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Five years ago: BBC shrugs off Web float rumours

20 July 1999

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There was a time when suggesting that the BBC privatise part of its operation was akin to mooting the idea that the British monarchy be sold off to the Americans. Some Beeb services have, of course, been "outsourced" to private companies - all in the name of efficiency and economy - but when it comes to the online stuff, well, it's just not cricket:

BBC shrugs off Web float rumours

By Lucy Sherriff
Published Tuesday 20th July 1999 12:40 GMT

The BBC is thinking about floating Beeb.com, its commercial Internet service, according to rumours floated in the UK this morning. Fire-brigading BBC spin doctors speedily hosed the notion with cold water, but you can see why it might be tempting.

Privatisation of any part of the BBC would be a political hot potato, but the outfit has been getting more and more commercial since the heady days of Thatcherism, and it's spent an awful lot of money on its - generally well-regarded - Internet activities.

"It's because of the Davies Panel examining our funding," a spokesman said of the rumour. "People are saying that we are planning to sell off everything except the Teletubbies. It really is total speculation." Estimates based on the Freeserve valuation would put the value of the Beeb.com at more than £500 million. The corporation currently brings in annual revenue of £2.15 billion from licence fees, so the hypothetical sale of Beeb.com would not go far to replace the money that would be lost if the licence fee was scrapped, but would come in very handy if it was cut, or frozen.

Another spokeswoman for the BBC said that the corporation had no formal plans to sell off any of its appendages. "It is very speculative," she said. "The Davies Report isn't even written yet and there will be a consultation period and so on. All this speculation has been sparked by the article in the Sunday Times about the possible sale of BBC Worldwide."

Beeb.com is funded by advertising and the sale of its content to other web sites. Official ABC figures for March put monthly page impressions for the site at 8.8 million and recorded 402,000 individual users. This is a mere bagatelle by the standards on BBC Online sites, clocking in excess of 80 million a month, but it's still not at all bad.


Beeb.com now points to http://www.bbcshop.com - a veritable e-cornucopia of Corporation merchandising. The portal was revamped in 2002 with a £1m facelift and a new e-commerce platform by ICL. Happy shopping indeed.

Nothing ever came of the "privatisation" rumours, although the BBC's Internet presence has been under scrutiny recently: five sites recently got the chop after a government review demanded a tougher line on whether online material adequately fulfilled the Beeb's public service remit.

Most current rumours about the best-known BBC Web service - www.bbc.co.uk - centre around the possibility of demanding registration for the news therein as a prelude to - God forbid - punters having to stump up hard cash for the service. The licence payers would certainly have something to say about that. ®

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