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BBC confirms plans to put adverts on International websites

BrandRepublic have published an article which publicly confirms that the BBC is planning on putting advertising on their International-facing (ie non-UK) website at

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LONDON – BBC Worldwide has confirmed that it will launch an advertiser-supported international website,, as soon as the first quarter of next year, one of the first advertising channels to be affiliated with the BBC brand.

The article goes on to speculate that the BBC News Website may carry advertising Internationally too:

The news website does not carry advertising at present. However, some of the BBC’s commercial businesses, including the BBC World television news channel, do take advertising on air and online.

Well, I can confirm that the BBC is indeed investigating the feasibility of putting advertising on the International facing BBC News Website (I should stress that users accessing from the UK would continue to see an advertising-free service).

This study was kicked off whilst I was working at the BBC, and I know there is great concern at all levels of the organisation as to the consequences of a decision being made.

This is not the first time this idea has been raised, but unlike previous times the decision is clearly being made at an executive level only – without staff consultation. Journalists and other staff working on the BBC News Website even sent a petition to Helen Bowden, Head of BBC News.

Staff at all levels of editorial, technical and design are deeply concerned about the issues from taking advertising on the BBC News website. In short, they include:

  • Impact upon the BBC’s reputation of impartiality.
  • Fallout from the “Citizen Journalism” community who tend to prefer to support non-commercial sites over commercial ones.
  • There are no current funding issues staff are aware of
  • Money generated would not return directly to BBC News Website
  • Prevents the BBC from releasing it’s news content under a Creative Commons licence in the (near?) future and/or BBCNewsAPI.

Reputation of impartiality
This is the big one, really. People I meet and talk to about the BBC always comment on it’s neutrality and lack of bias due to it’s independence. Even those who think the BBC is biased often concede that they perceive it to be less biased that it’s competitors because of it’s funding model.

The other issue, closer to home, is the issue of SEO (Search Engine Optimisation). I know that journalists working on other news sites are encouraged (sometimes forced) to write and construct their stories in a way which maximises the advertising return. That’s just plain wrong. And bad.

Citizen journalism
The BBC benefits arguably more than any other news organisation on the Internet from the “Citizen Journalist” community. When breaking news stories happen, people send their camera phone images and eye-witness accounts to the BBC more than any other news provider.

I believe this is, in part, due to the fact that the BBC is non-commercial. The content that they are donating is not being monetized but published purely for the benefit of the audience.

No current funding issues
The BBC News Website operating in the UK is paid for out of the UK TV Licence fee. Any marginal cost for serving the content abroad, and the managing of International news agenda pages, is covered by the BBC World Service (which is funded by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK Government).

I’m not aware of any issues of that funding being removed or reduced (although presumably it would be retracted if the BBC was to take it’s website commercial).

Return on investment
The money generated from the sales of The Office Series 1 and 2 on DVD (and, I guess, the sale of the show format itself to other TV networks) doesn’t go back to BBC Comedy. Instead it goes to BBC Worldwide (the BBC’s separate commercial division).

Where that money goes is often unclear (to both the licence fee payers and the staff) – but it’s not the department that created the content that was monetized. There is no reason to assume that a sudden influx of advertising from the BBC News Website would result in the investment being driven back into the department.

Prevents BBC News being released under Creative Commons
I would like to see a day where the BBC News content is released under a Creative Commons licence (I think many BBC’ers would too!).

This would be in the form of full-content RSS feeds and perhaps even a BBC News API (that’s why I helped to create, basically!)

Whilst CC advocates would argue that you can release content under Creative Commons AND monetize it directly, it’s beyond the comprehension of the business development people at the BBC – and I can’t see them supporting both concepts.

The BBC would be taking a big risk by putting adverts on the site it would therefore be difficult to argue for any content licence changes that prevented the BBC from maximising their new revenue position.

What YOU can do

If you like outside the UK, use the BBC News Website, and are concerned about this then there are a few things you can do. Even if you live in the UK and are concerned about this there are things you can do:

Published in BBC News Website News


  1. They could release it under a CC-BY-SA-ND-NC license surely, and simply waive the NC clause for themselves?

  2. Ben Ben

    Joe: sure of course, but my point is not that the BBC couldn’t do it or that the CC licence was robust enough, but that it would effect their advertising income.

    The key point is the BBC would be taking a big reputation risk by putting advertising on the site and so at that point they wouldn’t want to do anything that might knock that return on investment.

    Giving away the content via CC – esp in RSS feeds on newsreaders would mean some people consuming BBC news just inside their newsreaders and as such circumventing the advertising.

    I think there is a case to be made for releasing content under CC AND being able to monitize it in many instances (esp where the content vendor is niche or trying to gain momentum). But if I’m truely honest I think an existing leading player like the BBC would loose advertising income if it also made the same content available via CC.

    The whole point, however, of my post is that the BBC shouldn’t be in this position in the first place as it shouldn’t be monitizing it’s content in this way.

  3. Why should the BBC release material of any sort, even for non-commercial use, to people who have not paid for it – ie non-UK residents?

    Personally, I don’t give a toss if anyone beyond the UK can even access BBC news. Why should UK license (and tax) payer money go to give anyone else in the world anything for free?

  4. Ben Ben

    Ian, the part of the BBC you are complaining about is not paid for by the licence fee but by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (check this page out for more details.

    For all the money the govenment wastes with our tax, I’m actually pleased it spends a tiny %age of it on the BBC World Service. It’s one of the better ueses of tax payers money IMHO.

    It’s about the distribution of free news to countries that have no free-press (regardless of whether you think the BBC is biased or not, at least it’s a free press). I’m pleased my taxes are going on that.

  5. Ben, where do you think the FCO gets its money from? That’s why I put “and tax” in brackets.

    Now you can argue that the FCO’s grant to the World Service is a good thing, but there’s two points that you’re not thinking about. First, what benefit would the UK government get from the release of material for non-commercial use? The geek audience who care about such things are pitifully small, compared to the larger worldwide audience who just want news that isn’t biased towards their government. Secondly, I’m not convinced that the amount that the FCO pays for internet activities covers the bandwidth costs now, let alone in the future. I’d love to see some figures for that.

    One final point: you claim that “Where that money goes is often unclear (to both the licence fee payers and the staff) – but it’s not the department that created the content that was monetized.” This isn’t actually true. Worldwide acts as co-production partner on many series, which means it funnels money directly to programme makers (and not just BBC ones, either). This, plus profits, added up to 145 million quid in cash flow back to the BBC last year. That’s over 5% of the BBC’s revenue. It doesn’t just stay within Worldwide, you know.

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