The move will mean a cull of around 200 websites, the loss of 360 jobs between now and 2013, the replacement of the majority of programme websites with automated content and the ‘automation’ of bespoke digital radio sites 1Xtra, 5 Live sports extra, 6 Music and Radio 7, fewer blogs, less sports news, local sites will no longer publish non-news features content, expect less live sport and showbusiness news off the Corporation in cyberspace – I think you get the picture.
The BBC says the change will be painful, but in that way public institutions are trying to be, it’s looking on the bright side, or trying to at least.
"BBC Online is a huge success, but our vast portfolio of websites means we sometimes fall short of expectation," said the Beeb’s director general, Mark Thompson, commenting on the planned changes. "A refocusing on our editorial priorities, a commitment to the highest quality standards and a more streamlined and collegiate way of working will help us transform BBC Online for the future."
All in all, the plans are being positioned as part of the BBC’s cost-cutting measures to make 20% savings as a result of the licence fee settlement (ahem, as in "We won’t give you any more, so that’s settled").
Some observations. One, a lot of people, including those I like and trust and break bread with, viscerally hate the BBC. They see it as a bloated cartel, over-funded, too Left-wing, with too much influence, etc. Others, not all of whom work for Murdoch, don’t go so far but still think it’s had an unfair leg-up when it comes to online content and market position creation.
Two, I’ve never heard of half the things that will pass away, gently or not, into That Good Night. What the heck is Switch and Blast and 606? Teen and social networking sites that patently a man who can remember Jim Callaghan as PM shouldn’t know about. Same goes for "skills website RAW," "documentary website Video Nation" and "community site h2g2".
And the fact that some re-organisation will be carried out, like rolling forums, communities and message-boards together and rationalising them/integrating them social network tools, is probably not a bad thing.
Editorial focus going on "high-quality news," linked to clearer local sites on news, sport, weather and travel and creative spaces for children and a new iPlayer platform more about bringing together programming and programming information with archive content would be great. (Try and find a Radio 4 programme you like on iPlayer. You can’t, right?)
But Jeez – 25%? In a time when we are regularly told by Number 10 that our future is digital and creative, not metal or City-based?
I hope that the 360 who leave will get better jobs elsewhere and start their own things. But I do rather think their contribution could have been just as valuable inside a unified and coherent effort at quality online broadcasting.
Our children will need the BBC in a way that will be much greater than our own reliance on Play School and Blue Peter to start enabling us to get a handle on a very, very complex world.
I’d pay a bit more for that – and I don’t recall when the government gave me a chance to tell it so.
By the way, that mysterious h2g2? It’s a site many of us in ICT would actually smile with pleasure when we found it; for it started as the home for all things Hitchhiker’s Guide online but is now a lot, lot more.
Glad to see it go, are you? Thought not.