BBC Trust chairman Sir Michael Lyons has said he ‘personally hopes’ that the scrapping of the BBC’s online local video initiative will ‘sustain and improve’ the regional press.
The BBC’s sovereign body today ruled that the proposed network of 65 local video websites would not be an appropriate use of licence fee money at a time when the BBC is tightening its belt.
It also found in its research that audiences preferred that the BBC improve the quality of its existing TV and radio news before embarking on a new project.
BBC Trust chairman Sir Michael Lyons told reporters today: “The public made it clear to us their wish to make the BBC work harder for them locally.
“The evidence shows that a new local video service producing around 240,000 items of content each year and costing £68m over four years is simply not the answer.”
He said the Trust’s message to the commercial media groups who opposed the BBC plans was “straight-forward”.
“For the foreseeable future, BBC management must drop its plans to expand its online services as outlined in this application,” he said.
“Instead the Trust has requested management to increase the quality of its existing television and radio services.
“Local newspapers and other commercial media have the assurance they need that the BBC does not intend to make this intervention in the market.
“They can therefore sustain and improve their offering to the public secure in this knowledge and I personally hope that they will do just that.”
BBC trustee Diane Coyle said local video, in theory, could have been a “potentially powerful” service from the BBC.
“Most people react positively to the idea that the BBC is spending more money and resources where they live,” she said.
“But audiences have varying expectations of what they mean by local and when they understood the proposal in more detail they reacted quite differently to it.
“While the broad context of more local coverage appeals, there were concerns it could be too parochial.”
She also said the Trust had found from its research that the service would have had a limited appeal on young people and its reach would have been limited to those who are already consumers of BBC News.
“While local video had some potential to deliver public value we felt it didn’t represent an efficient use of licence fee funds, especially at a time when the BBC is facing financial pressures,” Coyle added.