BBC Trust rejects local web video plans

The BBC’s plans to launch a £68m web-based local video service have been turned down by the BBC Trust, the corporation’s governing body.

The Trust ruled today that the proposed service, which would have been based on the BBC’s network of local radio websites, could have had a ‘negative impact’on commercial media services that are ‘already under pressure”.

The local video service would have cost £68m over four years and would have created 300 journalists’ jobs, according to the BBC.

The Trust carried out a public value test which found that the proposal ‘would not extend the BBC’s reach to those audiences it is not serving very well”.

It also concluded that the number of people who were likely to use the new service did not justify the investment at a time when the financial pressures placed on the BBC have increased.

BBC Trust chairman Sir Michael Lyons said in a statement this morning: ‘It is clear from the evidence that, although licence fee-payers want better regional and local services from the BBC, this proposal is unlikely to achieve what they want.

‘We also recognise the negative impact that the local video proposition could have on commercial media services which are valued by the public and are already under pressure.

“We believe the BBC’s priority should be improving the quality of existing services. The public wants better quality regional television news programmes and more programmes of all kinds produced in and reflecting their areas.

‘We would expect BBC management to consider carefully the conclusions of this public value test before returning to us with new proposals.

‘Our decision today to refuse permission for local video means that local newspapers and other commercial media can invest in their online services in the knowledge that the BBC does not intend to make this new intervention in the market.”

The Trust also ruled that the £68m that would have been invested in the service be taken out of the BBC Nations and Regions budget and returned to the corporation’s central funds.

Today’s decision is now open to a further public consultation until 5 January. A final decision will then be published by the end of February.

The first round of consultation prompted a series of responses from commercial media groups including Trinity Mirror, Bauer, commercial radio trade body Radiocentre and the Newspaper Society, which lobbies on behalf of the regional press.

They argued that the presence of the BBC would crush their nascent online video attempts, distort the market and cut off a potential source of revenue.

The BBC’s proposals were already a stripped-down version of an ultra-local web TV pilot in the West Midlands in 2005. The corporation had offered to limit the number of videos published by the sites on any given day and stay within the core public service remit of providing news, sport and entertainment.

Editor’s comment The regional press has been thrown a lifeline, don’t waste it.

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