Presenting DEC appeals on the BBC homepage

Martin Belam  by Martin Belam, 27 January 2009

As the story about Sky and the BBC's refusal to show the DEC appeal for Gaza rumbles on, I've turned my thoughts to how any such appeal might be promoted via the BBC's website.

In 2004 and 2005 I was the Senior Development Producer on the BBC.co.uk homepage, during which time the Corporation was involved in two DEC appeals. This was before the advent of the BBC's personalised approach to their homepage.

Back then we felt that although we could use the main graphical promotional space on the page to support the appeal, just leaving it that way on the one topic for days on end would lose impact. What we needed was a way to give the DEC appeal a presence on the homepage which didn't involve constantly occupying the main slot.

bbc.co.uk homepage with a new panel featuring information about the Asia earthquake

The solution I came up with was a small additional panel underneath the main promo. This was literally hacked into the old <TABLE> structure that held the page together, and was initially just a series of text links, developing over time into more of a graphical feature.

Panel from the bbc.co.uk homepage linking through to information about the  tsunami in Asian, and through to the DEC appeal site

We also linked directly through to the DEC appeal, which was the first time that there had been any external links on the BBC homepage.

Well, we almost linked directly.

In fact users had to go through an interstitial, and I had to make sure that the BBC's standard linking disclaimer was added into the foot of the homepage.

"The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites."

This space became christened the "Semi-permanent panel", and was used again for the DEC appeal over the Kashmir Earthquake in October 2005.

Second South Asia Quake panel on the BBC homepage

It was also used for Comic Relief, 2005 General Election coverage and, rather more frivolously, for event likes Glastonbury.

Election panel on the BBC.co.uk homepage


Glastonbury 2005 panel

With the personalised and modular homepage design, the BBC has a couple of obvious choices in how it could now promote this kind of campaign on the web.

One option is to simply make one of the four promo slots on the page constantly about the appeal for the duration. Although not necessarily always on direct display, this would provide a similar 'semi-permanent' presence.

BBC homepage tabbed promo

Another option might be to add an extra panel into everybody's personalised page for the duration of the appeal - regardless of which options they themselves have chosen.

Customisation options on the BBC homepage

Either way, it certainly puts the BBC's justification for making the editorial space a permanent homepage fixture in focus. Almost any blog post on the BBC Internet Blog about the homepage design will feature comments complaining that they cannot remove this 'advertising', and have to scroll past it. DEC appeals are one of the use cases where public service obligation should over-ride personalisation, and the information should be 'pushed' at the user.

1 Comment

If the aim is for people to see, rather than seek, the message, isn't the most obvious place now not on the homepage - which many don't visit - but on the black 'explore' strip which appears across the BBC content?

Although that might be an editorial nightmare that would make Mark Thompson's current worries look like a small squall.

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