BBC World News vs. CNN
The US-based outfit is developing a strong presence in the UAE, but how does it stack up against the oldest, most venerable news provider on the block?
The international arm of the British Broadcasting Corporation flicked the switch to power up in 1991. Back then, it was the BBC World Service Television (it became BBC World in 1995, and BBC World News in 2008). What started as a nightly, half hour round up show developed quickly to become a 24 hour channel, originally with its own identity but soon brought into line with the rest of the BBC output. It was the first time the BBC ventured into worldwide broadcasting – pretty weak considered the Beeb had been around since 1922.
Despite the relative youth of CNN (it was founded in 1980 as a US cable news channel) the company managed to get into international gear relatively quickly. CNN International started in 1985, primarily aimed at US businessmen in hotels abroad. The vast majority of content was originally from the US channels, and it wasn’t until 1992 that productions was ramped up. But for its early international ambition and fast work, we give CNN the credit.
We asked one of Mediaquest’s design geniuses to cast an eye over the respective branding of each channel. Of the BBC, he said: “It’s simple, clean and instantly recognizable. You just know it is the BBC. But there’s a lot of white, and it looks like they didn’t know what to do with it. When you have white like that, it should deliberate, not empty.”
Of the CNN branding he said: “This is good also. Big, simple, and it feels like what it is – a slick news outfit. But the colors are dubious. You have the red, the white, all you need is a bit more blue and you have your American flag. They would have to get radical to get away from that.” So which is best? “CNN is more in your face, and that’s probably better in a competitive market.”
How do you compare like for like? Both channels make use of content from sister channels, both report the same news, both run 24 hours… you’d be hard pushed to find any major differences. One that is apparent to Kipp is that the BBC broadcasts are less dependent on “personalities.” These are presenters, and their job is by and large to present the facts. We like that.
On CNN, however, they are “anchors,” and the channel makes a big deal about them hosting their particular shows. These anchors stamp their authority all over their respective program, which could be one reason why CNN has a reputation for being US-centric (with anchors like Anderson Cooper from the US channel featuring prominently). We prefer the more understated BBC approach.
The BBC obviously covers the Middle East in detail, but they seem to do it largely from a London base. They have an office in Dubai’s Media City, but Kipp can’t figure out how many people work there or what kind of journalistic presence there is. And when watching BBC World News, it seems that almost every broadcast is from London, with the odd conversations with the Asia desk in Hong Kong thrown in.
CNN is serious about the Middle East, and the UAE in particular. The news channel has set up a major new studio in Abu Dhabi’s Twofour54 media hub. It’s the news gathering HQ for the Middle East region, one of their four major centers around the world outside of the US (the others being London, Hong Kong, and Mexico City). At the launch the channel’s top man Tony Maddox stopped in personally.
Come on, do you really have to ask? The British practically invented this news broadcast stuff, albeit through radio first. Not only does BBC World have the highest audience of any BBC channel, it has the highest audience of any news channel on the planet. According to the Wikipedia stats, it’s available in 282 million homes, 1.6 million hotel rooms, and 57 cruise ships, among others. Weekly viewing figures were around 78 million as of June 2008. Take that, USA!
CNN International is no cult curiosity, either. It airs in more than 200 countries, with availability in more than 200 million homes. Yep, serious numbers, but as we mentioned opposite, there can only be one Number One. Unless they tied. But they didn’t.
Unlike much of the BBC’s output, BBC World News does not receive any cash from the British government to fund its operation. That means that, yes, there are adverts on the BBC. They are, however, not too disruptive, reliably and unobtrusively executed, and not overly long. They get a bit repetitive, but they’re kept in check for the most part.
Ad breaks. Ad. Breaks. All the time. Ad breaks. We’ll be right back…
What can we say about the BBC presenters? No seriously, what can we say? Half the time they are so unobtrusive they are practically invisible, which suits Kipp fine. But here’s the thing. They’re clearly getting worried about the big personalities at CNN, so have started to try and cultivate a bit of a presence themselves. Cue non-imposing figures like George Alagiah appearing on adverts saying stuff like, “It’s my job to make sense of the stories.” No, George, it’s your job to tell us the story.
Oh, Questy. Questy, Questy, Questy. For those who don’t know, Richard Quest is a British presenter that features prominently on CNN. He’s a business reporter with a show every week night that covers the day’s business news. And if you don’t know all that, you probably don’t know that Quest was once arrested in New York’s Central Park with drugs in his pocket, a rope around his neck (tied to his genitals) and a sex-toy in his boot. Kipp loves a scandal, and this one was gold. Plus, CNN has Anderson Cooper, and that is a cool name indeed.