The BBC had "clear and sound reasons" for investing in Freeview while contributing significantly to a swift and successful launch of the subscription-free digital terrestrial television (DTT) service, according to an assessment by the government's National Audit Office (NAO).
Costing between £10.7m and £11.5m of the corporation's licence-fee income - from a total £2.8bn in the year to 2004 - over a dozen years, the BBC's digital efforts to date are judged by the NAO to have succeeded in securing a terrestrial service following the demise of ITV Digital and to have launched on schedule.
Two other key objectives - ensuring viewers can receive Freeview for nothing and increasing awareness of subscription-free access to its own digital channels - are counted only "partial" successes by the NAO.
However, the BBC, in a detailed response to the NAO's reservations, lists actions it is taking to fill in the gaps. These range from exploring alternative digital platforms to market research and targeted marketing campaigns.
According to its annual report, published yesterday, the BBC upped its spending on digital services in the year to March by 6.7%, from £292.7m to £312.2.
The budget for digital-only channel BBC Three rose by £24m - £4.5m more than the rise in the digital spending rise across the board, while the corporation's iTV division BBCi registered the largest increase in percentage terms, at 61%, jumping from £9.5m in 2003 to £15.3m in 2004.
In contrast, bbc.co.uk was pruned back 11%, from £75m in 2003 to £66.7m, in line with the BBC New Media strategy of diverting spend from online to interactive television services. Spending on the Digital Curriculum was also down, from £5.2m to £4.1m.
The governors' review of objectives declares the corporate objective of strengthening BBC digital services to provide "something of value for all digital audiences". They want to provide "a range of interactive learning opportunities and help to drive digital take-up by extending the availability of the services and focusing on cross-channel commissioning and scheduling".
Lovelace Consulting | 14.07.2004