BBC Trust: Online must improve local pages

webgrab The BBC homepage reaches 8.6m unique browsers per week

BBC Online and Red Button deliver "high-quality and distinctive" content, according to a BBC Trust review published on Monday.

But the corporation must improve its search engine, user personalisation, navigation across the BBC website and local offering, especially in news.

The BBC Trust's audience councils said local news was not updated frequently enough and that it was not as strong as BBC Online's coverage of UK and foreign stories.

But in a largely positive review, the Trust said BBC management had made "significant strides" in its online operation, addressing previous flaws in its strategic, editorial and financial oversight, as revealed in a 2008 report.

However the governing body believes there is a "lack of coherence and relationship" between the main sections of BBC Online, known as its 10 "products" - seen at the top of any BBC webpage.

"While audiences value the breadth of the offer, the lack of connections between the different products means the whole service is effectively seen as less than the sum of its parts," says the review.

BBC Online is used every week by an average of 22.4 million adults in the UK, making it the third most-used BBC service after BBC One and BBC Two.

Spending cut

However it has fallen short of its targets for audience reach (65%) and audience appreciation (AI 80+). Weekly reach has grown to 60% among online adults but average AIs dropped to 78, partly due to site relaunches.

Trust recommendations for Online

  • Provide a better local offer
  • Improve pan-site navigation, search engine and click-throughs to external sites
  • Offer more user personalisation
  • Improve audience measurement and share more audience data publicly
  • Further improve financial accountability
  • The Trust supports the better-integrated "one service" aim for BBC Online
  • The Trust will monitor the relaunch of the BBC's Knowledge and Learning product, which includes BBC Food and Bitesize

The review said Online would become an "increasingly central part of the corporation's future" but changes in the digital market could lead to difficulties in gaining prominence on new platforms.

News, iPlayer and Sport were the most popular areas with 20.3m, 14.7m and 13.4m unique browsers per week respectively. The review described them as key to the perception of the BBC website's quality.

Online, which currently has a budget of more than £100m, was also reported to be "on track" to reduce its spend by 25% between 2011 and 2013/14.

A public consultation has been launched about plans to merge the service licences of BBC Online and Red Button, the latter of which reaches a weekly average of 17 million adults, making it the fourth most popular BBC service.

The Trust said RB "faces challenges in meeting audience expectations" given cuts to its broadcast streams. But it supported plans for its successor Connected Red Button, which will link shows with online output.

'Go-to' website

BBC Trustee Suzanna Taverne, who led the review, said: "Website users told us they value BBC Online and trust its news and sport above any other online provider.

"Its ability to provide easy access to exciting content is second to none, as it proved last summer with its hugely successful coverage of the Olympics."

She added the Trust had made recommendations to the BBC executive that "will help the Online offer remain the 'go-to' website for millions of users each day".

A BBC spokesman said: "We are delighted that the report shows these services to be trusted, popular, distinctive and highly valued by audiences."

He added that "work is already underway" to address concerns, especially regarding the local offer, site navigation, search and personalisation.

You can read the BBC Trust review here.

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