Trust 'considers scaling back BBC Online'

Tuesday, November 24 2009,

The BBC Trust has said that the corporation's online operation could be scaled back in the future following recent criticism from industry stakeholders.

The governing body today issued a revised remit for BBC Worldwide to ensure it focuses on the core BBC brands rather than non-branded operations.

In conjunction, the Trust also published an ongoing strategic review document for the entire BBC operation. In his chairman's commentary, Sir Michael Lyons discussed the prospect of streamlining BBC Online services to "narrow the focus on distinctive content and help to create a more open BBC".

The BBC's online output has recently attracted criticism for using the corporation's muscle to dominate the market with services already provided by commercial players.

In September, the Trust upheld a complaint from the British Educational Suppliers Association about the BBC's failure to follow its own guidelines in the development of educational websites, such as Learning Zone and BBC Bitesize.

Amazing Radio also recently filed an objection with the Trust alleging that the BBC Introducing website is a copy of its own service which threatens to distort market competition.

Sir Michael recognised the existence of "external concerns over scale and growth of BBC online operations", but also acknowledged the importance of such services to the public and the UK economy.

"We have no intention of diluting BBC commitment to universal access to free news online," he said. "But beyond that we want to question honestly what licence fee payers really expect to get from their licence fee and what they might be surprised to see the BBC doing in the online world."

The Trust therefore outlined three key questions for BBC Online going forward:

1. Beyond the core news, sport and educational content on, along with all online children's output and BBC iPlayer, which parts of the corporation's online services are essential to its mission, and which should be scrapped?

2. How should the distinct online extensions of BBC programming be distinguished from the services with a "less direct relationship" to BBC content?

3. Should there be clearer boundaries drawn in order to help BBC Online services "provide even greater depth and authority in core areas"?

Members of the public are being urged to submit their views on the three areas as part of a consultation which remains open until December 24.