N.B. these are my own views, not the views of the BBC.
Soon - early in 2009 - we will be fully launching into beta our new artist pages on bbc.co.uk, as blogged about by Matthew Shorter and Tom Scott. In a nutshell, these pages will be the BBC's definitive or canonical page about that artist, with a permanent url, which will aggregate all the BBC has to offer about that artist. They will also pull in various 3rd party feeds of data, which is useful, but the key thing is that they point towards all relevant BBC content. So, like Oasis? There's one page which you will be able to trust to point you to all current Oasis content on bbc.co.uk. Liking Oasis, btw, is a mistake, but I'll leave that for now.
We've been busy sorting both technical and what could be called, err, non-technical issues out (data accuracy, work flow, compliance), with an aim of a launch likely to be February 09. This is a really exciting development for me, as it'll be the first really big step towards our aim of linking up programmes and music in a positive way.
So, what are the benefits of this?
Let's think of some scenarios to see how our new artist pages will help people, and the BBC.
1. People. Many people search on artist names. Artist names are some of the most searched for terms - that's not opinion, that's fact. Currently, you would be very unlikely to end up on bbc.co.uk despite the fact that there may well be exclusive high quality content waiting for you there. This is down to the unique way in which the BBC has so far run it's website - suffice to say it's not exactly optimised for search and aggregation. With new artist pages hoovering up google juice in clever ways, we aim for our results to dramatically improve. Which means the person searching on an artist may well end up on bbc.co.uk, and from that landing page may well end up on radio station site where they can watch, listen, read etc. The key thing here is that this will attract people who may not have any relationship with our brands or talent, or be a user of bbc.co.uk. In BBC terms... extending reach. Nice.
2. BBC radio reaches many millions of people every week. Quite a few of these people are interested in what music is played. Some of them are interested enough to go online to find out more. Luckily we offer lists of the music we play for nearly all of our "specialist" shows (often these are evening or night time shows which don't play the most well known music, such as Gilles Peterson) and some of our more mainstream shows. Currently, these tracklists are useful to an extent, in that they will tell you what music we played, but after that it's pretty much a dead end. People don't like dead ends. I don't like dead ends. I want to be offered the chance to go further if I want. I want good links. Which is after all what the internet is all about. Our work will allow these radio tracklists to become lists of links through to the relevant artist page (track pages will follow at a later date). So if you want to find out more about the artist that you heard about on the radio - and many do - then you can simply click through to find out what else the BBC can offer you, and at the same time get some very useful basic info such as a biog (from wikipedia) and a discography (from musicbrainz). How useful I hear you say! Exactly, I would reply. Oh, and there will be tracklists for all shows, not just some of them.
And because we know how important brands are, we are making sure that the relevant BBC brands are given full credit for both playing that artist, and for creating great content about them. So it's a win-win situation - audience get a great service which means they are more likely to come back often and recommend the site to their friends, and the BBC benefits by being seen as a good source of music information and content. And the brands benefit because the content is all fully branded and credit given.
3. Programmes. Artist pages will also really benefits programmes. By linking our programmes with music, this is just as much about programme discovery as it is about music discovery. People will start by wanting to find out more about the music they have heard, which they will be able to, and because we'll be reflecting our programmes love of certain artists, we can point people to relevant programmes they may never have heard before. For example, I start by wanting to find out about a band called MGMT. I end up on our MGMT artist page and find out that Steve Lamacq has a show on 6Music which happens to play quite a lot of MGMT, so I end up clicking through to listen to his latest show on-demand. Nice.
4. Artists. Lastly, it seems fairly obvious that it's not just audiences and potential audiences and the BBC who will benefit from this. The artists themselves who have frequently put alot of time and effort into appearing on our programmes will benefit because their fans, and new potential fans, will be able to discover their contributions on the BBC, whether that's a live session or an interview. And because we have a remit to link outside the BBC as much as we can, we will include a link to the artists official site and other good sites about that artist. Which means we will naturally send traffic to official artist sites, where people will have different opportunities to engage and perhaps even purchase music, tickets or other merchandise.
So, artists pages on bbc.co.uk, a good thing for all.