The BBC is to close down half its website, cut spending on imported American programmes and close two radio stations in an admission that it has become too large, a newspaper reported today. The Times said that in a strategic review to be unveiled next month, the corporation will concede it must give space to its commercial rivals which have been hard hit by an advertising downturn during the recession.
The BBC regularly comes under fire from rivals and other critics for its alleged unfair dominance. Its Director-General Mark Thompson will announce a cut in its website pages by half, backed by a 25 percent cut in staff and budget, said the paper. It will further close digital radio stations 6 Music and Asian Network and close outlets that target the teenage market, leaving the area free for rivals. And it will order its commercial subsidiary BBC Worldwide to focus on activities overseas and get rid of its British magazines arm.
The report, which is being considered by the BBC’s governing body, will be seen as an attempt to show a future Conservative government that the corporation does not need outside intervention to solve its problems, said The Times. The Conservative party, tipped to win the next general election and traditionally more hostile towards the BBC than the current Labour administration, is expected to freeze the licence fee.
The BBC review comes as all media are struggling to adapt to rapidly changing technology and markets, and some - notably Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp - are pledging to end the era of free news online.
The BBC issued a press statement at 4.00pm today:
“Last summer, the BBC Trust challenged the BBC to develop a new strategy to meet the opportunities and the threats of the rapidly changing media landscape. Although the details have yet to be agreed – and today’s press speculation is therefore premature – the BBC expects to present its proposals to the BBC Trust in the near future.
“At the core of the strategy will be a renewed commitment to serving the British public with programmes and services of the highest quality. Audiences admire and value the BBC’s digital services and the BBC will remain fully committed to online and to digital television and radio. But the new strategy will lay out ways of focusing and concentrating licence fee investment on areas and services which are distinctive and best fulfil the BBC’s public purposes, which meet the expectations of licence-payers but also leave plenty of space for commercial media providers.”
Andy Sennitt comments: It’s interesting that the press statement calls the press report ‘premature’ rather than ‘wrong’ or ‘inaccurate’. There have been frequent reports in the past few months that both 6 Music and the Asian Network were to be closed. To the best of my knowledge, the BBC has not specifically denied either of these claims. Media Guardian is also now carrying essentially the same story.