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Thursday, August 5, 1999 Published at 17:30 GMT 18:30 UK


BBC Online urged to spread its Web

Commercial break: BBC News Online will remain free of advertising

The BBC has been urged to expand its online services outside the UK.

An independent panel looking at the future funding of the corporation said overseas BBC Online services should also accept advertising and e-commerce revenues.

The aim would be to launch separately-branded Websites, for example, BBC Online America.

But BBC Online, which includes BBC News Online, should remain free of advertising in the UK.

[ image: Davies: News Online
Davies: News Online "integral part of the BBC's output"
Panel chairman Gavyn Davies said: "It is analogous to what the BBC does in the UK, with a free-to-air service for most people, while generating revenue from overseas from the BBC archives."

BBC News Online costs £7.5m per year, out of £23m for BBC Online.

And questions have been raised by the Independent Television Commission (ITC) over whether it is right that BBC Online is funded by the licence payer when only 15% of those paying a licence have access to the Internet.

Huge revenues

It was reported last month that Culture Secretary Chris Smith was likely to allow advertising on BBC Online.

As the most popular UK Website - with more than 700m hits a month, 300% up on last year - it could eventually generate a huge income.

However, panel chairman Gavyn Davies said: "We think the public service Website is going to be such an integral part of the BBC's output in 10 year's time that we don't want advertising to seep into that service."

'Best news site'

A BBC spokesman said: "The BBC welcomes the strong support for BBC Online.

"We are actively exploring ways of making Online separately available commercially to international Internet users.

"These include deals with US portal sites to host BBC Online content and 'mirror-sites' taking advertising."

[ image: It ads up: faces privatisation pressure]
It ads up: faces privatisation pressure
The announcement was also welcomed by BBC Director General John Birt, who said: "We have in BBC News Online what is generally recognised as probably the best news site in the world."

The panel also said consideration should be given to privatisation of the commercial arm,

Last month, dismissed as speculation a report that a flotation on the stock market was being considered for next year.

The Times newspaper reported that could be valued at more than £500m.

Read your thoughts on commercialising the BBC.

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