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BBC Online to be scaled back, budget cut by a quarter

Beeb Trust welcomes director-general's website culling

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The BBC’s online presence will shrink, after its governing body agreed with director-general Mark Thompson’s plans to cut the public service broadcaster’s online spending.

In response to Thompson’s ‘Strategy Review’, published in March this year, the BBC Trust today announced its “initial conclusions” on the future of the Beeb and said that parts of its website operation had “strayed too far away from the BBC’s core remit”.

While staff in some quarters - such as over at 6Music - will be celebrating the Trust’s endorsement to almost certainly save the digital radio station from Thompson's axe, others have been less fortunate today.

“We endorse the concept of a 25 per cent reduction in the BBC Online budget although we will want to understand and approve the editorial changes involved,” the Trust said.

It said it welcomed Thompson’s proposals to provide “a simpler and clearer focus” online and added that the Corporation’s flagship website - bbc.co.uk - could add “editorial value in other priority areas” such as educational material for school kids.

The Trust called on the BBC to offer “more effective editorial controls and leadership across the board, with effort and funding concentrated where the BBC has a clear and distinctive role and to remove BBC content where it does not have a clear public service rationale behind it.”

Thompson had proposed tighter editorial control of the BBC's website output, and to halve the number of top level domains at BBC Online. He also recommended that the budget should be reduced by 25 per cent by 2013 and that the number of external links to other sources be “substantially” increased.

“We conclude now, in line with the BBC Executive’s strategy proposals, that there is a bigger challenge for Online - to cut back on the current scale and scope of what is published and put the focus on those areas where the BBC has a clear and distinctive role to play,” said the Trust.

However, the Beeb’s governing body hasn’t approved the plans yet. It said it wants more detail on how the website’s operations would be reduced before drawing any definitive conclusion about the future of BBC Online.

“We believe that every genre and area of activity should have its own rationale that clearly sets out the particular public value that the BBC adds above and beyond market provision. This will require a thoroughgoing review of the whole site and positive engagement with the wider industry,” said the Trust.

“We therefore look to the Executive to present a plan and timetable for this work for our assessment.”

The Trust will announce its full conclusions about the future of the BBC in the autumn when it will set out a final strategy for the Corporation for the rest of the current Charter, which runs until 2016. ®

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