Service review of BBC Online and Red Button


The BBC Trust carries out regular in-depth reviews of each of the BBC's services, as part of its Charter responsibilities. We have looked at every BBC service over the last five years and have now begun our second round of reviews. The first of these covers BBC Online and Red Button..

The Trust sets out what it expects of each service in a published service licence. Our review has three broad aims: first, to assess how well these services are performing against commitments set out in these licences; second, to consider the services’ future direction; and third, to determine whether amendments to the licences are required.

As part of the review we carried out a public consultation at the end of 2012, and received around 1,800 responses from licence fee payers. In addition, we received responses from industry and stakeholder organisations and the Trust's Audience Councils. We also commissioned bespoke quantitative and qualitative audience research to inform our conclusions. This evidence, alongside performance monitoring and financial analysis, has given us a clear picture of these services. Supporting evidence for the review can be found below.

Conclusions and findings

BBC Online

BBC Online is an extremely important part of the BBC’s portfolio and is performing well. It is one of the BBC’s highest reaching services, providing public service content to 22 million people each week. The service is greatly valued and highly rated in terms of quality and distinctiveness. It is a trusted source of news and information and plays a vital role in delivering the BBC’s public purposes.

The service is closely linked with the BBC’s television and radio services. While it spans ten different products, News, Sport and iPlayer are the key drivers of usage and perception, and the most important ways in which the service delivers the BBC’s purposes. The other products have lower levels of use but overall are highly valued by their users. However, we would like BBC management to increase awareness and discoverability of the breadth of BBC Online's content.

Audience behaviour has changed greatly over recent years, driven by growing ownership and use of smartphones and tablets. BBC Online’s four screen strategy – which aims to ensure that audiences can access BBC content across computers, mobiles, tablets and television – has been highly successful. The BBC’s digital offering around the 2012 Olympics was a stunning example of the potential of this strategy.

BBC Online has undergone substantial change since the Trust first reviewed it in 2008 and has made good progress in rationalising its offer and improving its management and operations. It now uses more standardised technologies across the service, enabling more links and integration between products. This allows users to have greater access to the breadth of content available across the service.

For the immediate future, the strategy is in place to continue to meet audience expectations. In the longer term, there are questions to consider about BBC Online and its increasingly important role in the BBC's digital future. The Trust and the Executive will need to work closely together to develop a future vision for a truly digital BBC.

To improve BBC Online we have set out a number of actions, including:

  • BBC management should consider how to improve navigation across BBC Online
  • BBC management should explore opportunities to develop and implement greater personalisation
  • The Trust will assess the success of the relaunched Knowledge & Learning product
  • BBC management should develop plans for BBC Online to provide a better local offer
  • The Trust supports BBC Online becoming a more integrated single service and will monitor progress towards this.

BBC Red Button

The BBC Red Button serves over 17 million people each week. Its users value the day-to-day provision of news and sport headlines, weather and other information. The Red Button can also offer extended coverage of major events such as the Olympics, Wimbledon and Glastonbury, and this feature is highly appreciated.

Due to the reduction in capacity on some digital TV platforms, the Red Button may struggle to meet audience expectations of providing extended events coverage on those platforms. However, we are confident it will remain an important service for licence fee payers and will increasingly be a gateway to access BBC Online content. We support the development of the Connected Red Button, which provides content via the internet – it is already available in some Virgin Media homes.

Full report

Supporting evidence

Supporting evidence for the review, which includes an audience research report, submissions from the BBC's Audience Councils, and a summary of the public consultation responses, can be found here.

Public consultation on merged service licence of BBC Online and Red Button

The Trust's service review of BBC Online and Red Button concluded that the service licences for these services should be merged, subject to the outcome of a consultation.

We carried out a public consultation on the proposed merger of the BBC Online and Red Button service licences during summer 2013. We received two organisational responses to the consultation, which we have published here.

Responses to the public consultation did not raise any reason why the licences should not be combined. We have therefore concluded it is right to merge the service licences of BBC Online and Red Button. We have published a combined service licence for BBC Online and Red Button.

This combined service licence is a change to the governance of the services, and does not reflect any actual changes to the content that these services offer.

Conclusions on public consultation on BBC Trust governance of BBC Online and Red Button via merged service licence.