BBC assures press: We have no hyperlocal plans

The BBC boss behind its rejected local online video proposal has reassured the regional press that the corporation has no intention of providing ‘hyperlocal’ news at postcode level.

David Holdsworth, the BBC acting director of English regions, told an Ofcom conference at the University of Salford yesterday that the broadcaster’s news ambitions were limited to its existing footprint of local websites, TV and radio stations.

But he said the BBC needed to do more to appeal to younger audiences, because its news service was facing a “demographic timebomb”.

Last week, the BBC Trust ruled that the BBC’s plans to provide video clips on its network of 65 local news websites would not be a suitable use of licence fee money, would not extend the reach of BBC News, and could trample on commercial media groups’ attempts to succeed online.

Instead, the corporation has been tasked with finding an alternative way of enhancing its regional news – either through more TV opt-outs in the devolved regions, the launch of more local radio services or a general improvement in the quality of what is already provided.

Holdsworth said: “We face a demographic timebomb. Local radio services from the BBC point of view serve licence fee payers over 60. If you look at the performance of the 6:30pm programmes [on BBC One], the under-45s are largely going missing in the evening.”

The regional newspaper industry was vocal in its campaign against the BBC local video plans.

Some newspaper executives, including Trinity Mirror chief executive Sly Bailey, had also expressed concern about moves by the BBC to provide more map-based, postcode-specific online news coverage – a service already provided by sites such as Trinity Mirror’s hyperlocal Teesside Gazette websites.

“There was never any intention to make BBC services more local,” Holdsworth told delegates.

“There are three markets – there’s a regional market, a local market and there’s hyperlocal. I think that [last area is] a market for weekly newspapers and postcoded websites that newspapers are developing.

“That’s not an area the BBC wants to be in. The limit to our ambitions is local.”

He later added: “There was never any hyperlocal part to our application or our intentions.

“We, like quite a few web providers, are keen to use maps more effectively going forward in the way we present our information. There is no other intention beyond that.”

The £68m that the BBC would have spent on its online video initiative over four years has been returned to central funds. Its use will be decided by the BBC Trust.

Reports emerged today that up to 200 jobs could be lost as a result of the BBC Trust’s decision to turn down the proposal.

In its report, published last Friday, the Trust said: “In the event of non-approval, for staff who would have been transferred to the service from parts of the BBC already being cut under efficiency plans, the executive sets out redundancy and related costs.

“However this figure represents a ‘worst case’ scenario and could be significantly reduced by management actions. The Trust expects the executive to ameliorate these effects as far as possible.”

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