BBC News is pioneering Social TV via mobile messaging apps, launching services on leading apps WhatsApp and WeChat for the Indian elections.
BBC News India aims to enhance the Corporation’s in-depth TV, radio and online coverage of the elections for the audiences of BBC World News, BBC World Service and bbc.com.
Campaigning has just begun and runs for almost six weeks. More than 800 million Indian voters will elect both a new president and a new lower house of parliament. The political parties themselves are already communicating with the electorate via the apps.
The BBC News India messaging accounts are distributing key BBC election coverage in English and Hindi, including videos, special graphics and interview clips, engaging the audience and inviting contributions in the form of comments, pictures and videos. (See WeChat screenshot, right.)
The messaging platforms restrict the volume of updates that any content owner can send and the BBC is being equally careful not to be seen as spamming its viewers. WhatsApp users are receiving three messages daily, as push notifications, and WeChat users one message.
Both the apps have widespread uptake in India. WhatsApp claims it has 40 million monthly active users there. WeChat does not release country-specific user numbers, but regards India as a significant market. Both apps also reach users in the global Non-Resident Indian communities, estimated at 25 million individuals.
The BBC has already experimented with WhatsApp, in the Philippines last year. The BBC World Service programme World Have Your Say used it to help audience members easily send comments and pictures of the devastation caused by Typhoon Haiyan.
In a separate initiative, the BBC is also piloting a news channel on the BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) platform for Nigeria. The BBC Hausa language service, which is already designed for mobile, sends BBM users daily top stories and features, and takes comments and ideas for stories. More such pilots are planned for the future.
In Futurescape’s view, messaging apps as mobile-native social networks offer broadcasters outstanding opportunities for Social TV engagement with viewers, as is already evident with the WeChat service for Big Brother South Africa.
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