The BBC’s director of news and current affairs has argued there is a public interest in the corporation covering reality programme Love Island in its online news output.
Fran Unsworth was today quizzed by News UK chief operating officer David Dinsmore, who blamed the BBC for damaging the business model of the likes of the Sun and the Times by chasing hits with stories about Love Island and “serial poopers”.
But Unsworth said it was important for the BBC to reach more of the under-35 demographic, and that Love Island can be a useful way of doing that.
The pair were speaking on a panel at the launch of the Reuters Digital News Report 2018 in London, when Unsworth said “we’re all in it together” when tackling the problems for news providers caused by social media.
Dinsmore responded: “It doesn’t feel like that just now. You are a traditional broadcaster that, as soon as the internet came to life, has become a publisher and a more and more tabloid publisher as well.”
Dinsmore said he searched online for Love Island this week and that the first article that came up was “Five things you need to know about Love Island” on the BBC.
He also referenced a recent BBC story headlined “Serial poopers: What makes people poo in public places?”
“As people are chasing more and more hits generally, that is coming into the space that the Sun, the Times and so on had in the past,” he said.
“Even more concerning is the national publishers can look after themselves to an extent, but local and regional publishers across the UK are in really testing times because classified advertising has just disappeared.”
Dinsmore, who is also chairman of the News Media Association, said he felt the BBC was part of the problem, although not the entire issue.
“But it’s very difficult when you search for Love Island and the first thing that comes up is a BBC story when you don’t have to make money out of it against all the other publishers commercially who do.”
Unsworth responded that Love Island is a “massive show” and that there is a “potentially huge business story” there.
She said her team “spends most of their time thinking about what we’re going to do about the younger audiences”.
The BBC sees “significant declines” in the under-35 audience, she said, and it needs to use tools like social media to both maintain and grow its young audience.
“There’s certainly a public interest argument for doing Love Island,” Unsworth said. “There is the balance between relevance for us – if we are going to go after this under-35 audience, if they’re all watching it we need to find a way of talking about it.
“I hope we can find a way of doing it in a public service way,” she added, admitting that the BBC does not “always get it right”.
Defending the BBC against the idea it is destroying news publishers, Unsworth said: “There is no BBC in Australia where the Fairfax [media company] are in massive meltdown.
“We can’t be blamed for the collapse in the business models in many, many parts of the world. This is happening where the BBC does not exist so I don’t think we are responsible for the difficulties of the newspaper industry.”
According to the Reuters report, BBC News online is read by 43 per cent of people each week, compared to 7 per cent reading the Sun online and 5 per cent reading the Times website.