The BBC Trust could be heading on a collision course with the regional press after demanding that BBC Online shapes up its act when it comes to local and regional coverage.
In 2007/2008 the regional press fought a successful campaign against BBC plans to improve its local news coverage with the creation of new video news teams based around the radio station network. The £68m BBC plan to beef up local video news provision was scrapped in November 2008.
Now improving the BBC’s local online news provision is on the agenda again after a BBC Trust review of online.
The report said:
One area for improvement is the provision of local content, particularly local news. The Trust’s Audience Councils, as well as our audience research and public consultation, suggested that BBC Online’s local offer is not as strong as its UK and international news.
For instance, local news stories are not updated frequently and news coverage is not particularly comprehensive in most localities. In addition, BBC local sites are organised around regions or counties, which are perceived as being too large to be locally relevant.
We have discussed these challenges and the barriers to improvement with BBC management. It has plans to improve the local online offer both technically and editorially.
We support these plans and have asked for them to be developed and implemented speedily, as we believe that they will go some way to addressing this issue without changing the local footprint of the BBC.”
In order to address this, new BBC Local Live modules are proposed which will provide a “more dynamic and updated service”.
It is also proposed that there should be “more effective and accurate tagging of news content so that searching and aggregating locally relevant content will be much easier and possible across the existing boundaries of local sites”.
In general terms, the report provides a rare insight into the enormous reach of BBC News online. The corporation does not routinely release audience figures for its website.
According to the report, BBC News reached some 20.3m unique browsers a week in the UK in December 2012 (versus 14m in the same period two years earlier). The graph below also shows the extent to which mobiles and tablet computers now account for that audience.
This compares with a weekly online reach for the UK's biggest newspaper website – Mail Online – of four million readers in the UK (according to the National Readership Survey figure for 2012 ).
These metrics may well not be directly comparable. ABC does not release a weekly figure for Mail Online, but it estimates the site's UK traffic at 3.3m browsers a day and 41.3m a month.
Overall BBC Online was said to reach some 45.8m unique browsers a week in the UK in December 2012.
BBC Online has a total budget of £109.7m for 2012/2013 versus £134.3m in 2010/2011.
The BBC Online budget for news, sport and weather is £43.9m for 2012/2013 versus £49.2m in 2010/2011.
The report also reveals that the relaunch of BBC News Online in 2010 was not a hit with the audience. It led to a drop in the “appreciation index” from 82 to 74. That figure has since risen to 78 out of 100.