Could A Domestic BBC Content Deal Save Local Digital Media?

There are a lot of ideas that you can kind of nod your head at, but then on closer inspection think "how on earth would it actually be done?"

Most media professionals would have some empathy with local and regional news publishers who are struggling with declining print revenues and trying to establish a foothold in digital. The trouble is, the BBC is already there -- and is the country's number one news source with teams dedicated to both national and local news coverage.

When print was the only game in town, it didn't matter. The BBC did tv and radio and the newspaper companies sold print. Now they have come together to face off in digital, there is a massive problem.

On the one hand we have commercial organisations that say they cannot compete on a level playing field against a state-owned broadcaster with a massive, guaranteed budget. 

On the other, we have the country's most trusted news source from a corporation that is not allowed to run advertising.

Surely, however, if the BBC shared traffic with local papers, which would then surround the item with advertising, you would have a situation where regional publishers are being given content, paid for by the state, to pin adverts around. That can't be right, but then commercial publishers facing the death of print having to go through newsroom and sales team "realignments" because they can't compete with state-funded content is also far from ideal.

Could there be a solution?

Look at BBC Worldwide. It sells content and merchandise around the world. Watch its channel abroad and you can't help but be surprised at the advert breaks -- and of course, when you watch BBC programmes abroad that have been sold to a foreign channel, there is usually an advertising break. In fact, you only need look at channels such as Dave that repackage BBC content at home, complete with frequent ad breaks.

So how about this: why doesn't the same model get applied to local media? Why don't publishers and the BBC come to an agreement that they can have written, audio and video content on their sites in exchange for a royalty?

The BBC would get a new revenue stream without itself having to break a taboo and run advertising, and the local media companies would get access to the great content they say is making their corporate lives so hard.

What former BBC tech supremo, Ashley Highfield, now chief exec of Johnston Press, is calling for today seems a little overly optimistic. Should the BBC really have a quota of traffic it should send to local media? I can't really see that working. Where would you set the level and why would people who want to receive BBC content, that they have funded, be redirected to a local newspaper site they didn't intend to visit?

To me, by far the fairest thing to do is to come up with a remuneration package through which local commercial media can use BBC content. It might be a news story presented as a BBC story, perhaps with a small table detailing the last six or most popular six or so stories from the BBC -- which when clicked on are displayed within that local media company's Web site with their advertising. 

The money side could either be a monthly or weekly fee for unfettered access or perhaps a fee could be charged every time an article, audio stream or video is consumed.

It would appear that this is the closest the regional press can get to a win-win situation. People wouldn't have to leave their sites to get BBC local news information and they could buy in top-quality content they can monetise.

Of course, what they can't really hope for is the BBC sending traffic their way. That really does sound like a pipe dream to me.

Get the calculators out and come to a BBC Worldwide-style deal. That has to be the best solution -- surely?

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