Written evidence from BBC News (FLM 63)

 

The Press Association has copied a letter to the BBC which was sent to you on 6th January 2010 regarding access to footage from the broadcast pool and the BBC's online video sharing initiative. I thought it would be helpful if I outlined the BBC's position in relation to both these issues.

 

UK Broadcast Pool

 

The UK broadcast pool consists of the BBC, ITN and Sky. It is an informal working arrangement whereby the television broadcasters combine their resources to cover events (sometimes very expensive and international) in a cost effective way. Each broadcaster either contributes equipment or funds, or takes a turn at covering an event for other members of the pool. The number of cameras allowed at events is at the discretion of the event organisers.

 

The pool has worked well in a mono-media age, but with convergence other news organisations increasingly want access to video as part of their offering. The Press Association has in the past expressed a desire to be included as part of the broadcast pool in order to acquire video footage.

 

The view of the broadcasters is that for this to happen, PA should contribute infrastructure and broadcast quality pictures on a similar basis to the other members of the pool. Currently, the PA is primarily geared for digital media and has neither the technology nor the trained staff to operate on a similar basis as the others. For instance, they do not have the capability to provide a live signal from a satellite truck or similar.

 

The PA formally complained to the BBC and other members of the broadcast pool in July 2009. Since that time we have been attempting to deal with this issue in a fair and reasonable manner which takes into account the BBC's obligation to deliver value for money to the licence fee payer, and the fact that Sky and ITN are commercial organisations.

 

It has been agreed that in situations where it is not possible for additional cameras to be at events, PA - along with any other news organisation - should be allowed access to pool material for 24 hour usage. The BBC would levy a charge per pool operation with the norm being around 500 but dependent on the individual circumstances and costs involved.

 

Most of the examples that PA cite in their letter of where they have been denied access to pool footage appear to predate July 2009. Since then the BBC has considered this matter to be resolved and in recent months PA have asked for access to material, which they have been offered in exchange for an appropriate fee.

 

Regarding the Chilcott Inquiry, this is not a standard UK broadcast pool operation as it involves the Cabinet Office picking up part of the costs and laying down some requirements on the use of the material. The Cabinet Office also determined the number of cameras that are granted access.

 

The total cost to the broadcasters of filming and transmitting the proceedings is approximately 72,000, shared equally between the three UK broadcasters. The PA was advised they could join the operation on a shared basis but declined to do so. We have subsequently been prepared to provide PA with access to the material at a charge but this has so far not been possible.

 

The PA state in their letter that the pool arrangement "has resulted in digital media being denied access to footage of clear public interest." This is not the case as digital news media are able to access pool footage for a fee. As an example, The Guardian acquired video material in relation to Tony Blair's testimony.

 

BBC Online video sharing

 

As you are aware, the BBC has made available a limited volume of its online video content to be embedded by third party websites. All the content has been first published on BBC Online.

 

The video sharing initiative was driven by the BBC's desire to be more open with its content, in response to the changing nature of how audiences are consuming audio-video on the internet. It is hoped that by working with the growing trend for allowing content to be shared and embedded across the web, the BBC will be better able to serve licence fee payers and support wider access to its content. We regard this initiative as an example of the BBC behaving as a public service partner with other media organisations.

 

The BBC discussed the initiative on several occasions with representatives from PA. The initiative was considered against the BBC's Fair Trading Guidelines and we ensured compliance with all regulatory requirements. We intend to undertake a follow-up review of the competitive impact of the proposal shortly. As part of this review, we will be seeking the views of, and input from, key stakeholders, including PA.

 

The video clips that the BBC makes available are not intended to constitute a comprehensive video offer but rather to complement news material which is commercially available. The UK newspapers that have embedded BBC content share this view.

 

The BBC content has the following characteristics that differentiate it from material that is commercially available:

 

Content is limited to four genres; it does not include, for example, the most commercially attractive genres such as entertainment news and sport;

Third parties will not be able to commercialise BBC content (i.e. no pre-roll video advertisements will be permitted and there will be clear separation between advertising on a page and embedded BBC content);

The BBC news content that can be embedded by third parties will be the same content that is available on BBC Online. All BBC content will appear in a BBC branded player; we are not making available either 'white-labelled' news content (that third parties could brand as their own or editorialise), or 'bespoke' services or content to meet third party requirements.

 

We therefore do not accept PA's claims that the initiative ''clearly distorts the market'' and constitutes ''content dumping'' by the BBC. Such claims have not been supported by any evidence or analysis supplied to us by PA. Indeed, we note that two of the newspapers who signed-up to use BBC content (The Independent and the Daily Mail) at a similar time entered into commercial arrangements with the PA and ITN respectively to acquire online video content.

 

In line with the BBC's commitment to partnerships and supporting the local media ecology where possible, we are looking at the possibility of opening-up access to some of our regional TV news material that appears on BBC Online. We mentioned this idea to PA in the spirit of dialogue. We have not however made a decision to pursue it and any proposal will have regard to potential competitive impact as is routinely the case.

 

Helen Boaden

Director of BBC News

 

February 2010