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BBC news to turn Japanese with translated website

by Elizabeth Kerr

Special To The Japan Times

A recent job posting for a digital editor for BBC World Japan sparked interest online, with local Web-watchers noting that the job description called for a Tokyo-based editor with fluent Japanese to head up a team that will publish content from the main BBC News website on “a new, Japanese-language BBC site.”

The free service from the British broadcaster is currently in its planning stages and a launch date has yet to be decided. But as part of the BBC’s continued expansion in Asia, the idea for the site is firmly in line with the broadcaster’s broader digital road map, regionally as well as around the world.

The new BBC World News online service will be an entity independent of the existing BBC World Service, which has Chinese- and Vietnamese-language outlets operating out of London.

“This is a separate service that will complement the other offerings that the BBC has around the world,” begins Yuji Watanabe, managing director of BBC World News Japan. “This site is different to the World Service sites as it will reflect the content on BBC.com.”

Traditional wire services such as Reuters and The Associated Press maintain a presence in Japan, but CNN and The Huffington Post are the only two global news outlets operating here whose content is aimed at Japanese consumers. As it stands right now, the primary source for the forthcoming BBC site’s content will be translated material from BBC World News, but that could change as plans are confirmed, according to Watanabe. Unlike the World Service, the new office will be in Tokyo, and staff will work alongside colleagues already at BBC World News Japan as part of a wider Asia team.

Whether the site starts small and leaves room to grow or begins on a larger scale will depend on the digital editor and business manager BBC Japan is currently seeking. Despite its mandate being news, “It’s too early to say exactly what content will be on the site at the moment,” Watanabe points out.

Also under consideration are partnerships with other publishers in Japan designed to maximize BBC content exposure. Planning overall is in its infancy, and whether or not the Japanese site will include documentary content and current affairs in addition to standard articles is one of the decisions Watanabe — who was appointed MD in September 2013 after stints at Fox International, National Geographic and in advertising and digital marketing consulting — will be considering with his incoming team.

Watanabe is not ready to predict what the site’s traffic will be or even what he’s hoping for, but the target reader is “everybody who is interested in world affairs with a global outlook.” The traffic could be heavy. On June 18, the BBC announced its global audience figures for 2013 (for BBC World News and BBC.com), which topped 95 million per week, up 8 percent from the year before.

Twenty years in the Japanese market as well as an awareness of demand for Japanese-language content told Watanabe and the BBC the time was right for a dedicated online news channel.

“We broadcast in more than 200 countries and regions worldwide, but this is the only country where we translate our BBC World News content into the local language,” says Watanabe of the site’s genesis.

That led to the concept of delivering a digital service in a competitive marketplace that could exploit the BBC brand, as well as the resources brought together under one roof when the entire news department moved into the new high-tech Broadcasting House in London 18 months ago.

“The Japanese market demands services in its own language, and we already offer that with BBC World News, so now we want to extend our proposition in the digital world,” says Watanabe.

The how is relatively complicated; the why is simpler. “The world has never been so global, and Japan has been a very important market for us for a long time. We feel that we can offer something fresh and new with all the attributes the BBC is known for, such as quality, impartiality and trust,” Watanabe says.

“The BBC provides a unique global perspective and independent journalism across multiple platforms. … We want to enable audiences to access the news wherever and whenever they want, while still managing that in a way that works for both those audiences and our distribution partners.

“Some recent studies showed that the BBC is the world leader in global breaking news, with journalists in more countries than any other international news broadcaster, and stories covering a wider geographical spread. With our new digital output, Japanese people will have easier access to these stories of global importance,” he comments.

The BBC has also made the digital platform a major component for its future in Asia, from standard news and information to entertainment and dramatic programming. And while each region has its specific demands and needs for the content it consumes and how it consumes it, the overall aims of the news services cross borders.

“Our global objective is to deliver news whenever our audience wants it, wherever they are — online, on mobile or on television,” says Watanabe. “Audiences are increasingly turning to different devices for their news, so we aim to ensure that the same quality content is available across all of our services and platforms. Our plans for increased digital content in Japanese are part of this ambition.”