Scared of popularity 

29 May 2008 tbs.pm/906

BBC Trust to scrutinise ‘distinctiveness’ of BBC’s digital ambitions

This is a tricky issue which may never be resolved to the true satisfaction of the BBC’s commercial competitors, namely in respect to having a new series of controls to prevent a theoretical danger in relation to the BBC’s online services.

Take the example of local news; a subject that’s been a bone of contention for a long time. It’s entirely plausible that if the BBC offers a good online local news service for a particular area then that service may end up being by far the most popular news website for that area thereby stealing potential visitors from a competing local news site.

However some of these competing sites are fairly abysmal in quality presumably because they may wish to protect their existing newsprint interests, namely if everyone started to use the website instead nobody would bother buying printed copies, and this is already happening in many cases regardless of the quality of the website(s).

Or alternatively their commercial owner(s) may lack the resources to provide other media such as audio and video on a regular basis. Then there are the other commercial operators such as the ITV Local initiative as well as the even bigger threats of Google, Microsoft and Yahoo, etc., to contend with.

So should the BBC back off providing a service in a particular online area in deference to a commercial competitor who ends up providing a relatively poor alternative in order to protect established interests? These and other issues will be more than enough to keep the BBC Trust busy for quite some time.