Community News

Gorkana meets...British Forces Broadcasting Services

14 May 2015

Nathan Tyler, head of digital for the British Forces Broadcasting Service, on broadcasting from the frontline, running 10 websites and the challenge of raising the brand's public profile.

Gorkana meets...British Forces Broadcasting Services

Firstly tell us about British Forces Broadcasting Service and Forces TV.

BFBS provides radio and television entertainment for HM Forces and the wider Forces family across the globe. Editorially independent of the Ministry of Defence and the Armed Forces, it was established back in 1943. For the last three decades BFBS has been part of the Services Sound and Vision Corporation (SSVC), a registered charity. It currently provides three main commercial-free radio stations and 11 television channels to service personnel and their families.

SSVC launched the commercially-funded Forces TV channel and website in June 2014. Predominantly about the Armed Forces, it provides a mixture of news, sport, features and documentaries and is available on Sky 264, Virgin 244 and on Freesat 652.

How many viewers and listeners tune in to Forces TV and BFBS?

Forces TV is being viewed by 700,000 people every week, while the website exceeded a million unique pageviews for April with a Facebook reach of 3.4 million. Across the three main BFBS radio stations between 300,000 and one million listeners tune in every week.

Tens of thousands more listen via the BFBS Radio app which also offers several online only stations, all commercial-free.

How big is the team working across news, radio and TV?

In all around 200 people work for SSVC, most based in the UK, but with staff also posted to the likes of Canada, Cyprus, Germany, Brunei and Nepal. We even have a team looking after 18 digital cinemas located on British Armed Forces bases around the world, including a luxury 80-seater mobile cinema housed in a huge truck, the Movie Machine.

What’s your role?

I’m head of digital, responsible for all digital content produced by SSVC. This includes running 10 websites, several YouTube channels and a myriad of social media platforms.

What’s the best part of the job?

I’m never bored or have the time to be bored. The scope of the services we offer to both the Armed Forces and the public consumer is so broad that there’s always a fresh challenge.

What are the big challenges?

One of our biggest challenges is to make our brand better known among the wider public. With unprecedented access to the British military Forces TV and the BFBS radio station, available via DAB, we have a lot of amazing content that no other broadcaster can compete with.

Where are some of the most dangerous places the BFBS broadcasts from?

Wherever the British Forces are - so are BFBS, including broadcasting from the frontline in Afghanistan and Iraq. Most recently our BFBS Gurkha Radio station in Kathmandu was hit by the earthquake. Programming was initially switched to our Brunei operation, but normal service resumed in the Nepalese capital in a matter of hours, providing vital information to the British Army Gurkhas, their families and the wider Nepali community.

We understand some of the presenters have many years’ experience under their belt?

Many of our presenters have also worked for the likes of the BBC, ITV and Sky, including Kate Gerbeau who worked on BBC Breakfast, Watchdog and Five News before joining Forces TV.

What sort of content is broadcast?

Along with British Forces News and SportsPlus, Forces TV broadcasts features and documentaries including the #GE2015 Defence Debate and the award-winning PARA Platoon which followed a group of recruits attempting to earn the coveted Maroon Beret. We also broadcast live events including, most recently, a huge night of boxing from the USA as the hardest fighters in the UK’s Armed Forces took on and beat the best America had to offer.

Do servicemen and women take an active role in producing content?

Serving military personnel are very engaged with everything we do, although the number of them directly producing content is limited because of the sensitivity and commitments of their jobs. Among those who do work for us though is the likes of the People’s Strictly champion Cassidy Little, a Royal Marine who lost a leg in 2011 in an IED blast while serving in Afghanistan.

How can PRs help with content?

PRs can help by flagging up stories that, while not militarily-linked, may have a strong relevance to serving personnel and importantly their families.

How do you like to work with PRs?

There’s no substitute for a comprehensive email. If there’s no initial reply follow it up in a day or so with another email. If all else fails follow up with a phone call. If however a particular agency is likely to have a series of stories or a client of particular relevance who might want to work with Force TV then a quick face-to-face meeting can prove extremely productive.

What should they keep in mind when pitching?

Try and understand the brand and pitch along the lines of a well written news story - short and to the point with the main message of the pitch right at the top, lose any hyperbole and stick to the facts. If it’s accompanied by a good video or some good quality stills, it stands a much better chance of being picked up.

How far in advance does the team work?

We have the ability to be very agile and react quickly to breaking stories but on features, documentaries and set-pieces such as VE Day we work months in advance.

And finally, which military figure from history would you like to interview for a BFBS special?

A straw poll of the office offered up the following… Churchill, Nelson, Hitler, Napoleon, Mao, Goebbels and Ghengis Khan. I think I’d go for Sun Tzu, the Chinese military strategist and philosopher whose work, The Art of War, is still proving influential some 2,500 years after it was written.

Nathan was speaking to Gorkana's Ronan George