1. Strategy
  2. Our ambitions
  3. Growing our digital platforms

Growing our digital platforms

By 2033, we will have radically reformed all BFI services by making them easy to use and widely available online, reaching more people and delivering more of our cultural programme digitally.

We want to expand our digital reach and improve access so that everyone can benefit from everything the BFI does – no matter where they live. We also need to future-proof our organisation, embracing technological change and diversifying our income to sustain our charitable activities.

We will develop and launch BFI+, our next-generation streaming service, enabling UK audiences beyond our Southbank catchment to discover, discuss and delve into the best of UK and world screen culture, past and present, with us and each other.

Why now?

We live in an increasingly digital world. Digital is the default way most people access information and services. Brands and institutions are judged against ever-increasing expectations for transparency, convenience and service quality. Users are empowered to create as well as consume, and online word of mouth is often decisive in defining success.

In our sector, the uptake in streaming services continues to soar. Emerging technologies are enabling new, decentralised business models and entire new forms for screen stories.

With expectations, culture and business models all evolving rapidly in step with technology, both the industry we support and the services we deliver will continuously face new challenges and opportunities across the life of this strategy.

It’s vital that the BFI embraces digital, data and technology. It will allow us to meet our audiences where they are now and be fully prepared for an evolving, unknowable future. Through digital, we can:

  • Make it easy for even more people to access our established services, from screenings at BFI Southbank to Sight and Sound and our funding and education opportunities.
  • Scale beyond the physical limitations of geography, schedule and capacity so that everyone can access the BFI’s cultural programme – wherever they are and whenever they want.
  • Change the relationship with our users, bringing our industry and fans together online, and using rapid insights and feedback to get closer to our users’ needs.

We have already made big digital strides. Most of our users today connect with us online. Our websites serve more than 7.5m UK and 16m worldwide sessions per year. BFI Player and the BFI YouTube channel receive over 10m annual streaming views. Our social channels boast around 3m followers.

However, we also have some basics to fix. Navigating our cinema listings, buying tickets, donating or applying for funding can currently be a frustrating and disjointed experience. We need a new strategic approach, moving away from discrete projects that create unconnected products with limited ongoing development post-launch, and investing instead in long-lasting and joined-up digital services that continuously improve over time.

BFI Player represents one of our largest transformational opportunities. There is evident demand in the streaming market for our hand-picked library of independent and heritage film, much of which isn’t available elsewhere. BFI Player currently reaches 10-times the audience of our Southbank screenings, furthering our nationwide reach, and its subscriber base has doubled in recent years. With a relatively low rate of churn, this steady growth now produces a modest net income that helps relieve financial pressure on the BFI.

There is huge potential to accelerate BFI Player’s growth, increasing our share of a total addressable market at least another 10-times the size of our current audience. To do that, we need to address technical limitations and make our direct-to-consumer service easy to find and use through living room devices. We also need to bring in more of what makes the BFI special and grow our collection of compelling content. Thirdly, we need to develop further strategic partnerships for new acquisitions and to reach new audiences.

The BFI also holds a treasure trove of material about screen culture that isn’t yet available online. This includes our vast BFI National Archive collections, thousands of hours of recordings from Southbank events and nearly a century’s writings about the cinema. Subject to rights, digitising and sharing this material can greatly enrich our cultural offer.

We can also take more advantage of our editorial capability across written, audio and video forms, plus the passion and knowledge of our programmers, curators, members and guest talent. Taken together, this will allow us to provide contextual editorial content that renders our video-on-demand proposition utterly unique.

Growing and improving the usability of our digital services will augment and support our physical offer – not replace it. Doing so will benefit our box office sales and magazine subscriptions and improve access to all of our services BFI-wide, from education to funding. It will enhance our marketing data to help support national independent cinema partnerships and cross-promotions. Finally, we fervently believe that our at-home and in-venue platforms can provide excellent distinct experiences, and exceptional combined ones, by playing to their individual strengths under a unified BFI programme.

Over the course of this strategy, we will seek opportunities to innovate. In partnership with sponsors, we will explore how newer technologies can help us deliver our ambitions.

How we’ll do it

We will continue the evolution of our digital offer to scale our reach and impact, open up the BFI, and future-proof our organisation.

Our goals are:

  • To develop BFI+, our next-generation streaming service that will enable users to enjoy the best of UK and world screen culture on demand.
  • To grow registered user numbers, active usage and satisfaction across our digital offer. We will enact iterative and evidence-led approaches to product, content, production, promotion and partnerships.
  • To grow and mature our digital, data and technology delivery capability so we can continuously respond to change. This includes fully adopting the best practices set out by the Cabinet Office (GDS) and transitioning from one-off project funding to continuous product development.
  • To augment our cultural output with unique content not previously available online. This includes nearly a century of writing, recorded talks and events, and (rights allowing) paper artefacts in the BFI National Archive special collections.
  • To make digital the default means of finding and interacting with us across our services – from booking a ticket to applying for funding. We will ensure all interactions with the BFI are connected, convenient, accessible, reliable and attractive to users.
  • To ensure in-venue technology keeps pace with change. Equally, we will continue to sustain and strengthen our increasingly rare specialist support for analogue film projection for future generations.

In the first three years, we will:

  1. Secure a significant one-off investment to evolve BFI Player and relaunch it as BFI+. We will start by making it easy to access on major at-home devices.
  2. Grow our capability and apply higher standards for iterating our digital products and services. Priorities include improving the user experience of accessing funding, exploring the collections, seeing what’s on and buying a cinema ticket.
  3. Develop a flexible suite of connected digital platforms that enable us to make decisions with data, join up the BFI experience for users, partner with others, and experiment and adapt quickly in response to digital disruption.
  4. Transform and unite processes for programming and distribution acquisitions, and production of ‘extras’ and editorial content. Together, this will deliver a strong and coherent cultural programme across our digital and theatrical platforms.