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BBC Online ordered to be more 'distinctive' as cuts kick in

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The BBC has agreed to make its web presence more “distinctive”, following the Corporation’s director-general Mark Thompson’s decision in July to scale back its online operation and cut the budget by a quarter.

That’s the conclusion of the Beeb’s ‘Strategy Review’, which the BBC Trust published a final report on today.

It said the BBC would now commit to increasing “the distinctiveness of other services that operate in markets where there is a broad range of commercial provision, particularly BBC Online, Radio 1 and Radio 2.”

The report reaffirmed that 6Music – which had been targeted for closure – would live on. It also said that BBC Four needed higher awareness among its potential audience base, but made no mention whatsoever of BBC Three, which possibly hints that that TV channel could yet be axed.

Meanwhile BBC Online, which is undergoing a massive budget and web pages cull, is required to pursue a new strategy “where BBC activity in individual online markets is clearly defined and justified in terms of its distinctiveness and its focus on the BBC’s public purposes,” said Auntie’s governing body.

The Beeb’s online management team is in effect required to sprinkle uniqueness on its content, rather than simply pursue a strategy that puts “potential popularity” at the top of the agenda.

“For BBC Online, we expect to see an increase in quality scores, and improvement or closure of the sites that are not meeting audience expectations for quality,” said the trust.

Additionally, the Beeb will discuss its online strategy with industry players to address or presumably nod disapprovingly at the “greatest sensitivities” that exist in the web market.

At the same time, the BBC will continue to develop mobile apps that provide BBC Online content and are available to different mobile operating systems “on a fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory basis”.

Elsewhere DAB – the digital radio tech that refuses to die at least in the eyes of the BBC’s executives – will have its national coverage enhanced.

“[The BBC will] continue working with government and industry to assess the level of investment needed to extend coverage of the local tier of DAB in time for any switchover, recognising that this is not currently funded within the new licence fee settlement,” it said.

Continuing the retread of the commitments made by the Beeb, which recently was granted a six-year TV licence settlement that meant the fee was frozen at the same level until 2017, it will support the promotion of the broadband roll-out set out by the ConDem government.

But, given that the trust’s chairman Sir Michael Lyons is leaving in April next year, today’s report was light on detail. Instead the BBC executive team, which has been subjected to several strikes from disgruntled staff in recent months, will be required to do yet more navel-gazing.

“The BBC’s new licence fee settlement changes the picture somewhat,” noted the trust, in summing up.

“It is not realistic to expect that a 16 per cent budget reduction can be made in the space of four years without some changes to the range of services and activities being required.”

Which means Thompson, his underlings and the BBC’s governing body will need to work out a “realistic target” for the period from 2013/14 to 2016/17 to discuss how any outstanding funding gap can be filled.

In other words, there will be another strategy review. ®

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