BBC's Global Audience Reaches Record in 2020

BBC HQ in London

The U.K. public broadcaster has grown its weekly audience to 486.2 million, with BBC News the top performer. Outgoing director general Tony Hall spoke of "unleashing the full global potential of the BBC."

The BBC has seen its global reach hit a new record in 2020, growing its worldwide audience 11 percent over 2019 to 486.2 million per week, the U.K. public broadcaster said on Thursday.

BBC News was the strongest performer, making up 438.4 million of the total (an increase of 13 percent), with digital platforms proving key. A total of 151 million users now access BBC News digitally, according to the annual Global Audience Measure, up 53 percent on 2019. 

Of the countries with the biggest audience for BBC News, India topped the list with 60.4 million, followed by the U.S. with 49.5 million and Nigeria with 37.2 million. 

Elsewhere, the BBC World News channel saw a growth in the Americas of 50 percent, reaching 112 million internationally, while BBC World Service languages rose by 13 percent to 292.1 million. 

"We are without question one of Britain’s strongest and best-known brands, synonymous with quality and accuracy worldwide," said outgoing director general Tony Hall. "Our international news services rank first for trust and reliability and the World Service remains a beacon of democratic values. Independent research shows that there is an exceptionally high correlation between places where people are aware of the BBC and places where people think positively about the U.K.. More than that, the BBC helps U.K. trade."

Added Hall: "This has perhaps never been more important. The U.K. will forge a new relationship with the world in the decade ahead, built on an ambitious vision of 'Global Britain'. Success will mean drawing on all our considerable international assets, and that means unleashing the full global potential of the BBC."

In late March 2020, at the initial stages of the novel coronavirus pandemic's global spread, BBC News recorded the highest reach of any international media organization in the world with 310 million people accessing coverage across 42 languages.

BBC management has in recent years increasingly highlighted global competition, including from U.S. streaming and technology giants, such as Netflix, Amazon and Apple.

Hall has said his team was making decisions in the context of today's media environment being "increasingly global and more and more dominated by a small number of U.S.-based giants with extraordinary creative and financial firepower." He has also warned that "homegrown, British content has never been more under threat.”

BBC chairman David Clementi similarly wrote in the public broadcaster’s most recent annual report that "the market around us is becoming more global and competitive." He concluded: "We face a threat to British content from the West Coast of America, and we need to respond to the rapidly changing habits and needs of our audiences in the digital age."

In a speech last year, Hall argued in favor of “investing in the U.K.’s voice and values worldwide” to ensure the BBC remains an “unrivaled global brand."