BBC Online to shed one-fifth of staff

The BBC is to cut 360 staff on its online offerings, while the broadcaster will halve the number of its websites

BBC Online will lose more than one-fifth of its staff as part of budget cuts at the division, which includes the iPlayer and programme websites.

BBC Online job cuts

BBC Online is to shed more than one-fifth of its workforce and close half of its websites. Photo credit: Phil_Parker on Flickr

On Monday the broadcaster said it plans to get rid of 360 jobs and reduce its service budget by one-quarter by 2013. BBC Online currently employs approximately 1,700 people. "There will be a significant loss of jobs and redundancies," BBC director general Mark Thompson told a press conference.

In addition, the BBC will shut half of its 400 websites within the same time period, with 180 closing later this year. The online division will lose approximately £34m funding from its current budget of £137m.

Thompson said there had been a proliferation of BBC websites, which he characterised as unplanned growth. "Websites grew organically across the organisation — [they] grew like Topsy," he said

BBC Online will be consolidated into ten products: News, Sport, Weather, CBeebies, CBBC, Knowledge and Learning, Radio & Music, TV & iPlayer, Homepage and Search.

There will be a significant loss of jobs and redundancies.

– Mark Thompson, BBC

A government-enforced six-year licence fee freeze had an impact on the job cuts, Thompson told ZDNet UK.

"This is a reflection of the changing environment," he said. "We began down this road before the licence-fee settlement, but [the BBC] has been affected by the licence-fee settlement."

The 25 percent budget cut for BBC Online will be part of an overall BBC budget cut of 20 percent, which was made public at the beginning of the year.

Under the BBC Online plans, the majority of programme websites will be replaced with fully automated content, and the websites for 1Xtra, 5 Live sports extra, 6 Music and Radio 7 will also be automated.

Metadata streams

Outgoing BBC future media and technology director Erik Huggers, who is to take up a new role at chipmaker Intel, told ZDNet UK that automation will involve creating content using metadata. Work on the iPlayer media player had made streams of metadata available for BBC use, Huggers said.

"A lot of metadata gets created," Huggers said. "Instead of hand-cranking websites using HTML, we will use metadata streams to create attractive propositions."

Instead of hand-cranking websites using HTML, we will use metadata streams to create attractive propositions.

– Erik Huggers, BBC

Positions at BBC Online will be cut across the board, and may include BBC technical staff, according to Huggers. The future media and technology unit will lose 120 posts; up to 90 jobs will go at the vision multimedia and broadcast production group; the journalism unit will lose 70; and the audio and music department 35 to 39. The children's unit will lose 17 staff and sport, 24.

Sites that will be shut down include skills site Raw, youth sites Blast and Switch, and open access site Video Nation. Forums including sports forum 606 and the iPlayer messageboard are earmarked for closure. In addition, the BBC will divest itself of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy-inspired h2g2 web forum.

Huggers expected h2g2 not to be sold, but to be somehow passed to a community effort.

Non-news features content will be removed from local sites, while there will be a substantial reduction of showbusiness news on the BBC News website.

The BBC Executive proposed the budget cuts to the BBC Trust in March last year, in its "Putting Quality First" strategy. The Trust announced that it had approved the strategy on Monday.