Media Lifeline: The BBC's online presence

An aggressive approach has been the cornerstone of the BBC's aims to extend its online presence.

2003: Since the late 90s, private sector bodies such as the British Internet Publishers Alliance had been lobbying against what they regarded as abuses of the licence fee, as the BBC ramped up its aggressively competitive activities in the online space. In 2003, the Tory Party toys with an election pledge to dismantle much of the BBC's digital activities if returned to power. It isn't.

2004: The Graf Report, by the ex-Trinity Mirror chief executive Philip Graf (pictured), recommends the BBC redefines its online remit - and should stick to a public service one. It says the BBC's online services are not having an adverse effect on the UK internet market.

2005: Now the European Commission joins the fray. Following lobbying by commercial media owners across Europe, the European Union's competition authorities threaten to limit the web activities of all state-funded broadcasters. But as the BBC begins to contemplate a Charter renewal strategy under its new director-general, Mark Thompson, this threat fails to materialise.

2006: Despite continued political rows about Charter renewal and licence fee levels, the BBC presses ahead aggressively with plans to reintroduce advertising on its websites and to develop a BBC iPlayer to compete with the iTunes brand. The British Interactive Publishers Alliance (which is backed by BSkyB, News International, Trinity Mirror and the Telegraph) protests.

Jan 2007: Although licence fee squabbles continue in the background, the BBC Worldwide chief executive, John Smith, announces that he has secured a £350 million borrowing facility to fund an expansion strategy in the online market. The top priority will be to increase the BBC's "social networking" credentials, whether through the redevelopment of existing sites or via acquisitions.

Fast forward ...

2009: After more intense lobbying, Ofcom agrees to launch a review of the BBC's commercial web activities. Hearts sink when it emerges the inquiry chairman will be none other than ... the former BBC director-general turned merchant banker Thompson.

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