BBC signals new strategy after commercial criticism

Tue Mar 2, 2010 10:42am EST
 
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By Kate Holton

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain's state-backed public broadcaster the BBC signaled a retreat from some commercial operations to focus on core services, bowing to pressure from rivals and ahead of an election all about spending cuts.

The announcement on Tuesday follows an increasingly public spat between the group, some competitors and legislators who accuse the broadcaster of unnecessary expansion at a time when commercial firms are struggling in the downturn.

"It's not about size or scope, it's about what the BBC is for," Director General Mark Thompson told an FT conference. "We can't do everything."

The BBC said it proposed to cut two niche but popular radio stations, slash the budget for its website and put a cap on popular programing including sports and foreign imports such as the American series "The Wire" and "Mad Men."

"This is the first time that the BBC has withdrawn voluntarily from doing anything in their history," broadcaster and media consultant Steve Hewlett told Reuters.

The corporation said it aimed to redirect around 600 million pounds ($893.8 million) into higher quality content such as its journalism, UK drama and comedy. Commercial rivals such as ITV and Channel 4 could then be left to bid for sports or U.S. drama.

But the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) described the move as a weak bid to take the sting out of a growing row. Other industry insiders pointed out that the BBC was not getting any smaller and would remain as competitive as ever.

"These plans smack of an attempt to appease commercial and political interests," NUJ General Secretary Jeremy Dear said. "Hard-working staff shouldn't be used as a political football.   Continued...