The BBC has pulled the plug on a controversial ad-funded website that its rivals complained was an example of the corporation’s “aggressive” commercial ambitions.
BBCGreen.com – described by the corporation as a “passion site” – acted as a portal for the BBC’s science and environmental programming and provided information and advice on how to be more green.
It was operated by the BBC’s commercial arm, BBC Worldwide, and employed five staff – four of whom have been made redundant as a result of today’s closure.
BBC Green was criticised by commercial media groups including the Guardian Media Group, which today welcomed the closure and hoped this would set a precedent and put a halt to BBC Worldwide’s “aggressive expansion”.
Giving evidence to the media select committee last year, GMG chief executive Carolyn McCall said the market for environment websites was already well served by the New Scientist, The Guardian, The Times, The Telegraph and a “whole range” of other sites.
“When they talk about Top Gear as a passion site or Good Food as a passion site, OK, it is competitive but we can live with that,” she told MPs.
“When they start talking about BBC Green as a passion site – they do not have a programme called BBC Green. They are saying: We are going to create a new brand.”
McCall added: “You just wonder why the BBC is being allowed to go into something called BBC Green purely to make a commercial risk.
“It is risking licence fee money, which they could be reinvesting in something like original and distinctive programming, and they are distorting the market for commercial players because they can cross-promote, they can do a magazine and do all of this other activity. That for us is a massive concern.”
A BBC Worldwide spokeswoman told Press Gazette that the decision to close the site was a “completely commercial decision”.
She said that the company always tried to find alternative jobs for affected staff. On this occasion, one of the BBC Green staff had been redeployed but the other four had left.
BBCGreen.com stopped being updated late last year and was taken down this morning.
“We’re a commercial arm of the BBC. We have to look at our portfolio at times, especially with ad-funded services,” the spokeswoman told Press Gazette.
“We’ve got a very successful suite of websites that we’ve been putting a huge amount of work in to.”
She added: “BBC Green supported BBC content about the environment and science from across TV, radio and web services.
“BBC Worldwide has used ‘umbrella brands’ in this way for more than 20 years to bring together a range of related BBC content.
“BBC Good Food is a great example of an established umbrella brand where we have done just that – and benefited consumers who want to feed their ‘passions’ with additional information.”
A Guardian Media Group spokesman said: “GMG has argued that BBC Worldwide should not be allowed to launch sites such as BBC Green – which have no connection to existing programming – because they have the potential to distort the market and compete unfairly with commercial players.
“We have pursued this directly with the BBC and via the recent culture, media and sport select committee inquiry into BBC Worldwide, so we welcome the decision to close the site.
“We hope this sets a precedent and that Worldwide halts its aggressive expansion into such areas – including the launch of any further ‘passion sites’ unconnected to current programming.”
The Commons culture, media and sport select committee is due to publish its report on the BBC’s commercial activities shortly. The BBC Trust is also looking into the role of BBC Worldwide.
BBC Worldwide’s activities are governed by the corporation’s fair trading guidelines.