BBC: We will share news instead of licence money

The BBC has indicated it is prepared to go to unparalleled lengths to hang on to its £3.2bn annual licence fee by making some of its regional news output available to rival broadcasters and newspapers.

The corporation has told media regulator Ofcom that it is exploring ways of sharing news with other ‘producers, broadcasters, publishers and manufacturers’for ‘repurposing and rebroadcast in ways which support the economics of regional news provision beyond the BBC”.

The implication is that regional newspaper groups, which have complained that they are struggling with the growth of online competition from the BBC and the pressure on advertising revenues, could benefit.

It is also an acknowledgement that it is not just ITV and Channel 4 that have been affected by the explosion of digital broadcasting and new media.

But senior regional editors and executives have rejected the scheme, arguing that it would open the floodgates for potential competitors who could set up rival operations on the cheap at a time when profits were already under severe pressure.

Ian Davies, a director at Archant, said: ‘If you allow ring-fenced funding from the BBC, that somewhat damages the existing market.”

Bob Satchwell of the Society of Editors said: ‘Any partnership has to be a partnership of equals. The BBC needs to reassure that it is in no sense a predatory animal.”

The BBC director-general, Mark Thompson, said this week: ‘Through partnerships we believe there is a great opportunity to leverage the BBC’s advantages in support of the whole industry. It is time to develop a collaborative plan.”

The BBC is also offering to share some of the scientific know-how it has built up in the same way it did with operations such as the Freeview digital broadcasting platform.

And it proposes a much broader view of the shared media than previously considered. For example, it proposes linking up with museums and galleries as well as public service broadcasters throughout the world.

The corporation is offering to pay the cost of developing DAB digital radio, which has been earmarked as an eventual replacement for traditional analogue radio.

In its submission to Ofcom’s long-running review of public service broadcasting, the corporation said: ‘This is not the time to design a radical new system requiring new infrastructure funding and processes.’

ITV and Channel 4 believe the broadcast licence conditions requiring them to make public service television such as children’s programmes, regional news or documentaries will soon start to cost more than the benefits they receive in turn.

Channel 4 has made an outright claim on increased public funding, saying advertising revenues will not allow it to make public service programming unaided.

ITV has said its public service requirements currently cost about £190m a year to fulfil, while the benefits will become less significant as digital switchover approaches in 2012.

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