The Findability of Arts Content on the BBC

When trying to keep up to date with the latest developments in arts broadcasting it is often difficult to keep track of what is happening across the many channels of television and radio available. It is for this reason that I have found the BBC’s catch-up service iPlayer an invaluable tool for accessing their arts content from the last seven days all in one place. In theory this sounds easy, in practice it started out as a far more laborious task.

When I first started this project back in January, arts programming was placed under the rather broad sub-category of ‘Arts, Culture & the Media’. You get the impression that if they could of gotten away with naming it ‘all the rest’ they would have. Being a sub-category under ‘Factual’ also meant that the word ‘arts’ was not even visible when looking through the site’s main programme categories.

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In the media saturated world of the Internet and social media, the ‘findability’ of content is increasingly important. Peter Morville’s influential work on findability defines the concept as ‘the ability of users to identify an appropriate Web site and navigate the pages of the site to discover and retrieve relevant information resources’. Is this a concept that we can also think of within the context of programme strategies in today’s dynamic multi-platform broadcasting environment?

Six months on and arts programming is now placed within its own distinct category, which, thanks to the alphabetical order, is top of the iPlayer list of programme genres. The visibility of arts content on the homepage not only makes it easier for people to locate relevant programming, it also sends out a message about its value. The arts are not just a niche category of interest that needs to be lumped together with other programming in order to be relevant. It has distinct value of its own.

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As a result of the BBC’s new Arts strand, it is also now possible to sign up to an email newsletter that is sent out every Monday to inform you of upcoming arts programmes and events across the BBC. This comprehensive guide to the weeks programming not only serves as a promotional tool, but also as a way of bringing together television, radio and the Internet in a way that asserts the BBC’s commitment to the arts across multiple media platforms.

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From the examples outlined above it seems that a strong connection can be drawn between findability, value and identity. In the context of broadcasting, findability enables people to navigate through a plethora of channels and content and locate what interests them. Although at first this may seem to exemplify the trend towards greater viewer autonomy within public service broadcasting, it is also important to remember who is guiding the way, and in which direction.

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