International Media? There’s an App for That!

A woman in Somalia uses her cellphone. (Pete Heinlein/VOA)

A woman in Somalia uses her cellphone. (Pete Heinlein/VOA)

The Pew Research Center reports that 91% of U.S. adults own a cellphone, with smartphones comprising 61% of that total. Increasingly this is how people get their news. Although the BBG operates in areas with media markets that widely diverge from the U.S., our own research shows that from feature phones to iPads, mobile is definitely on the rise.

As I blogged about last August, 73.1% of Nigerians have a mobile phone. Use of mobile is also prevalent across many other less-developed countries. About eight in 10 Indonesians (81.0%) say they have mobile phones in their household. In Mali’s capital, Bamako, nine in 10 adults say they have a mobile phone in their household.  More than seven in 10 Somalis (72.4%) say they personally own a mobile phone. Nine in 10 Russians (90.2%) say they personally have cellular phones, and there is virtually no difference between urban and rural areas in ownership in Russia.

Within U.S. international media we must meet our audiences on their platforms of preference.  Our challenge is to adapt and innovate within our existing resources.  Innovation, outstanding content and pivotal partnerships are the keys to success in this dynamic arena.

Our BBG in-house innovators are making it possible for our global audiences to carry the news in their pockets wherever they may go.

Our Office of Digital & Design Innovation (ODDI) collaborated with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty to significantly expand our mobile offerings.  The Office of Cuba Broadcasting, Voice of America and Alhurra TV have launched or about to launch a new suite of apps to let our audiences get push notifications of breaking news, stream radio podcasts on demand, as well as download content for offline viewing. Using our new apps for Android and iOS, individuals can easily consume and share content in over 40 languages, a historic innovation, something that has never been done before on a mobile news app.

Earlier this year, ODDI also partnered with Radio Free Asia on bringing long-form journalism across closed borders by releasing an iBook called “Remembering Tiananmen” in both English and Mandarin. The iBook format allows our audiences to fully immerse themselves in our journalism on their tablet devices, and to learn about the China 1989 protests via a multimedia experience. Now ODDI is collaborating with Voice of America to release an interactive book expanding its Immigration: The New Face of America coverage, and the team is working on a second book with RFA in the Uyghur language.

These are just the most recent examples of the innovations underway across the BBG. Credit goes to the internal entrepreneurs and innovators who spot opportunities and pursue them, create compelling content such as our Middle East Broadcasting Networks’ Syria Stories, develop groundbreaking mobile apps, and craft other avenues critical to amplifying our journalists’ top-notch and sorely-needed reporting to countries where the media are not entirely free.

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