The off switch looms - some of the BBC's Online sites to close

 by Martin Belam, 29 June 2004

Well it is official - Mark Thompson has just come out in public to say that some of the BBC's online services do not meet our new "Public Value" tests and that we will be announcing closures in the coming weeks.

"However, this being a naughty world, some of you may nonetheless find yourselves wondering if this whole public value test isn't really just a fancy new way of rubber-stamping everything that the BBC intends to do anyway.

All I would say is that we're in the middle of a dry run, applying the test according to the principles set out in Building Public Value to our online services.

Interestingly, although much of the BBC's online offering has passed the test, not all of it has.

As a result, we intend to announce the closure of some of the BBC's online sites within the next few weeks."

    Mark Thompson - Building Public Value - Tuesday 29 June 2004

It isn't mentioned in the main press office brief though.


Luckily he also mentions communities in that enormous document that was produced. One email I saw avoided all mention, and I thought we were for the chop...

If the DNA sites don't have a significant amount of 'public value', then I don't know what does.

Um, although I should probably read up on precisely what is meant by 'public value' in this case.

I'll save you the trouble - although it is an interesting read. The measurements appear to be: reach, quality, impact and value for money.

The document states that the BBC creates public value in the following ways:

  • Democratic value by supporting civic life and providing news.

  • Cultural and creative value by enriching the UK's cultural life.

  • Educational value.

  • Social and community value by increasing understanding and tolerance.

  • Global value, by being a trusted representative of the UK on the global stage (unless you are Fox News in the USA)

It doesn't mention DNA per se, but does have a big chunk of community stuff at its heart, which is doubleplusgood

DNA is mentioned merely as a technology (in the same way that message board software Howerd 2 is) which IMHO is the right way to look at it. After all, there's nothing inherent about DNA that makes all its sites necessarily good from a public service angle - in theory you could use the same technology to do something that doesn't fit into the public value definition. It just so happens that the way DNA is used as an engine currently, has pretty good results.

Following the publication of the Graf report the BBC announced that it was that was to close, alongside the Surfing portal, Games portal, the Pure Soap site and the BBC Fantasy Football site.

I think the thing with the DNA sites, is that the 'vibe' is completely different. The training the staff get is very different, because it's not BBC-type training - ie broadcasting. It's brand new funky talk to these people and let them broadcast back to the BBC training.

The messageboards are slowy being brainwashed into this as well, although it's a slow process and sometimes we have to fight the people running them because they simply don't understand why people want to visit the xxx board to talk to each other, rather than talk about xxx.

It's interesting that we haven't been given reasons why these sites are to close. I keep being asked about the Talk Soap board, and until I know why Pure Soap is closing, how can we know what to do with the messageboard.

If I've miss some bit of info that would help, please point it out. I haven't had more than a glance at the Graf report, as it's rather large...

I think the relevant part is:

"BBC Online content must be distinctive in its provision of a public service, not just simply in its differentiation from market alternatives. Some sites seem hard to justify in terms of the BBC's remit or wider public purposes. Sites - such as fantasy football, certain games sites, and the 'What's On' listings sites - do not seem to me, to be sufficiently distinctive from commercial alternatives or adequately associated with public service purposes, to be justified by the remit."

It doesn't mention Pure Soap by name though - possibly it failed our own new "Public Value" test - as alluded to by Mark Thompson the other week.

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