The BBC Arabic service is launching the corporation's first television programme driven entirely by social media. The show, called 710 Greenwich, will be the first for the global broadcaster to take its ideas from Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and blogs. "The actual production of the show is going to be as open as Wikipedia," he said, referring to the online encyclopaedia created by its users. "This is the first wiki-driven television show." The show will be broadcast on Thursdays for 50 minutes on BBC Arabic TV from the first week of next month. Although the BBC uses social media to support many of its products, 710 Greenwich will be the first programme in which social media takes the lead, Mr el Sokkari said.
In fact, he has been using social media to help design the show, holding forums on Facebook to talk about the ideal format or putting calls out on Twitter when he is in a new city, offering to host face-to-face focus groups to size up the show's pilot. The pilot, which is available on YouTube, gives a flavour of what future episodes will hold. It features an interview by Mr el Sokkari with Abdul al Bari Atwan, the editor-in-chief of the London-based newspaper, Al Quds Al Arabi, using questions that had been shaped by an online audience on Facebook, Twitter and the show's blog and the BBC Arabic website.
In future episodes, the audience will act as researchers and de facto producers of the show, forming conversations around upcoming guests and posting videos and news articles that make a case for a certain line of questioning. "Part of the idea is to train people, to get them used to the idea of basing their argument on evidence and fact," Mr el Sokkari said. "So when they ask a question, it should be supported by something they have researched, which could be a good thing for young journalists learning the trade."
He expects this process to continue even after the interview has aired. "The programme concept extends before and after because people will debate the episode afterward," he said. "Somebody may put a clip of the interview and then somebody may put a newspaper clipping of what he said the next day when he denied it." BBC Arabic TV was launched in March 2008 and is free to everyone in the Middle East or North Africa with a cable or satellite connection. It is run by the BBC World Service.
BBC Arabic began with a partial broadcast day that was extended to a full day in January of last year, and from the beginning has aggressively moved to incorporate audience interaction. When the BBC sparked protests in January last year after it refused to broadcast an appeal for Gaza by the UK-based Disasters Emergency Committee, BBC Arabic used its multimedia programme Point for Debate to host a live debate with viewers.
Now it has begun to use social media as its primary method of promoting new programming, too. Mr el Sokkari said they were not doing traditional news releases, but rather using Twitter and Facebook to get the word out about the show. "It's spreading virally," he said. firstname.lastname@example.org