8 Strategies for Digital Transformation with Ralph Rivera, the Man Who Helped Transform the BBC


Ralph Rivera, Director at Future Media BBC giving a keynote at the CDO Summit London 2014

Four years is a lifetime in digital. When Ralph Rivera joined the BBC in 2010 as Director of Future Media, the future of that lauded British organization was being openly questioned.

“There is no such thing as ‘The’ BBC,” Rivera said. “In fact, BBC is more like AOL Time-Warner than IBM….  It’s actually more like a flotilla than one big enterprise.

“We had these multiple silos, and each one of them were fragmented, such that we had 500-plus websites, 40 content management systems, and over 140 embedded media players,” he added.

“If every channel has a website, and then every genre has a website, and then every program has a website—guess what? At a place like the BBC you easily end up with over 500 websites.”

[bctt tweet=”In 8 steps @RalphRivera revolutionized the how the @BBC works online http://ow.ly/MAVYe and you can do the same!” via=”no” url=”no”]

Rivera immediately set in motion a drastic plan whose goal was to enable the BBC not only to survive in the new digital media environment but also to become a digital organization in its own right.

In a keynote titled “Where Next?: The Journey from BBC Online to The BBC, online,” which Rivera delivered at the inaugural U.K. Chief Digital Officer Summit at that august institution in London, England, on October 29, 2014, he outlined how he was able to make the transformation.

1. Cut the Fat—Immediately


Ralph Rivera, Director at Future Media BBC: “Where Next?: The Journey from BBC Online to The BBC, online”

“My mandate coming in was to change [the organization], and that meant restructuring,” Rivera explained. The budget was cut by 25%, and with it 360 online jobs. He called the strategy “1 – 10 – 4” because “I’m an engineer; I like numbers.”

The “1” meant moving from multiple silos to a single service. Over 500 websites were replaced with just “10” services. “And we were going to move from one screen—when I came in, 95% of our traffic was through browsers on desktop PCs—to ‘4’ [types of display] screens,” Rivera said.

“1 – 10 – 4: simple, clear, concise, and yet very difficult to execute.”

2. Put Products First

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast. You could say ‘breakfast, lunch, and dinner,’ every day,” Rivera remarked.

To execute the drastic change needed to turn the BBC into a streamlined, digital organization, Rivera set to completely change  its culture so as to emphasize products.

“I know most people would say ‘put people first,’” Rivera said. “What I was specifically was hired to do was to bring in the notion of ‘product’ and ‘product management’ and a product orientation—to replace the ‘build me a website with these colors, please’ orientation that we had.”

Rivera started by creating product roadmaps, instituting agile product development, and applying user-centric product marketing. The BBC “didn’t have the notion of a product manager. That job description or job family didn’t exist!” he said. “We didn’t have analytics; we had to bootstrap that. We had to procure analytics instruments in our environment so we could start making data-driven decisions.

“Now ‘product’ isn’t a strange word; it’s a word that everyone at the BBC is familiar with.”


“Where Next?: The Journey from BBC Online to The BBC, online”

3. Form Teams to Tackle Specific Product Areas, Rather than Having Them Compete

Changing an organization as large as the BBC did not come easily. Yet Rivera was able to streamline the process by choosing multidisciplinary teams to lead in specific problem areas, rather than having various parts of the organization competing against each other.

“Define specific roles and responsibilities, get people to understand that, you know what—editorial leads: lead on content, lead on the story. Product leads: lead on capability, lead on experiences,” he said. “Work together as a team versus bringing different groups together, each one trying to contend to be the lead.

4. Consolidate to Reduce Redundant Systems

“We went from 40 content management systems down to two,” Rivera boasted. “We went from 140 different embedded media players to one standard media player that works across iPlayer.”

Consolidation of digital processes not only resulted in greater efficiency and lower costs, it also enabled content from across the organization to be accessible and usable by everyone in the BBC. Services like video and coding were put up in the cloud, Rivera said, “so now we have metadata that spans a news story, a sports story, a radio program, and a TV show. We have all of that in one repository, with the ability to pull that together and do something like connected stories that cross different programs and different platforms.”


Ralph Rivera, Director at Future Media BBC giving a keynote at the CDO Summit London 2014

5. Embrace Positive and Negative Motivation Where You Find Them

“A benefit—and a curse—was the fact that we had the Olympics coming up, so that was a great motivator. Companies have the notion of a [fiery torch on a] platform, and we had the fact that we had to deliver the Olympics,” Rivera said. “And, man, that was an experience!

“What we were looking to do was deliver the first digital Olympics,” he said. “Our ambition was that what [Queen Elizabeth’s] coronation in 1953 did for TV, the Olympics would do for digital.

“I would be lying if I didn’t admit there wasn’t a bit of negative motivation as well. We were partly fueled by fear; we knew we would only get one shot at this. The entire country was riding on it, and we did not want to be the ones to f— up the Olympics.”

[bctt tweet=”‘We hoped that what the 1953 coronation did for TV, the 2012 @Olympics would do for digital’ @RalphRivera on the @BBC http://ow.ly/MAVYe” via=”no” url=”no”]

When Rivera delivered his remarks in London last October, it had been 18 months since the BBC began its transformation. The result, according to him: “Everything we built held together. It was all the video live and on demand; it was all the data in real time for every athlete, event, and country. It was available on every network, on every device, at home, at work, and on the go. It was mobile. It was social,” Rivera commented. “It was amazing!”

Read the article “How the BBC beat NBC, and brought Olympics coverage into the future”

6. Don’t Let Your Best Moment Be Your Peak


Ralph Rivera, Director at Future Media BBC gives keynote “Where Next?: The Journey from BBC Online to The BBC, Online”

“Post-Olympic stress disorder—the concern was, after the high of the Olympics, having a crash,” Rivera said. “Everything we did after that was just a form of managed decline. We had to confront that and fight that.”

To combat any loss in momentum, the BBC gave the “Olympic treatment” to every major media event that followed, each an attempt to one-up its initial success. The digital media machine Rivera had built sprung into action to cover the Glastonbury Festival, the Wimbledon Championships, the Sochi Olympics, the European Parliamentary elections, the World Cup, and the Commonwealth Games.

“What was exceptional in 2012 became business as usual in 2014.”

In summer 2014, BBC Sport went on to surpass even the high of the 2012 Olympics in number of views. Today it’s the number one online sports site in the U.K.

7. Employ a Multiple Screen Strategy

“Our four-screen strategy has paid off,” Rivera concluded. “Yesterday, daily browsers on mobile [devices] were actually greater [in number] than desktop [devices].

“We’re [now] two-thirds non-PC to one-third PC or desktop, so we’ve completely flipped our traffic pattern in the last three and a half years.”

The BBC Online is currently the only U.K.-originated site in the top 10 in the country, holding the number five slot on desktop and number three on mobile.


Ralph Rivera, Director at Future Media BBC

8. Continue to Innovate

After bringing in 27 language versions for the BBC World Service, BBC surpassed CNN globally for the number one spot for the first time in September 2014.

BBC Weather’s new mobile app was downloaded some 9 million times, in the fastest time to that stratospheric number that the BBC has achieved for one of its apps.

The BBC is currently developing “My BBC.” “It’s the notion of transforming from broadcaster to anonymous and passive audiences, to engaging and empowering known individuals,” Rivera revealed.

iPlayer is probably the best example of Rivera’s philosophy of constant improvement and innovation. “Right now I believe iPlayer is the best over-the-top video service in the world. It’s live and on demand. It’s streaming and downloads. It’s ad-free, high-quality, on over 1,000 devices…. No one else can check all those boxes. And yet it’s still a reflection of what happens on TV and the radio.”

Improvements Rivera would like to see are new channels created specifically for that player, as well as personalized channels building on “My BBC.” “Notice the progression from website to product, from product to platform, platform to service. That’s the journey that we’re taking iPlayer on,” he said.

BBC Three is probably the best example of where the BBC and digital media in general are heading in the future. “We’re the first broadcaster in the world that I know of that has decided to shut down a successful broadcast channel and make it online-only,” Rivera said, adding that BBC Three is set to launch in autumn 2015.

“The distinction between the iPlayer and BBC Three is like the old joke about the difference between the chicken and the pig, relative to breakfast: one’s involved and the other one’s committed,” Rivera quipped. “TV people are involved vis-à-vis iPlayer, but man, they’re committed relative to BBC 3!

“Going from BBC online to The BBC online: That talks to the pivot from getting our digital house in order, which is what we’ve been doing over the last three and a half years,” Rivera explained, “to the digital transformation of the entirety of the BBC. That’s the pivot. That’s the next leg in the journey for us.”


Ralph Rivera, Director at Future Media BBC gives keynote “Where Next?: The Journey from BBC Online to The BBC, Online”

– By Andrzej Sienko

— #30# —

If you are tasked with understanding what digital leaders must do in order to succeed in almost any industry, the best place to learn more is at the CDO Summit.

Register today for the Sydney CDO Summit on 01 March, 2016, hosted at the UTS Business school and presented by Accenture Digital.

Also sign up now to lock in our Early Bird Discount for NYC in April 2016, and Toronto in July 2016.

Register today:

Sydney Ad

Want to know what to expect at CDO Summit events?
Watch this quick video to find out:

See Select Speakers:

Christain-Bowman Renee Danny-Bass

Christian Bowman
Head of Marketing & Digital

Renee Gamble
Country Manager ANZ,
Google for Work

Danny Bass
IPG Mediabrands Australia

Cat-Matson Paul-Shetler Michelle-Fitzgerald

Cat Matson
Chief Digital Officer,
City of Brisbane
Brisbane Marketing

Paul Shetler
Australia’s Digital
Transformation Office

Michelle Fitzgerald
Chief Digital Officer
City of Melbourne

Jon-Cumming Bronwyn-van-der-Merwe Gerd-Schenkel

Jon Cumming
Chief Digital Officer
ACT Government

Bronwyn van der Merwe
Group Director and
Managing Director
Fjord Australia

Gerd Schenkel
Executive Director
Telstra Digital

Click Here To See All Sydney Speakers

The CDO Summit is the “must-attend” digital event of the year. The 2013, 2014 and 2015 CDO Summits received stellar endorsements from dozens of speakers and attendees alike:

“Sometimes a conference comes along that hits the trifecta – hot topic, high-caliber attendees, and stellar location. The first Chief Digital Officer Summit reached that mark with ease, and I look forward to attending the next one.”

Eric Hellweg
Managing Director, Digital Strategy/Editorial Director
Harvard Business Review

“Congratulations and thanks to David Mathison for spotting the need for community and collaboration in the growing Chief Digital Officer space, and for having the wherewithal, network, and organizational talent to put together such a top-notch event in its inaugural year. Next year’s summit should be even more of a must-do for anyone working digital at senior levels in all kinds of businesses.”

Teddy Goff
Digital Director
President Barack Obama 2008 and 2012

“David, here’s a handy C^3 test for conference value: Did I learn at least three new perspectives? Check. Did I meet at least three interesting people? Check. Did I take back at least three relevant pieces of news I can use? Check. Flying colors for the Chief Digital Officer Summit 2013! Thank you so much, and yes, I’d be very pleased to participate next year!”

“Congratulations to David Mathison and his team on the simply amazing job they did on the inaugural Chief Digital Officer Summit. Probably the most informative, insightful, on target, entertaining, collaborative, thought provoking, and inspiring conferences I have ever attended. I learned more about my business and what I do in the past 12 hours than I have from any research white paper, articles or blogs over the past 12 months. The range of topics and speakers assembled were incredibly diverse, informative, collaborative, and most of all, inspiring. It has invigorated me to be the best possible professional CDO I can be. David Mathison’s skills as a moderator were impeccable, bringing out the best of the speakers and keeping the conversation flowing. His intimate and insightful knowledge of this space is only out-shined by his humility and graciousness. Kudos to David and his organizing team.”

Mark Keys
Vice President, Client Solutions
Moving Interactive

More Endorsements

< More News

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


Yes, sign me up! By submitting this form, I agree and consent to receive emails from Innovation Exchange LLC (IXL), the corporate entity for the CAIO Summit/Club, CDO Summit/Club, and Web3 Summit/Club. I understand and accept that IXL may use my personal data as described in IXL’s Privacy Policy. I may opt-out and withdraw my consent at any time via the unsubscribe link at the bottom of every email.