche Welle (DW) Russian Service has 66,596 Facebook Likes, compared to 39,900 for the VOA Russian Service. BBC Iranian Service has 2,335,029 Facebook Likes compared to 337,398 for VOA Persian Service. DW Persian Service has 659,879 Facebook Likes.
All other things being equal, we must also say that Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) and Radio Free Asia (RFA) are doing relatively well in web traffic considering that they have much smaller budgets than VOA and target mostly countries without free media. Their English-language websites are minimal and secondary to their missions compared to VOA’s English language news website.

One can clearly see how poorly the Voice of America is doing in web traffic globally by checking its English language website against BBC’s and RT’s English language websites and checking VOA’s Russian language website against RFE/RL’s Russian website on Alexa.

When one compares total page “Likes” for VOA Russian Facebook page to BBC Russian and RFE/RL Russian Facebook pages, VOA does not even come close to having the same Facebook following as BBC Russian Service. Even the Deutsche Welle (DW) Russian Service is doing much better on Facebook than VOA Russian Service.

Even more dramatic is VOA’s lag in social media outreach when one compares total Facebook page “Likes” for the VOA English News Facebook page with main English News Facebook pages of BBC and RT.

Even the U.S. State Department’s Facebook page — and it is not a media organization — has more “Likes” than the VOA English News page.

VOANEWS.COM Alexa rank: 3,505 (1 is Best)
BBC.COM Alexa Rank: 155
RT.COM Alexa Rank: 411
VOA RUSSIAN GOLOS-AMERIKI.RU Alexa Rank: 37,079 (1 is Best)
VOA YOUTUBE: 42,505 Subscribers | 39,827,781 Views
RT YOUTUBE: 1,471,573 Subscribers | 1,372,574,299 Views RT International, RT’s English-language news channel, leads the way with 1.3 billion views and 1.4 million subscribers. All RT videos (English and in other languages) account for more than 2 billion views.
In light of these results for the Voice of America, the language in the Broadcasting Board of Governors FY 2016 Budget Request is truly long, bureaucratic and deceptive.

In addition to poor web and social media outreach, the Voice of America, unlike the BBC, has long ago been deprived by the BBG bureaucrats of most of its traditional radio and TV broadcasting capabilities.

VOA does not have any 24/7 English language radio and TV news and information programs or any programs of any significant length.

What BBG bureaucrats now do to keep themselves employed is to claim various audiences to programs placed on other stations. Most of these placed programs are short reports and light features. Some are pre-censored to eliminate offending news. Many of such placed programs are non-news and non-political. Many are placed in countries that already have free media. Under the BBG’s management in recent years, the Voice of America has ceased to be a traditional news broadcaster and certainly has not become a new digital media news player of any significance.

We invite you to compare recent BBC and RT press releases with the Broadcasting Board of Governors FY 2016 Budget Request. BBC certainly has good reasons to be proud, but you will notice that BBC does not use any of the empty phrases and words found in abundance in the BBG document.

The language of RT press releases is closer to the language of the BBG document, but at least RT has apparently achieved large audience gains in the Middle East. It is doing phenomenally well on YouTube, where VOA does not even come close to matching RT’s numbers.

One interesting and somewhat encouraging piece of information from the RT press release is that BBG’s Middle East Broadcasting Network’s (MBN) Alhurra TV is a significant media player in Iraq.



BBC MEDIA CENTRE PRESS RELEASE users hit 100 million mark


These fantastic figures demonstrate the global demand for comprehensive coverage of world events. Our ambition is to ensure audiences are able to access world-class, up-to-the-minute news and in-depth analysis across both text and video, regardless of which platform they’re on – as the stories break and beyond.


Fran Unsworth, Director, World Service Group

Date: 05.02.2015 Last updated: 05.02.2015 at 14.08

Category: BBC World News; BBC Worldwide

New figures* show that, the BBC’s international website, has started 2015 on an all-time high. More than 101 million unique browsers used the website and news app globally during the month of January, generating a record 1.35 billion page views.

The figures come after a year which saw achieve sustained growth, with more unique browsers every quarter. Mobile and tablet usage of has increased, with year-on-year unique browsers up 67% and 45% respectively, as greater choice and responsive technology encouraged users to turn to for news on the go. A fully responsive tablet version of the site launched in late 2014 and a new feature-packed update to the BBC News app is due to launch in the coming months.

The driving factors for January’s figures were coverage of major global news stories, such as the Paris attacks, along with human interest stories including the resurgence of a piece about why Finnish babies sleep in boxes. Features sections such as BBC Capital and BBC Earth achieved new peak figures for page views of 7.1m and 5.1m respectively, with stories on the best places to retire around the world and the Earth’s biggest turning points proving particularly popular. While Culture’s the 10 biggest Oscar snubs ever, became a favourite with audiences across the globe.

Fran Unsworth, Director of the World Service Group, says: “These fantastic figures demonstrate the global demand for comprehensive coverage of world events. Our ambition is to ensure audiences are able to access world-class, up-to-the-minute news and in-depth analysis across both text and video, regardless of which platform they’re on – as the stories break and beyond.”

Tim Davie, CEO BBC Worldwide, adds: “It is tremendous news that has been enjoyed by over 100 million browsers in the past month. The fact that audiences are responding positively to the innovation that we have delivered across the site is particularly encouraging. Specifically, our investments across genres as well as our increasing availability across all devices, is driving strong growth.”

The BBC’s digital success also extends to social media where it was the most-shared news brand on Twitter every single month last year according to NewsWhip, with stories being shared up to 4 million times a month.




BBC World News reaches new distribution milestone


We are delighted to be growing so quickly in the US on all platforms and to be available to TV subscribers nationwide for the first time


Jim Egan, Chief Executive Officer, BBC Global News Ltd

Date: 06.03.2015 Last updated: 06.03.2015 at 17.10

Category: BBC World News

Global TV news network now available in more than 40 million U.S. homes
New York, March 6, 2015. The BBC’s award-winning 24-hour global news network BBC World News has reached a major distribution milestone, and is now available in more than 40 million U.S. homes and in every major U.S. market*. The fast growing channel, which is widely available in HD, has experienced significant distribution gains as a result of new multichannel operator deals.

Top U.S. distributors including DirecTV, Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Verizon, Charter, AT&T U-verse and Cablevision, are now all carrying the BBC’s 24 hour news network.

The expanded distribution is due in part to new carriage deals secured by AMC Networks, which represents BBC World News in distribution, as part of a broader partnership announced in October 2014, and means that the network is now available on a full-time basis in all television markets in the U.S.

Jim Egan, Chief Executive Officer, BBC Global News Ltd, says: “In a profoundly interconnected and uncertain world, audiences want a global news source they can trust. With correspondents in more countries than any other news provider only the BBC can offer US viewers authoritative, fast-paced reporting of the latest news from around the world and an intelligent, truly objective perspective on America’s place in it. We are delighted to be growing so quickly in the US on all platforms and to be available to TV subscribers nationwide for the first time.”

BBC World News has the largest audience of any BBC channel in the world, broadcasting in over 200 countries and territories and with journalists in more than 85 international newsgathering bureaus globally. In January 2013 the BBC re-launched the network from new state of the art studios in London, as well as investing in new programming and global newsgathering. Programming highlights on the network include the Emmy©-winning daily newscast, World News America, anchored by Katty Kay from the BBC’s studio in Washington DC.

The BBC is enjoying growth across all of its platforms in the U.S, including online and radio as well as TV.

More than 101 million unique browsers visited and the BBC News app globally during the month of January 2015, generating a record 1.35 billion page views, which was an all-time high. In the U.S, attracted more than 38 million unique visitors across desktop and mobile devices during the same period, a 49 percent year on year increase**.

Alongside the BBC’s TV and digital offerings, more than 500 local public radio stations in the U.S broadcast BBC World Service content – mainly news and current affairs programming, including the flagship global newscast Newshour, reaching 10.5 million listeners a week***. In the U.S, BBC World Service English radio content is distributed by American Public Media™ (APM).






19.02.2015 16:41

MOSCOW, FEBRUARY 19, 2015 – RT’s Arabic-language news channel has higher daily audience in six MENA countries than UK’s BBC Arabic and Sky News Arabia, US’ Al Hurra and China’s CCTV in Arabic, placing it among the top three most watched news channels in the surveyed states. In Egypt, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, UAE and Iraq RT Arabic is watched by 6.7 million viewers every day.

Eighteen percent of all residents in these six countries have watched RT at least once, making up 18.2 million people. Approximately 11.5 million – or 11% – of those are estimated to have watched the channel during the previous month, which puts RT ahead of Deutsche Welle Arabic, CCTV Arabic, France 24 Arabic, Al Alam News, and Sky News Arabia.

Among the surveyed countries, RT demonstrated the best performance in Iraq: its daily viewership there makes up about 44% of the country’s population. Here RT is also ahead of BBC Arabic, Sky News, France 24, Deutsche Welle, CCTV, Al Hurra and Al Alam News. RT’s audience in the country is also the most loyal compared to all competing channels: 98% of weekly viewers watch the channel daily, vs. 93% of Al Arabiya, 85% of Al Jazeera, 66% of Al Hurra and 64% of BBC Arabic viewers. Remarkably, of all Iraqis who have ever watched RT, 100 percent watched it over the past month.

RT also ranks number one in terms of viewer trust. Only three percent of those, who are aware of the channel, but do not watch it, cited mistrust of RT’s news reports as a reason for not watching the channel. This rate was 30% for Al Jazeera, 9% for Al Arabiya, 6% for the BBC Arabic, 8% for Al Hurra, and 6% for Sky News Arabia.

According to the study, 30% of RT Arabic’s monthly audience in Egypt like the channel for its “relevant and reliable news reports,” while 20% in the UAE and 14% in Saudi Arabia like it for its “alternative opinions,” and being “distinct from other networks.”

Another remarkable statistic is that 59% percent of RT Arabic’s audience watch it for more than an hour a day on weekdays, while 38% of its viewers watch the channel for more than an hour a day on weekends. RT is similarly ahead of all its competitors in the region by its daily-to-weekly viewership conversion ratio: 74% percent of RT’s weekly audience watch the channel over last one day.

The study also shows that 57% of RT’s monthly audience in the six surveyed counties are either top managers, mid-level or junior executives of companies and organizations as well as professionals and office workers (according to the social status system NRS corresponds to socio-economic classes A, B and C1). Here RT also leads vis-a-vis the competition: these types of viewers make up 56% of the audience of Sky News, 54% of Al Alam News and 45% of CCTV. RT also boasts the largest share of audience between the ages of 25 and 34 – 30%.

Compared to the Nielsen’s 2010 study, RT’s monthly audience has grown by 2.18 million people across Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the UAE. RT’s monthly viewership in Egypt has shown the largest growth, increasing by 112 percent and surpassing the growth exhibited by Al Hurra, Al Alam News, Al Arabiya, and Al Jazeera over the same period.

Results of Nielsen Arab Study conducted in July-August 2014. The survey involved more than 5500 Arabic-speaking viewers of news on TV over the age of 18 (male and female, all socio-economic classes). Channels surveyed were RT Arabic, BBC Arabic, Al Jazeera, Al Arabiya, Sky News Arabia, France 24 Arabic, Deutsche Welle Arabic, CCTV in Arabic, Al Hurra and Al Alam News. Countries surveyed were Egypt, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, UAE and Iraq. 2010 Nielsen study surveyed TV audience in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, UAE, Kuwait, Syria and Lebanon.





16.12.2014 19:35

MOSCOW, DECEMBER 16, 2014 – RT’s five main channels on YouTube have racked up more than 2 billion views in total, outperforming all other international TV news networks.

RT’s YouTube presence includes channels in English, Russian, Spanish, and Arabic, plus a separate RT America news channel. With over 2 billion views in total, RT is far ahead of its main competitors, outperforming CNN more than three times, Al Jazeera by 2.4 times, and Euronews by 3.6 times.

“Such a significant number shows that RT continues to lead in promoting alternative opinions online – the space that used to be dominated by the mainstream media,” RT’s Editor-in-Chief Margarita Simonyan commented on the achievement. “We are proud of this, and we will continue working hard to remain YouTube’s number one TV news channel.”

RT is also far ahead of all its competitors by the total number of YouTube subscribers. With more than 2.5 million followers, RT beats BBC News by 5.2 times, Euronews – 5 times, CNN, by 2.8 times, and Al Jazeera by almost two times.

Yuri Khazanov, the head of YouTube’s partnership program in Russia and CIS, commented that “Reaching more than 2 billion views and 2.5 million subscribers confirms RT’s status as the largest TV news network on YouTube.”

RT International, RT’s English-language news channel, leads the way with 1.3 billion views and 1.4 million subscribers. In 2014 RT International was honored with a Gold YouTube Play Button, awarded to channels with more than one million subscribers. RT’s channels in other languages, boasting more than 100,000 subscribers each, were distinguished with Silver Play Buttons.

RT’s flagship channel is the world’s first news media to garner 1 billion views on YouTube. RT’s footage of the meteorite crash in the Chelyabinsk Region became YouTube’s top news video of 2013, with 38 million views. In 2012,the Pew Research Center named RT as the most popular news channel on YouTube.



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