BBC Online - Putting Quality First
In its initial conclusions on strategy review, the BBC Trust said they "endorsed" the proposed budget reduction for the service, but wanted to "understand and approve the editorial changes involved".This work has now begun, so while I'm not able to outline changes in precise detail today, I hope this gives a sense of where we intend to take BBC Online as a whole.
I'm proud of what this organisation has created online. One of the first "traditional" media companies to embrace the web, I continue to be impressed with its ability to innovate and BBC websites such as News, Sport, iPlayer and others are highly valued by our audiences.
But the service as a whole has sprawled. In striving to stay relevant, we have sometimes not been clear enough about our limits and boundaries. We're getting a better sense of what BBC Online should be for and I believe it's possible to make the service better with less.
Many of you will be familiar with the headlines of the Strategy Review. By 2013, we propose a BBC Online that:
• Does fewer things better, against the BBC's five editorial priorities
• Has half the number of top-level directories (i.e. /sitename) down from the 400 we have today to 200
• Costs 25% less (i.e. the BBC Online Service Licence for 2010/11 is £135m - we intend to cut spend to £100m)
• Will send double the traffic we currently do to other websites, helping the broader UK digital economy
While it's natural that people focus on the 25% and which directories will go it's worth noting that this strategy is not called "Retreating From the Web" or "Cutting BBC Online". This is because the web is an important part of our future.
Today, around 70% of UK homes have broadband and we expect this number to rise to 90% by 2012. So in just two years the internet will have taken its place as the nation's third medium, available in almost as many homes as TV and radio.
Beyond the home computer, mobiles are already the primary point of web access for many people. With innovation from companies such as Apple, Google, Sky, Virgin, Project Canvas (in which the BBC is set to become a shareholder) and others - this may soon be true for the TV set.
As a public service media company, it's essential that we move with our audiences, but while we reach 84% of the population on TV and 73% on radio, our online reach lags behind at just 54%. Continued sprawl is not the answer; we need a focused service that gives audiences the content and services they want at their fingertips, meets our public purposes in the digital age and leaves space for others to thrive.
From building websites to managing products
The image below gives you an idea of what we are trying to achieve.
BBC Online started with text-based journalism on the web - similar to the service on Ceefax. Then, as the web began to mature, new media budgets were given to the BBC's divisions to go and build websites that aimed to meet our public purposes online - but with no central strategy.
Our first major change will be a shift from "building websites" to "managing products".
First I want to explain what we consider to be a "product". It's a self-contained entity within BBC Online, which unites technology and editorial to meet a clearly defined audience need. Each product has a simple and concise proposition that's easily understood by the audience, is kept up to date, fits the overall strategy for BBC Online and has clear editorial leadership.
It's a strategic approach for the service as a whole - framed by what our audiences need from the web, rather than what we produce today for TV and radio - a change in culture for BBC Online.
Audiences will see products organised into five content areas (portfolios) supported by a common technical platform.
Powerful functionality to help audiences find great content and services
Before I talk about the proposed portfolios, a word on what's going to be common across the site.
While the homepage provides an overview of what the BBC does, most people don't come through our front door. In addition to search, navigation, and consistent design, social functionality through BBC iD can harness the power of recommendation on networks outside the BBC.
Underpinning all of this, we'll have a common technology platform powering the whole service delivering economies of scale and cost-saving technologies such as programme-page automation.
The platform allows the service to be location-aware, providing the right content in the right language to users across the UK and globally. Dynamic content publishing makes it simple and cost-effective to repurpose content for use in mobile or TV applications and world-class accessibility features aim to build on the pioneering work the team has done to bring subtitles to BBC iPlayer.
Finally, the platform houses the BBC's rich archive content: video and radio programmes, the written archive, programme information and more can be stored and in time be made available through all the product portfolios. This is a major project that will take years to complete, but we are putting the building blocks in place now.
A commitment to deliver the best online journalism in the world
The first proposed product portfolio is News, Sport and Weather. BBC journalism stands for quality, impartiality, accuracy and distinctiveness - a major reason why the BBC as a whole is one of the most trusted and respected organisations in the world.
News, Sport and Weather will remain a cornerstone of the BBC's web offer, partly because the immediacy of the web lends itself well to journalism. Each will remain pillars of BBC Online, delivering the best journalism in the world for the UK and in national and global editions.
As video on the web comes of age, we intend to further enrich our web journalism with audio-visual content - drawing on our strengths in broadcasting. Already we're making progress here with the recently redesigned BBC News site and the BBC News smartphone application.
But our News, Sport & Weather products need to do a better job of sending traffic elsewhere, both internally (e.g. sending sports journalism to BBC Radio 5 Live or weather forecasts to science & nature) and beyond. Already the BBC is the second biggest referrer of traffic to online newspapers, something we want to do even better.
And sport will make a major contribution to our fifth editorial priority - major events that bring the nation and communities together. We're committed to creating compelling editorial partnerships for London 2012, and beyond.
Outstanding children's content in a safe online environment
Providing outstanding children's content is another of the BBC's five editorial priorities and we will continue to deliver this in a safe, social environment.
As we recently announced, our FM&T product team will be joining BBC Children's in a new digital hub in Salford. The CBeebies and CBBC brands have been a huge success, and our online proposition will build stronger bridges between the two. BBC Children's will use their unique knowledge of this audience to provide links to other BBC content such as news and learning.
As children enter BBC Online through an environment familiar to them, they can quickly access a broader range of content to expand their horizons.
Knowledge & Learning to become a cornerstone of a new-look service
Despite the internet's roots as an information tool, the BBC has been a pioneer in online knowledge and learning. We have developed compelling online content for learners and teachers, and created some well-known online learning brands (such as Bitesize) in the process.
This new portfolio aims to replicate the success of News, Sport & Weather. We intend to enhance informal learning by creating a mix of original and archive knowledge content, focused on key areas of BBC expertise - and create distinctive formal learning propositions for two age groups: under and over 19s.
By bringing these two important areas together, presenting them clearly and coherently, and making the content easier to find and navigate to from elsewhere in the site, we intend to make knowledge and learning another cornerstone of the reshaped BBC Online.
Bringing radio & music together in one portfolio
Our Audio & Music division has been incredibly innovative in embracing emerging digital technologies, such as podcasts, live online listening, and creating an in-depth music offer, many music events websites and rich radio network websites.
But BBC radio and music online remains highly fragmented and the audience doesn't move between websites as much as we'd like, or to elsewhere in BBC Online.
We intend to bring together all BBC radio and music - including network, local and nations, news, events and archive - in one coherent online package. And true to the live and interactive principles of radio, we'll focus on social media to interact with our audience in real-time.
Harnessing the passion and knowledge of BBC experts, our aim is to continue as a music tastemaker and become a hub for online music discovery - but with strong integration with Radioplayer, internal linking, and links to external music sites to broaden horizons.
A coherent TV proposition, to build on the success of BBC iPlayer
The BBC iPlayer has been a great success for the BBC, making online video consumption a mainstream activity for millions of people. At first a TV catch-up service, it's evolved into an online product for live and on-demand BBC radio and TV content.
But as in radio and music, the journeys for audiences looking for video content can be confusing, with multiple entry points through automated programme pages, the archive site, bespoke channel and programme sites, drama and comedy and the BBC iPlayer itself.
We intend to create a coherent TV & BBC iPlayer proposition, pulling all these TV propositions together, optimised to help audiences find, watch, share, and interact around our TV-related output.
Not only will this new-look portfolio be richly interconnected with BBC Online's other four product portfolios, but we'll be sending traffic to services outside the BBC through the metadata partnerships announced at the launch of the new BBC iPlayer beta in May.
Broadening audiences' horizons - aiding content discovery beyond the BBC
One of the wonders of the web is its ability to inform, educate and entertain every person in the world, right down to the exact specific interests they have. It truly is a platform that can be customised for anyone.
But the BBC cannot and should not do everything.
In news, rival media outlets will take a different editorial position on the news agenda. There's an inherent public service in highlighting these other points of view.
Other cultural institutions, such as the British Museum and British Library have rich and different web content than we are able to provide, and equally, there's little value in the BBC duplicating the public service information on offer elsewhere. We can work together to create compelling public service partnerships.
Collectively, these new portfolios would combine to create a far more focussed, smaller, higher-quality BBC Online that will serve our audiences well, leave plenty of room for others and double the traffic we send externally by 2013.
Today, I've updated the BBC staff on our intentions for the service. By properly harnessing the incredible talent we have in this organisation, I believe we can make BBC Online an even better service for our audiences, and spend less in the process.
Erik Huggers is Director of BBC Future Media & Technology