Extraordinarily long, that is. The BBC had always expected its proposals to add video services to its 60 Where I Live sites to be put to a public value test by its increasingly emboldened regulator. But the BBC Trust’s announcement today – that it will begin that test on June 24 and not publish a decision until February 25, 2009 – will only prove right those who believe the group’s deliberations are too slow.
How come? A BBC Trust spokesperson told me it’s because the commercial local news publishers that have been so vocal on what they see as the proposal’s threat (see related links) are scattered around the UK.
“Because of the nature of the proposal, it was decided to have a longer market impact assessment than you would normally have – the whole process is eight moths rather than the normal six months,” he said. “Normally, you would be assessing the impact of the service in one market – in this case, you’re testing multiple markets. All those commercial publishers don’t operate in the same market.”
Which makes it conceivable the BBC’s plans may be considered anticompetitive in some areas already served by local online news video, but not in others.
For the record, the trust’s public value test consists of a public value assessment carried out by itself and a market impact assessment from Ofcom (it’s likely to pass the first but face a challenge at the second). This will take four weeks, before the trust puts its provisional conclusions out to consultation – expect significant lobbying from the commercial publishers. The trust has already urged bbc.co.uk to link to commercial rivals.