The BBC’s strategic review has created a lot of fuss – especially around the closure of 6 Music and the supposed “halving” of its website.

To save you having to read the review, here’s what it actually says about the BBC’s online presence (and given the amount of confusing repetition in the report, I should be given a medal for saving you having to read it – can I suggest getting some more editors for the next strategic review?)

Focusing the BBC online

Of course, the report starts by reaffirming the importance of the site:

The BBC website had 29.5m UK unique users on average per week
in January 2010, up from 13.7m in January 2006—with the service
now reaching 54% of adult internet users in a week.”

What it won’t do

The review then says that BBC Online will exclude a series of activities:

  • It won’t do web search (it won’t be Google.)
  • There will be no BBC branded email or instant messaging system (it won’t be Yahoo.)
  • It will not create standalone social networking sites (it won’t be Twitter). Any social propositions on the BBC site will be there only to aid engagement with BBC content, and will “work with external social networks”.
  • It won’t create specialist content (it won’t be a B2B publisher).
  • In local online, it won’t stray outside of news, sport, travel, weather and local knowledge – “where ‘local knowledge’ means supporting BBC initiatives such as Coast
    and A History of the World in 100 Objects”. (It won’t do listings or local guides).

What it will concentrate on

BBC will create only high quality and distinctive online content, such
as “an impartial news service free at the point of delivery or a
children’s website free of advertising and in an environment that
parents can trust”.

The quality-first strategy for online means that:

online content should feel justified and purposeful: not extraneous or
encyclopaedic, but within a distinct editorial purpose. This commitment
will be backed with a new, tighter system of performance management
requiring the routine ‘weeding’ of the site and the placing of its
remaining content into fewer, better organised categories.”

There will be far fewer bespoke programme websites and new investment will be in pursuit of the five content priorities:

  • The best journalism in the world.
  • Inspiring knowledge, music and culture.
  • Ambitious UK drama and comedy.
  • Outstanding children’s content..
  • Events that bring communities and the nation together.

Changes to the site’s structure

This focus will meant some structural changes:

  • The number of sections on the site (described as “top-level directories in the form”) will halve by 2012. (This isn’t quite the same as halving the size of the site, as was widely reported.). The overall quality will be improved by closing lower-performing sites and consolidating the rest.
  • Some sites will close such as: Celebdaq, Sportdaq, Nature’s top 40, Last millionaire, Jamie kane, BBC partners, Open Weekend, Acting up, and Am I Freak (I’m surprised the Mail haven’t got hold of that one: “Cartoons for teenagers about vaginas, periods and willy worries.”)
  • Some ‘mothballed’ sites will close, such as: Amazing Mrs Pritchard, Street Doctor, Key Skills, Strictly Dance Fever, Film Festival, and Underdog Show.
  • Programme sites will be consolidated under a smaller number of recognisable categories, such as Nature, History and Drama.
  • It will axe generic content such
    as the recipe finder and film content, focusing on areas where the BBC has added
    distinctive editorial value

Opening up its content

The BBC also plans to open up its
programme library (outside the areas with high commercial value) “over
time” within BBC Online as a publicly accessible ‘permanent collection’.

The review says it will make programmes available on demand
“alongside the component parts of those programmes (segmentation),
programme information (full catalogue) and additional, complementary
content (programme support”. And the site will look to deliver
audiences through propositions like the BBC’s Wildlife Finder “which
maximise the public value of archive programming”.

Other commitments

The BBC has also resolved to spend 25% less on the site per year by 2013: “with a corresponding reduction in staffing levels—also reflecting the growing maturity and commoditisation of web design and technology.”

And it’s pledged to “turn the site into a window on the web” by providing at least one external link on every page and doubling monthly ‘click-throughs’ to external sites: “making the best of what is available elsewhere online an integral part of the BBC’s offer to audiences”.

What the five content priorities mean for online

The best journalism in the world

BBC News Online
will “focus its specialist analysis and interpretation on a generalist,
not specialist, audience”. Entertainment news will “reflect a more
serious, concise agenda with stronger coverage of the media industry,
culture and the arts”:

“News Online will remain a highly accurate, impartial and trustworthy source of news, analysis, background information and debate about stories of significance and seriousness. It will always be free at the point of use, free of advertising and other commercial messages, and available at home and on the move.”

Inspiring knowledge, music and culture:

“Online, the focus will be on showcasing the best of the BBC’s knowledge output, with many existing sites being merged and consolidated into a stronger offer (e.g., in Nature). Music online will aim to deepen the impact of major events (e.g., Proms, Glastonbury), guide users to the best of BBC on-air music output and provide additional context and links to the wider web.”

Ambitious UK drama and comedy

“Online, the BBC will reduce the number of bespoke programme websites, relying more on automated programme pages. Where it does invest, it will do so only for high-quality shows with real audience impact.”

Outstanding children’s content

“Increase the focus of the children’s websites on a smaller number of higher-impact propositions and reduce the volume of programme websites.”

Events that bring communities and the nation together

“The BBC will continue to play a valuable role in deepening the impact of big events through BBC Online, often providing a rich range of additional content for audiences to explore (e.g., Glastonbury, Children in Need). Online will also be the primary platform for coverage of Olympic sports in the run-up to 2012, as well as providing an archival legacy beyond the Games.”

Using online properly

The review says “this sustained focus on high-quality content will involve new forms of digital and online creativity … providing audiences with the wider benefits that the internet can offer rather than simply supporting other platforms.” It cites the new online political portal Democracy Live as a good example of this:

“bringing together live and on-demand coverage of all of the UK’s political institutions and the European Parliament. Its video-rich system includes a ‘speech-to-text’ technology which allows users to search and skip to the actual words spoken in a video, delivering a new ability to research, scrutinise and document the democratic process.“

Have your say

Of course, for now all these plans are just suggestions – they’re subject to review by the BBC Trust. You can have your say here.