BBC international services reach record audience

“Reflecting the United Kingdom, its culture and values to the world”


The BBC has just published its Annual Report and Accounts 2017/18. The 270-page document gives a detailed account of the BBC’s international services, radio, television, online and social media as well as their reach and their total international weekly audience which now exceeds 345 million for all services.

The success of these services is certainly the result of a long tradition anchored when the Empire Service of the BBC, precursor of the BBC World Service, was established in 1932 by the first director general of the BBC (1927-1938) John Reith.

As Gavyn Davies, Chairman of the BBC Board of Governors, explained in a 2003 speech, when, Reith launched the service “he had a remarkable insight. The BBC’s foreign services, he said, must not be used as a propaganda weapon to spread the views of the British government, but must be seen as an independent voice, seeking only to speak the truth to its listeners.”

The following are excerpts of the BBC 2017/2018 report that give details of the BBC’s international services activities and expansion in the past year. The report says that the BBC plays and essential role carrying the distinctive culture, voice and values of the UK to the world

BBC global reach, news offer more important than ever

“Once again, the past year has highlighted the fact that, in many parts of the world,” the report says, “the media is less free than it was ten years ago. There has been the continued growth of big state-sponsored news organisations and from news aggregated by digital platforms. Al Jazeera, China Central Television (CCTV) and RT (formerly Russia Today) can command vast resources and, while the services offered by these organisations can be of high quality production, they also reflect a particular world-view and the agenda of their backers. With the possibility of state services from less free countries influencing global debate and news provision, the value to democracy and liberty of the BBC’s global reach is higher than ever.”

One of the UK’s most important cultural exports

The former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan once described the BBC World Service as quite possibly “Britain’s greatest gift to the world in the 20th century.”

The report says that it “inspires and illuminates the lives of millions around the world, helping them make sense of the world they live in. (…) The BBC’s two commercially funded international news services, BBC World News and, continue to provide consumers with news from one of the most trusted and reliable news providers in the world. Meanwhile, BBC Worldwide – now part of the newly merged BBC Studios – invests in, commercialises and showcases content from the BBC around the world, to build the reach and reputation of the BBC brand overseas, champion British creativity and at the same time deliver commercial returns to the BBC to invest in public service content.

Record international audience

“The BBC once again attracted record audiences internationally, with the latest figures, the Global Audience Measure, revealing a total weekly audience of 376 million [taking into account de-duplication, i.e. ensuring that a person who consumes multiple BBC services or platforms or on multiple devices, is not counted many times in the top-level totals.]

“This includes all international content. This year has been a remarkable one for the BBC World Service, as it saw us carry out our biggest expansion since the 1940s, thanks to a £85 million investment during the year from the UK Government. This expansion is enabling us to bring trusted news to more parts of the world, including those in which access to free and impartial information is severely limited,” the report says.


Now available in more than 40 languages, increased international impact

The BBC World Service is “now operating in more than 40 languages around the world, from Pidgin to Korean, with new Government investment to increase the international impact and reach of the BBC.” As part of the expansion the BBC has opened new and expanded bureaux “in locations such as Dhaka, Mumbai, Nairobi, Delhi, Seoul, Bangkok, Yangon, Tunis, Cairo, Beirut and Belgrade and employed more than 1,000 new staff across the world. (…) This not only enhances our coverage for audiences abroad but also gives our UK news audiences a more in-depth view of areas that have traditionally received less coverage.”

“Having more journalists on the ground also means that we’re able to cover more under-reported areas and improve our offer to UK audiences. The BBC World Service saw its audience grow from 269 million to 279 million.”

Safeguarding World Service for future generations

“We’re aiming our international news at a new generation of users, to safeguard the World Service for future generations,” the report says, adding “this means focusing on new formats and new audiences. It is clear, for instance, that shortwave radio listening has declined rapidly again this year, and research has shown that with the increased global availability of cheap smartphones, audiences continue to switch to digital platforms for news. BBC World Service continues to do well with younger audiences internationally – a quarter of our weekly global audience is aged between 15-24.

Online offer proving an international success

The BBC’s “global commercial news website,, continued to bring both news and features to a huge international audience. The audience for is growing within the USA, the world’s largest media market. We have restructured our business to merge BBC Advertising with BBC Global News Ltd, the commercial subsidiary which runs both BBC World News and This means that the new single integrated business can develop our news content commercially,” the report says.

Global Audience Measure 2017/2018 (2016/2017) – details

347m: BBC News (Total international weekly audience – 2016/2017: 345m)

160m: BBC WS radio (English & other languages – 2016/2017: 155m)

279m: BBC WS (includes TV, radio online and social media in English and other languages – 2016/2017: 269m)

42m: BBC WS online and social media (2016/2017: 17.39m)

111m: BBC WS television non-English languages (2016/2017: 110m)

95m: BBC World News TV channel (English language global news channel 2016/2017: 99m)

37m: (International English language) and social media

376m: Global reach, Including BBC News and BBC Studios


Note: The Global Audience Measure is an annual update of how many people are consuming the BBC weekly for all services in all countries across all platforms (television, radio, website and social media). Key to this is de-duplication i.e. ensuring that a person who consumes multiple BBC services or platforms or on multiple devices, is not counted many times in the top-level totals. For example, BBC World Service television, radio and online audience is less than the sum of its parts to ensure we do not count people more than once when looking at the total World Service audience.


59 % of foreign audience agree the BBC helps them to gain a more in-depth understanding of the news. Source: BBC Brand Tracker 2017 (not UK).

BBC is ranked No.1 for: Trust Independence Reliability (Source: BBC Brand Tracker 2017 (not UK).