Credit: Screenshot from TRT World on Facebook

TRT World, the international branch of the Turkish publicly funded broadcaster TRT, is about to ramp up its presence in the United States.

With a digital strategy formed by Riyaad Minty, who was instrumental in the success of AJ+, TRT World has been building its presence online with content aimed at YouTube, social media, and voice-powered devices such as the Amazon Echo, as well as more traditional television.

In the UK, TRT World is available on Sky, and the team based in London has been producing two new dedicated shows, experimenting with a “fresher TV approach that could work on YouTube”, explained Minty.

TRT World’s digital presence in the US and elsewhere is aimed at millennials aged 25 to 40, focused on live breaking news coverage and explainer videos.

Short, snackable content on social media will also be part of the mix, but explainers and longer-form video will be at the core of the brand.

“A lot of people we see are just trying to copy AJ+ in terms of format. What people don't realise is the success of AJ+ isn't just the format text-on-screen and short-form videos, there's a lot more thinking that goes behind it in terms of how you talk to audiences, how you structure your team and your newsroom.

“We are bringing those sorts of learnings into TRT World but it's a more in-depth, longer-form approach.”

Even for videos aimed at the younger age range of the millennial generation, TRT World still leans towards longform (around eight minutes, for example) in a style similar to YouTube vlogs.

One of TRT World’s most successful social videos has been an explainer about the so-called Islamic State, that runs for six minutes. At the time of writing, it has 8.6 million views and over 100,000 shares on Facebook.

“We want people to pause, think and start questioning things and get a conversation going. So we are not looking to just inform you about what happened, we are actually looking to spark a conversation.”

TRT World is also prioritising audio storytelling, particularly on voice-activated devices such as the Amazon Echo. As well as news briefings, the team has created an interactive narrative story called 'Tough choices'.

The experience places listeners in Afghanistan in the shoes of a father whose daughter has been injured in a bomb explosion. They are then asked how they would react. The listeners’ decisions, such as whether to go to the hospital or treat their daughter at home, influence the direction of the story.

“With these voice-powered devices we are able to make it a bit more interactive and give you a bit more control over that narrative,” said Minty.

“That should get you more engaged in the topic and get you hopefully to have a bit more empathy towards the topic.”

‘Tough choices’ has been the first experience of such kind TRT World has created, and Minty said the response has been positive – his team sees voice-powered devices as a big space worthy of investment.

TRT World Quiz, developed for Google Assistant and initially built by a student intern, has already won two awards as part of the Actions on Google Developer Challenge.

To monitor audience growth and engagement on social media, and assess the success of the approach, Minty focuses on measuring, for example, view completion rates and interactions as a percentage of the total number of people who like the TRT World page on Facebook.

His biggest challenge centres around building the right teams and putting together the correct workflow, and he is aiming for a nimble approach. As TRT is publicly funded, the digital team is not pressured to instantly generate revenues from their experiments, giving them the opportunity to discover what works through trial and error, and then share their knowledge.

“I also stress to my team that if anybody walks into the room and tells you they know about digital strategy and this is the plan of how everything is going to work, they're probably lying to you.

“I've been doing this for almost a decade and even off the back of AJ+, things change very quickly. We have a roadmap of where we want to go to but one change in the algorithm means you have to pivot very quickly to something else. We have a guiding light but we're building this organisation to be quick and experiment, to embrace failure in terms of format, styles and strategies.”

While offering some peace of mind on the commercial side, TRT World’s status as the publicly-funded broadcaster from Turkey makes it an interesting player on the international scene, and potentially a controversial one, as Turkey is one of the worst jailers of journalists in the world.

For Minty, TRT World represents a different voice alongside the established US media increasingly questioned by the public, as well as an opportunity to tell stories from parts of the world that are often only covered through the eyes of journalists from Western Europe and the United States.

“Because we are public-funded, we are accountable to the people of Turkey not to the government of Turkey and you'll see that in terms of our stories and how we reflect that on screen. There will always be pockets of people who will question the angle or the paradigm in which news organisations are approaching the stories.

“When we start reporting on stories we reflect the street and we're translating those voices into English to people in Western audiences who may not have been exposed to it. I think Western news organisations fail a lot because they bring a very Eurocentric view in how they want to interpret this. There is more than one way to understand what's happening and we need to hear all of those voices to get an informed opinion about it. We're trying to be part of that mix, that’s how we position TRT World.”

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