Mark Thompson: BBC's commercial activity should not distort its mission

BBC director general Mark Thompson has used a comment piece in The Guardian today to explain why the BBC is set to retreat from digital and curb its spread into the commercial sector.

A BBC report due to be announced at 11am today, but leaked to The Times last week, is set to call for the BBC to sell off its magazines business and cut down the size of its website.

Thompson writes in The Guardian: “The BBC should concentrate more than ever on being a creator of quality. It should focus even more than it does today on forms of content that most clearly build public value and that are most at risk of being ignored or facing underinvestment…

“Given the convergence of technologies, the BBC’s limits need to be demonstrably based on its public purposes and to be spelled out.

“Clearly the BBC needs the space to evolve as audiences and technologies develop, but it must be far more explicit than in the past about what it will not do. Its commercial activity should help fund and actively support the BBC’s public mission, and never distort or supplant that mission.”

Thompson faces an impossible job. The BBC is doomed to irrelevance if it doesn’t spread out into areas which keep it in touch with the majority of its fragmenting audience – but it faces potentially fatal pressure from commercial sector players if in doing so it undermines their business models.

Focusing more sharply in content that it is in the public interest is all very well. But the BBC may well find that the public aren’t interested in it. More on this story on the main Press Gazette site from 11am.

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