After Thailand’s army seized power and declared martial law in May, BBC, CNN and multiple other news stations were temporarily taken off the air, replaced by streams of patriotic music peppered with official announcements.
The crisis appears to have served as a teaching moment for the BBC, which today launched an all-digital “pop-up” news service on Facebook. The Beeb is billing the service, which will have content in both Thai and English, as “social first,” and says the project will initially last three months.
Thailand is one of the most digitally integrated countries in Southeast Asia, with more mobile accounts than there are people, according to the BBC. The Kingdom is home to 24 million Facebook users — 13 million in Bangkok, alone, a number that has quadrupled in the last year.
Considering U.S. trends, perhaps the BBC’s crisis-influenced strategy is just the canary in the coal mine … except in this case, the canary flourishes as those around it gasp for air.
U.S. pay-television subscriptions — cable, satellite and fiber services — fell by more than a quarter-million in 2013, the first full-year decline, according to industry analysts SNL Kagan. But that number doesn’t mean people are watching less TV, it just means they are not watching it on wired boxes.
The trend is led by “cord cutters” and even younger “cord nevers” who have shifted viewing from traditional pay-TV subscriptions and big screens to so-called “second screens” — computers, tablets and mobile devices. Leading the pack are 18 to 24 year-olds, who now watch 95 minutes less traditional TV than they did just one year ago, and four hours less than they did three years ago. The trend among 25 to 34s is similar, though less pronounced, and TV usage in the next group up, 35 to 49, is barely treading water. Only those over 50 can be consistently counted upon for sustained pay-television patronage.
Contrast that with an 800 percent increase in social media use among adults in just the last eight years. Facebook went from something like a million users the year after it launched, to more than a billion by the end of 2013. Facebook’s growth is arguably leveling off, but Twitter, Vine, Instagram and subscription streaming services like Netflix and Amazon continue to push consumer attention toward second screens … and away from that first one.
Necessity is the mother of invention, as they say, and the BBC may well be responding to the immediate problem of Thai government censorship with its pop-up service, but the need for news organizations to find their audiences presents a pressing necessity even where press censorship is less overt. The Beeb may be popping up in Thailand now, but the future of untethered news delivery will likely be busting out all over.
Or there's always this option....