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Fifteen years of BBC Online

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Ralph Rivera Ralph Rivera | 09:50 UK time, Wednesday, 12 December 2012

This week marks an important anniversary for the BBC, online. Fifteen years ago bbc.co.uk first went live to the public and BBC Online was born.

I'm Ralph Rivera the Director of Future Media at the BBC and I wanted to look back at history of the BBC's websites and tell you a bit more about what this anniversary means to us.

Innovation is at the heart of the BBC and has been since its inception. From when the BBC opened its first radio station in 1922 and launched the world's first regular television service in 1936 few could have imagined just what impact broadcasting would make on our everyday lives.

Whether it's stereo FM, the BBC online, digital TV, HDTV, or 3DTV innovation has driven the BBC from the start. A few of my colleagues and I tried to sum up how we feel about innovation here at the BBC in the following video.

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Innovation at the BBC

Just as radio and TV did before it, the digital revolution has fundamentally changed how our audiences access news, information and programmes.

As one of the first major organisations in the UK to embrace the web the birth of the BBC's websites 15 years ago is an important milestone in that evolution.

Our first web pages were developed from 1994 onwards as chronologued by Brandon Butterworth , but it wasn't until December 1997 that bbc.co.uk was officially launched.

Since this first online gateway in to the BBC we have continued to innovate at the cutting edge of web design and development.

From the BBC News, Sport and Weather sites to the launch of BBC iPlayer on Christmas day in 2007, the vast majority of the BBC's content and programmes are now available for our audiences to access when they want, wherever they are, on four screens - the PC, mobile, tablet and internet connected TV.

We've seen major growth in our online audience over this time going from 3.9 million UK adults per week in September 2002 to 22.7 million UK adults per week a decade later in September 2012 with an ever increasing number accessing our services via non-PC devices.

Last week we surveyed a representative sample of 9,200 BBC website users and asked them to choose from the top moments over the past 15 years of BBC Online.

Of those surveyed 50% said their top moment was the launch of BBC iPlayer, 15% chose the launch of the BBC website in 1997, 8% said the BBC's first truly digital Olympics at the London 2012 Games this summer and 5% the launch of websites for children of all different ages - Cbeebies and CBBC.

In 15 short years our websites are now at the heart of BBC broadcasting and have fundamentally changed news gathering and distribution, programme research and production and how our audiences share, interact, engage and get immersed in BBC content.

The pace of change is rapid - looking back just five years smartphones were in their infancy, there were no apps, tablets or internet-connected TVs - and part of the role of the BBC is to innovate at scale and bring the audience with us as the internet and digital platforms develop.

Just as the Queen's coronation in 1953 brought TV to mainstream audiences, the London 2012 Olympic Games this summer brought digital to audiences across the UK and around the world and set a new benchmark for innovation.

This is now the starting point from which we'll build in 2013 and beyond. We're looking ahead at an extremely exciting future just as we mark a milestone in our past.

I'd love to hear your thoughts and memories from the past 15 years in the comments on this blog and hear about where you think we may go in the future.

More information on the 15th anniversary of the BBC's websites is available at the following links.

- History of the BBC.
- Interview with John Birt on the early days of online, and the decision to launch the BBC's websites.
- A gallery and timeline from BBC News Online with key moments from the history of the site.
- An overview of links and videos marking 15 years of the BBC's websites.

Ralph Rivera is the Director of BBC Future Media.


  • Comment number 1.

    This thread's been here since 1244 I deduce, and I'm one of the few to comment.

    I'm not sure that the passage of any given interval of time, by itself, in relation to any entity, makes much of a topic.

    It seems I'm perhaps not alone.

  • Comment number 2.

    been here since the beginning, a major milestone. my first memory of tv was Winston Churchill's funeral, my lasting memories of the net are bbc online, digital banking, wikipedia and i player, thank you, bbc, for the wealth of easily accessible knowledge you give us and a mainly enjoyable web experience

  • Comment number 3.

    Somewhat disappointing to see not so much as a nod to the innovation and creativity that preceded BBC Online when John Birt's first thought was to create a commercial online service that became beeb.com. You can't wipe out the fact that from 1996 beeb.com was the only way to access BBC programmes online. We produced supporting content for many programmes for the first time including Gardeners World, Top Gear, Top Of The Pops and the Fast Show amongst many others. In 1999 beeb.com was responsible for the first major online live coverage of Comic Relief, including the first online donation system in multiple currencies, behind the scenes interviews, webcams, games and all sorts of creative content that was being experienced for the first time. Of course it was right to bring all that back inside the public service but before there was a public service option at all beeb.com was innovating, entertaining and growing an audience for online. It would be shameful to forget that.

  • Comment number 4.

    I came here via this from a person who doesn't appear to 'do' interactivity on blogs...

    'Ralph Rivera has blogged about the significance of BBC Online today'

    The relevant irony of an audience of 25,000,000 lience fee payers and 7,000,000,000 global visitors so far resulting in one per day (plus me) here at least is kind of interesting.

  • Comment number 5.

    I was shocked to see adverts suddenly flashing up on the website. The sanctuary of the website is ruined. A dissapointing 'innovation'.

  • Comment number 6.

    Oops, almost missed this auspicious date. Congratulations!
    Ralph Rivera, director of Future Media explained in blog: "Innovation is at the heart of the BBC and has been since its inception." This is a huge part of why I have stayed loyal to BBC as my primary news provider; a simpler word for this loyalty is TRUST.

    1922 first radio station.
    1936 first regular TV service.
    And then came - slowly - the digital revolution: BBC embraces the web.

    90 years, and buffeted by 2 scandals.
    1. BBC’s handling of sex abuse allegations against one of its most popular hosts, the late Jimmy Saville.
    2. The other involves a program that aired later wrongly accusing a former British lawmaker of sex abuse.
    The BBC’s director general has resigned and an acting director general has been appointed to clean up the mess.

    And yet, here I remain with BBC - because there is no other trustworthy, innovative, more realiable source, and I trust BBC to put its house in order.

    Lastly, I would like to see a little less western bias; at least see more effort to be completely objective - This too is innovation (also called "courage"). When most other media sources are busy selling the western perspective. I would like to see BBC presenting the world prspective.

    All in all, I am yours and you are mine, and I once again congratulate BBC on 90 years in the buisness!

  • Comment number 7.

    'And yet, here I remain with BBC - because there is no other trustworthy, innovative, more realiable source, and I trust BBC to put its house in order.'

    Good luck with that.

    On matters of trust and Trust:


    And, just today...


    In case any might imagine this is another one off 'of another time', and this merrie olde soul..


    “Roger Titcombe, educational consultant”

    Also here, if captioned a bit differently:


    ‘Campaigner Roger Titcombe, a retired head teacher who used to run one of the schools the academy could replace.’ Of the the group ‘Our Schools Are Not For Sale (OSANFS)’?.

    By sheer coincidence, the entire BBC media estate seems to have a bit of a thing about academy schools at the moment, if a bit shy on all the background one might hope.

    Despite the crush, that's informing and educating I feel might be worthy of better holding to account than at present, don't you?

    ps: Don't mention the Pollard Report due a while ago. The BBC won't either.

  • Comment number 8.

    Where might BBC On-Line go in the future?

    Perhaps one day placing itself and society beyond corruption, leading or following other publications, returning to the original BBC Charter & Agreement, upholding the "fundamental principles of democracy" with explicit definitions, in every report meeting the needs of a mixed-age audience, with proportionate political education, story-relation to democracy, and declarations of conflict of interest.

    Where they "may", a matter for the Governors?

    Or some "long political chain"?

  • Comment number 9.

    Having taken in the video, applauding and endorsing access extension of more to more, questions arise on working context, editorial freedom and audience rights.

    In a society aspiring to democracy, more properly recognising survival dependence on democracy, the mission of BBC Online should not be "simply to bring the people stories, fact or fiction, gloriously anytime and any place".

    Interpretation should be put on the BBC Charter, in the context if necessary of UK Human Rights Law, such that BBC Online enables itself to move from the implicit but uncertain, to the explicit and expected, 'delivery in conscience', with institutional sanction for at least the emulation of conscience.

    Such is the quantity of our knowledge, analysis and ever-accumulating news, it must be acknowledged that neither prescriptive regulation, nor post-publication accountability, nor the two combined, can be expected to ensure fullest possible real-time service of "the public interest" in our broadcast media.

    Only "in the sum of pursuits of a free people, subject to error and correction but free from material conflicts of interest", can we know rational trust in all others and so in true unfolding of "the interest of the public", never a risk-free 'Heaven on Earth', but perhaps the best possible experience for all, of belonging and welcome in a shared adventure of cosmic extent.

  • Comment number 10.

    For BBC employees, as for all others, 'freedom from material conflict of interest', would require secure equality of incomes, in work, in sickness, and in the frailty of age, for the employee and for all in relation to the employee, family, friends, colleagues, in fact all fellow-citizens.

    In advance of general understanding and agreement on Equal Partnership and Democracy Worldwide, the BBC can only seek emulation of the conditions for full freedom of conscience, relying as ever on courage and vocation, despite personal ties, but more alert than hitherto to exploitation, to vulnerability and to corruption.

    Problems with ethical delivery should be shared, in on-going conversation with the public, as part of "proportionate education" toward serving "the public interest".

  • Comment number 11.

    The video on innovation was great to watch, highlighting all the key points I would be keen to see implemented over the next few years.


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