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BBC confirms cuts, but Canvas 'vital'

March 3, 2010

The BBC has confirmed most of the details leaked about its strategic review. Its recommendations are now subject to public comment and approval by the BBC Trust.

As expected headlines were grabbed by the proposed closure of DAB radio stations for the Asian community and BBC 6, the 'specialist' music station, both of which had marginal audiences. However, far more significant are commitments to limit or cut spending in specific areas: foreign show acquisition will be cut, there will be an absolute limit (£300m, E332m) on sports rights spending and there will be £100 million cut from overhead; a tacit acceptance of criticism that BBC management is overcomplicated, overmanned and overpaid.

The biggest commitment of all is to cut the number of web pages by half and cut online budgets by 25 per cent. Although no targets have been set, the BBC seems to accept warnings that it is damaging commercial players, particularly at the local level.

Neither iPlayer nor Canvas are mentioned in terms of cuts and the BBC sees them as vital to distribute its more highly invested content. Mark Thompson, DG, said “In terms of the Web, Canvas has an important role; one day the web may the only platform for all the BBC's services.”

However, the new 'respect' for commercial rivals concerns means it would be hard for the BBC to participate in any pay operations online, at least as long as it is getting a licence fee at anything like the current level.

The BBC's own commercial operations are to be ever more internationally focused and a sell-off of UK 'old media', like the magazine operation, is likely. There is no mention of selling BBC Worldwide as a whole.

The result of all this is said to be ultimately about £600 million of new spending available for content, or about 17 per cent of £3.4 billion licence fee income. However, far more significant long term is the BBC's admission that, for the first time ever, just because a new medium, or new delivery system, is available, it doesn't have to get involved and, thereby, because of its brand and reach, come to dominate it. The interesting question is now the 'public interest' test has actually been acted on, rather than paid lip service, what will be next under the microscope?

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