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BBC turns to chat apps to spread news and content to young people worldwide

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To reach a younger audience and to reach out to remote locations, the BBC has struck deals with messaging apps Viber and Whatsapp – owned by Facebook – to start distributing content.

The BBC will be stream content from its “Our World” programme using Viber to kids in Mexico and is looking to channel content from BBC Africa across Whatsapp to young people in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

BBC is taking to messaging apps in part because people in some developing countries are coming online for the first time through mobile. The projects “mark a significant step forward for the BBC’s use of instant messaging platforms,” the company said. “The broadcaster has been experimenting with chat apps in countries where mobile use outstrips desktop and to reach those people who would not necessarily access its journalism via traditional means.”

BBC tested engagement on messaging apps during the 2014 Indian Elections and during the Ebola crisis, “which saw thousands of people across West Africa signed up to receive the latest news and lifesaving information.” But, BBC said, “the use of the platforms to share documentaries breaks new ground, helping to extend the life and reach of TV content.”

The BBC already has form with messaging apps, having broken in Whatsapp as a channel to contact magazine show The Victoria Derbyshire Programme in the UK and as a very early move by western media into the newly liberated Myanmar (Burma).

The BBC Burmese channel on Viber will deliver several updates of key news stories of the day in text, images, as well as short audio and video clips.

With its population of 48.7 million, Myanmar (also known as Burma) has 29 million active mobile subscriptions. According to the international telecoms providers operating in the country, Myanmar is among world leaders in smartphone usage.

BBC Burmese Editor, Tin Htar Swe, comments: “While BBC Burmese audio news bulletins are available for listening on mobile phones in Myanmar, this is the first time BBC Burmese content is made available on a chat app. With Viber’s reported 14.8 million unique users* in Myanmar, we can now connect with our audiences – existing and new – through this growing platform, offering them access to news from the BBC, in their language.”

Messaging apps already have a huge uptake globally, with Vider claiming to have some 711million users worldwide. Much attention is focussed on how these apps are used in the US, but in the developing world they are often young people’s only means of connecting to media content. The BBC’s move to experiment with leveraging them for content distribution is likely to be extended and much emulated.

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