The BBC, ailment the British Broadcasting Corporation, case aka the Beeb or Auntie to its friends is the UK most important media organisation funded through licence fees producing TV and Radio programmes for the UK and internationally. The volume of what the BBC produces is truly gargantuan, with eight TV channels and eleven main radio stations, plus local programming and more commercial channels broadcasted internationally, and all this has to be represented under one website. So how does it stand up to the challenge?
Two of the most important factors are, as always, navigation and branding, but the site also wins with a good search option, functionality, and surprisingly few dead links. Let’s start with the branding, at which the BBC have been traditionally – and necessarily – excellent. Their logo and navigation bar is visible on all pages, and each channel (eg. Radio 4) and classification (eg. Arts) has their own bar with its own logo and look which holds consistently with the BBC brand. Each of these sections has their own complimentary colour scheme – funky colours for Children’s pages and more muted colours for the ‘serious’ stuff such as news. The consistent layout style helps to keep everything cohesive while allowing each area to maintain its unique feel and does this without falling into the trap when using content management systems of looking boxy and bland.
With the volume of content – and the Beeb have decided to be enormously generous with both current and archived material – the navigation of this site is absolutely key, and the BBC’s answer has been to use a number of approaches. The major sections are always available at the top of all pages, as is a search box. On the left side of the page, a navigation bar is present and options change to fit with the context of the page. The right hand side of the window provides useful links for recommended programmes. In true British Institution Tradition, filing has been fully embraced and one of the most useful features is to be able to browse from an a-z listing of programmes, both current and off-air. The keyword search feature works very well, though this is a section where the branding of the site seems to fall down, looking a little incongruous and clunky by comparison to the rest of the site.
The site’s best feature is the Radio Player, which opens in a new window and allows you to stream live or archived programmes using the free-to-download RealPlayer media engine. This works very smoothly, and contains its own navigation, making it incredibly easy to jump between channels using drop-down menus and a-z listings. Streamed TV clips of news, weather and programming is available though a similar method, but is less successful and the quality can be quite low. Well-maintained forums and a great deal of further information on programmes offer a feeling of depth and community to the site – check out www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/archers on the famous Archers radio series – there’s even an interactive map on the fictional village of Ambridge!
This is an excellent example of how to manage a massive amount of content effectively, bringing together a disparate range of programming and genres under one well-branded umbrella. The generosity of content ensures browsers return to the site regularly, and additional features really go the extra mile. As a victim of its success, some areas might be missed due to the size of the site – make sure you visit the Collective area – www.bbc.co.uk/collective which is a fantastic site on contemporary culture in the UK.