BBC plan to put 150 new camera teams on local news

The BBC has come up with new plans for local online video news in its 60 regional centres.

BBC management is to submit the plan to the BBC Trust for approval next month, the corporation’s in-house magazine Ariel reported this week.

The plan would see existing BBC Local websites augmented with up to 20 minutes worth of video each day produced by local teams of journalists. After the five-year rollout, the plan would lead to 150 new BBC camera teams in the field.

According to Ariel, the plan represents an investment of £68 million over the next five years across the corporation’s 60 regional centres.

The proposed service would be paid for out of efficiency savings and would aim to serve under served licence fee payers, particularly younger audiences.

The corporation’s plans for local video news online or on television have long been controversial, with regional newspaper publishers arguing that the influx of licence-fee funded regional video journalists would undermine their own efforts to establish online multimedia news-gathering on a commercial basis.

Regional newspaper groups reacted angrily in January when a prototype of the new local BBC websites was revealed. The site showed that the BBC Local service would include a map-based navigation system and local news presented in text, audio and video formats. The sites were said to encourage user-generated content and “e-democracy” elements to enable people to research politicians and political parties in their area.

Yesterday, Trinity Mirror chief executive Sly Bailey told a House of Lords committee that the BBC plan could distort the market at the expense of the newspaper industry.

‘Our concern is that if the BBC moves online ever more locally, they – without the same kind of commercial constraints as us – will distort those markets making it much more difficult for us to enter,’she told the House of Lords Communications Committee.

“We are very big supporters of the BBC. But we must not allow the BBC to distort these embryonic markets.”

The BBC first announced proposals to launch around 60 “ultra-local” digital news and information services across the country available via satellite, cable and broadband in 2005. Following a £3 million, nine-month trial in the West Midlands, this original plan was scrapped due to the smaller than expected licence fee settlement.

In its place, BBC management proposed an online service organised around the BBC’s existing local radio network.

BBC director general Mark Thompson told the House of Lords committee of the new plans last December. At the time, Thompson said the local radio stations usually cover much larger areas than regional newspapers.

‘We would expect our services to link and complement local newspaper websites,’he told the peers.

A full report on the new BBC plan appears in this week’s Press Gazette magazine.

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