BBC recipes debacle shows lasting value of great content

One of the fastest-growing petitions in British history was at full tilt yesterday. Could it be something to do with the nurses, or the teachers, shutterstock_352014833or hard-pressed students? Nope, what’s been causing all this fuss is a government white paper that calls for an end to distinctive, “magazine-style content” in a barely-masked attempt to castrate the BBC.

In response, the BBC promised to ditch 11,000 recipes from their ever-popular Good Food site. This canny piece of political manoeuvring reminded the public what they would miss if the BBC were to be watered down, and – within just a couple of days – 250,000 people had signed a petition calling for the reinstatement of this content. The BBC responded by stating that the recipes would be moved but remain accessible, and all blame was laid at the door of Culture Secretary John Whittingdale.

This episode has ignited a debate about the purpose of ‘Auntie’ BBC, the definition of ‘distinctive’ and the potency of social media. Most of all, it’s a clear indication of the value of content in today’s market, and how setting yourself as a trusted thought-leader can bring benefits to your business in a myriad of unexpected ways.

Join us for a tongue-in-cheek exploration of this debacle, and what it means for content marketing.

How events unfolded – a pub fight guide

  • John Whittingdale, Culture Secretary – played by Phil Mitchell
  • BBC, treasured national not-for-profit broadcaster – played by Ian Beale
  • Rabble, made up of Twitterati, TV personalities and common or garden lefties – played by Rabble

JW: “Oi! BBC! I’ve written this ‘ere white paper [produces beer mat with ‘distinctive’ written on the back in crayon]. If you don’t play ball and keep putting out distinctive content, you’re gonna find us breathing down your neck. Now, get outta ma pub!”

BBC: “You might have won this round, Whittingdale. But, you better watch your back.”

[BBC downs pint and exits pub stage left]

[The next day, the BBC returns to the pub with a rabble]

JW: “Where’s this bleedin’ rabble come from. I thought I told you – no more distinctive content in ma pub!”

Rabble: “Rabble, rabble, rabble, rabble, rabble.”

BBC: “Don’t know what you’re talkin’ about Whittingdale! I’m off your turf now. Like you said, I’ve been getting shot of all my distinctive content, startin’ with my famous pie and mash recipe. Hasn’t made me too many friends though.”

Rabble [to JW]: “Pie and mash, pie and mash, pie and mash.” 

JW: “Canning the pie and mash had nothing to do with me! I said ‘distinctive’. Anyone can tell you how to make pie and mash.”

BBC: “You can’t expect me to let all these people down Whittingdale. Looks like I’ll have to start giving away my secret recipe free from my van instead, but this time I’ll make money from advertising.”

So, there you have it children, after much political posturing and a little help from the public, the BBC have decided to keep all 11,000 jeopardised recipes, with active links, and instead display them on their commercial site. And, they all lived happily ever after – for now!

The financial case for removing content

Beyond satisfying Whittingdale’s stated requirement that the BBC should “be sensitive to its market impact and not be directly going out of its way to compete with commercial offerings”, there’s almost no financial case for removing these recipes.

People’s routines have been disrupted, and contrary to the culture secretary’s intentions, the ire fell on the government. From a macro perspective, it looks like there’s little chance of the government saving pennies on scaling back BBC services in the near future.

In terms of the cost of the content itself, almost all of the investment has already been made. Celebrity chefs have been paid off, content writers have made their hourly rate, focus groups have been conducted. All that is left to settle is the ongoing hosting fee which – for a corporation such as the BBC – would be negligible.

Be distinctive, but don’t lose the plot altogether

As with war, politics has a way of distorting language to meet its own ends. The fallout from the infamous white paper is almost completely centred around the interpretation of the word ‘distinctive’.

Forgive us for being precious, but content marketers called dibs on ‘distinctive’ way back when Whittingdale was deriding the licence fee as “worse than poll tax” (which, to be fair, he probably thinks of with the same affection as Margaret Thatcher in a cheeky Santa outfit). But, there’s a difference in terms of definition. Here’s the rub:

  • ‘Distinctive’A content marketer’s definition: Get to know more about your target audience; their motivations, aspirations, secret loves and hates. Set yourself apart by using your unique industry placement to provide a service they couldn’t find anywhere else.  
  • ‘Distinctive’John Whittingdale’s definition: Don’t exercise your obvious imperialist ambitions by creating anything popular, entertaining or compelling enough to take ratings from my well-heeled buddies at Sky. 

What have we learned from Whittingdale’s misinterpretation? Distinctiveness should put a new spin on a relevant subject, not try to set itself apart by talking some Spike Milligan-esque gibberish about something that in no way appeals to an established audience.

Why the BBC’s recipes exemplify how to provide a service to the end user

The BBC is far from perfect, but by choosing to remove content that’s as useful as their recipes, they reminded everyone that they’re top dog when it comes to providing an unbiased service to the end user.

These recipes encompass so much of what’s crucial to a modern content marketing strategy. They are:

  • Completely free, which is always a bonus
  • Created with reliability and trust, rather than quick profits, in mind
  • Quick and nutritious, helping people save time and stay healthy
  • Easy to read and fully optimised, regularly placing them at the top of Google listings
  • Optimised for multiple devices, making them a doddle to use when shopping for ingredients
  • Evergreen; there when you want them, not thrust into your face
  • Universally appropriate for target audience, using UK dishes, ingredients and measurements
  • Suitable for all ages and aptitudes, adding a generous dollop of sociability into the cooking schedule

So, isn’t it time you enhanced your content strategy by taking a few tips from Auntie? After all, we’re just a few redirected links and a competent Conservative Culture Secretary away from losing it altogether.