Will BBC Online Cuts Favour Competition?

The BBC has confirmed that it will significantly reduce its online operations, with 203 out of the 400 individual websites that make up BBC.co.uk set to be culled.

This mass closure, together with the expected departure of up to 360 employees, means that the BBC expects to slash its £103 million online budget by around a third.

How will that affect BBC online? It is not yet clear whether the decision to close half of the individual properties that represent the online portfolio of the BBC was motivated by a strategic plan or by crude ratings or page views.

Early hints point to the first explanation; websites like the BBC's antiques website or Indian Cooking Made Easy were being canned regardless of whether they pulled in traffic or not. Even websites for flagship programmes like Panorama & The Politics Show have not been spared.

Online analytics website Alexa says that just over half of the global traffic landing on the BBC website goes to its news website, which indicates that other non-news subsections of BBC.co.uk (like CBBC or iPlayer) still attract a massive number of unique visitors.

One could argue that the BBC's competition may be helped by such cuts, as the overall number of visitors decreases organically and smaller publishing players fill in the niche areas.

The Daily Mail will be the big winner as its online entity, Mail Online, is the biggest UK newspaper website with nearly 47 million monthly unique users in September 2010 and traffic that has quadrupled over the last three years.

A smaller BBC online presence means that The Mail is now closer to overtaking BBC news as the single biggest English news website in the world. It also means more talents is available, more competition in the online news sector and ultimately more pressure on the corporation to deliver more for the TV licence payers money.