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Last Updated: Tuesday, 25 April 2006, 07:35 GMT 08:35 UK
BBC polls users on online adverts
How the front page of the BBC News website might look

The BBC has launched an online survey asking if it should have advertising on the international versions of its homepage and News website.

The poll will be seen by people who access the site from outside the UK.

It is likely that more than 100,000 people at random will be asked if they would like to complete the survey.

Readers within the UK are not being sampled as the proposal is that the sites will remain free of adverts to them when they log on.

A number of potential designs have been prepared to demonstrate ways in which banners and other branded boxes could be added to the top, bottom and side of headline and story pages on the BBC News website and BBC homepage.

Capitalising on material

The BBC is currently considering ways to capitalise on the popularity of its online material around the world. Of the 3.5m users who visit the BBC News website each day, approximately one-third are based outside the UK.

Why not scrap the licence fee, broadcast free with ads and pay to subscribe to an ad free BBC channel/website
Steve, UK

The News website does not include advertising at present. However, some of the BBC's commercial businesses - such as the BBC World television news channel - do already receive income from companies who advertise on their own sites.

"The BBC's website has become an important source of news and information for international users as well as those in the UK. However, they are paid for entirely by the UK licence fee and taxpayer," said Richard Sambrook, director of the BBC's Global News Division.

"It is right therefore that the BBC looks at whether the international traffic to its sites could help support the cost of providing them."

The BBC's commercial divisions generate revenue which can be returned to newsgathering, programme-making and other projects.

This total - currently approximately 150m per year - supplements income from the annual licence fee, which is compulsory for everyone who watches or records TV broadcasts in the UK, usually via a TV set.

The News website also receives "grant in aid" money from the Foreign Office to help fund its overseas news coverage.

Strict approval process

Any proposal to introduce advertising to the News site would follow a vigorous internal approval process before it could be implemented.

The BBC's internal Journalism Board and Executive Direction Group would review any plans before they were submitted to the BBC Trust, the regulatory body which will soon replace the corporation's board of governors.

The Trust would have the final say on whether the corporation's policy on accepting commercial revenue from its online activities was altered.

The BBC's Richard Sambrook
The BBC's Richard Sambrook says it is "right" to consult on changes
Any decision would be monitored carefully by the BBC's competitors.

"We are watching the rapid development of the BBC as a commercial entity with the closest interest," Guardian Unlimited editor-in-chief Emily Bell said.

"The size of the BBC inevitably means that it has a significant market impact, whatever it does. Whether this helps or crushes commercial opportunities for those of us who are not funded in such a unique way remains to be seen."

'Major decision' ahead

BBC Worldwide will look at data supplied by 6,000 people who fill in the online survey.

There has already been one survey period among North American users of the BBC News website "as part of a process of evaluating a number of options," said David Moody, the managing director of new media and strategy at BBC Worldwide.

"Market research involving users worldwide is clearly an important part of this process," he added.

Pete Clifton, head of BBC News Interactive, said any change in policy would not be taken lightly.

"This is a major decision for the BBC and we must gather as much evidence as possible beforehand. The views of our many readers abroad are obviously vital," he said.

"There is clearly merit in being an ad-free news site, and we need to understand what impact ads would have on our reputation for impartiality, and the trust readers place in us.

"But this has to be balanced with the potential revenue advertising could bring in to be re-invested in BBC News."

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