BBC revamps homepage as cost cuts loom

The broadcaster's new homepage, now in beta, aims to push more traffic to its content while helping to drive costs down, as the BBC deals with a government-enforced licence-fee freeze
Written by Tom Espiner, Contributor

The BBC has launched a beta version of its redesigned homepage as part of an effort to drive more web traffic to BBC content and outside organisations, and to reduce costs in accordance with government cuts to BBC funding.

BBC Homepage

The BBC has overhauled its homepage as it looks to save money. Photo credit: BBC

The homepage beta has a 'carousel' format, to allow users to scroll between different parts of the page, and is designed to be viewed on PCs and laptops. The BBC plans to extend this functionality to tablets, mobiles and media players, the broadcaster said.

"We wanted to make sure that all of our products were available for our audiences on as broad a range of devices as possible," Phil Fearnley, the general manager of news and knowledge for BBC Future Media, told press at a launch event on Tuesday.

BBC Online has been consolidated into 10 products: News, Sport, Weather, CBeebies, CBBC, Knowledge & Learning, Radio & Music, TV & iPlayer, Homepage and Search.

The broadcaster already serves content to iPads, iPhones and Android devices, and in June it launched an app for Samsung internet-connected TVs. A big part in the redesign is the use of HTML 5, Fearnley told ZDNet UK. The BBC Homepage will not support Flash content.

Location preferences

The new homepage will allow people to set location preferences to receive more local news.

"We wanted to surface, much more strongly, 'nations and regions' content," Fearnley said, referring to BBC output aimed at different parts of the UK. "There's a feeling that even online we were too heavily focused on a London, England, weighting."

James Thornett BBC

BBC Homepage head James Thornett said people will be able to set location preferences on the new page. Photo credit: Tom Espiner

People will be able to set a location preference on their desktops, said BBC Homepage head James Thornett. If they enter a postcode or place name, they will be fed relevant content, such as location-specific BBC News. If people do not specify their location, the homepage defaults to London.

"Very soon during this beta phase we'll enable location settings, so that your travel information — when that is present — your weather location, your local news, and obviously your TV and radio channels, are all relevant to your location," Thornett said at the event.

In other ways, the homepage will be less easily customised than at present, he said, which has simplified and reduced the cost of the back-end systems.

The BBC is "still hatching plans" about optimising mobile content, and so could not yet comment about whether GPS would be used to provide location-based services, a spokeswoman for the broadcaster told ZDNet UK.

In addition, the BBC homepage aims to double the amount of external links over the next few years to drive more traffic to external sites, in line with BBC Online aims. Links to external sites are not yet included in the beta. These links will be decided according to editorial guidelines, and plans on how to double traffic are under development.

Budget cuts and rationalisation

The government has frozen the BBC licence fee for six years, forcing the broadcaster to make cuts across its organisation. BBC Online said in January it would shed one-fifth of its staff and shut half of its websites.

On Tuesday, Fearnley said BBC Online is aiming to cut its costs by 25 percent, from £135m to £100m per year, by building websites under one online service instead of using different media budgets. This rationale extends to the BBC's back-end infrastructure, he noted.

"Having a single infrastructure and a single set of technologies significantly reduces cost," Fearnley told ZDNet UK.

The redesigned homepage is part of a wider rationalisation of BBC technology, according to BBC Online managing editor Ian Hunter.

"We are finally getting off a fragmented infrastructure," Hunter told ZDNet UK. "Editorial wants a better content management system and better publishing times, which at the moment are far from good."

The BBC uses a number of in-house back-end systems, including its Content Production System (CPS), and the rationalised back-end systems will allow for smaller editorial teams, according to Hunter.

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