How BBC Studios is making a shift from traditional to digital

Helen O'Donnell / October 2019

Helen O’Donnell is Head of Development at BBC Studios TalentWorks, a content label aimed at identifying new, predominantly digital, talent. Here, she tells us how traditional media is making a shift, the turning point for the BBC, and how online platforms are playing a role.

Nowadays, talent can kick start their careers without the need for TV only – but we’re seeing a real shift where TV and digital creators are starting to complement each other. I like to think that if David Attenborough or Mary Berry were starting their careers today, they would have fantastic YouTube channels or Instagram feeds.

Whether you’re looking for talent for a TV show or marketing campaign – it’s at our fingertips. It’s never been a more exciting time to be a creator, with more platforms to publish on and a lower barrier to entry; the feeling is mutual for brands and broadcasters who are embracing this change.

Online creators: Traditional media is taking note

The future is bright for emerging talent. Creators can build a following of their own – and there has been a move towards traditional media listening to them. The commitment for BBC Studios to set up TalentWorks, shows there is a genuine desire to connect with new creators.

Equally, we see traditional talent moving the other way and becoming creators – Will Smith has fully embraced the YouTube community (see his channel here) and is seeing phenomenal results. His channel has 6.7M subscribers and has garnered an impressive 376M views since its launch in 2017.

When Will Smith bungee jumped out of a helicopter... as you do.

Some of the brightest creatives come up through digital platforms. BBC Studios has always been talent-driven, but this gives us an opportunity to focus on non-traditional routes.

My role is to spot talent, and to work with them, to create content off-platform – whether that is a podcast, live show, or long-form content series.

The turning point for the BBC: Going traditional to digital

When I first joined BBC Worldwide, there was an active brief to work with large-scale talent. I had previously worked in FMCG beauty – one of the first industries to work with digital creators in a meaningful way. We invited Tanya Burr to the BAFTA’s, which had been extremely successful with a haircare brand. Today, the industry has completely shifted and brands are looking to online creators to help drive success for their products, content and campaigns.

The trailer for 'Joe & Caspar hit the road' series, which spawned a live tour and merchandise.

Following the success of working with Tanya Burr, I was keen to seek other opportunities to create content in collaboration with digital creators, beyond their channel. The first of which was Joe & Caspar Hit The Road, a 1 x 90’ film with Joe Sugg and Caspar Lee, which spawned a live tour and merchandise.

From there, we went on to develop projects with digital creators, which culminated in the launch of TalentWorks in October 2018.

Discovering new talent: Storytelling over numbers

Where do we find our rising stars? We have good relationships with talent managers, we go to events, and we genuinely watch a ton of content. We have a development team who have their ears to the ground when it comes to new creators and watch what’s trending on YouTube.

We are not as absorbed in subscriber numbers, as a mass audience doesn't always translate to mass success, we are more focused on the engagement they bring and the stories they tell – it comes back to passion.

We also have a TalentWorks podcast, where we chat to creators we would like to shine a light on.

Helen O'Donnell was on the panel for ‘Is telly a turn off for new talent?’ at this year's Edinburgh TV Festival.

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