THE BBC has axed a handful of websites and is set to farm out
THE BBC has axed a handful of websites and is set to farm out at least 25% of its web content to external suppliers, following a critical report into its online services.

BBC new media chief Ashley Highfield, responding to the findings in former Trinity Mirror chief Philip Graf's government-backed report, announced that he was closing five sites, in a bid to make sure that the corporation's online offering sticks to its "public value" remit.

Fantasy Football, central What's On events listings, a surfing portal, a games portal and Pure Soap will all be closed. The sites account for 1%-2% of the overall traffic to bbc.co.uk's 20,000 sites.Highfield claimed that no jobs from the core 300-strong new media team would go as a result of the closures but added there could be further closuresand job losses in the future.

The corporation will also aim to hit a 25% independent quota for online content (except news) by the time the current Charter expires at the end of 2006. In 2002/2003 the BBC doubled its spend with external companies from 6% to 13% and Highfield said he wanted a "better relationship" with them.

In his report Graf said there was "little clarity on priorities or specific targets that directly relate to [BBC online's] public service".

The report, which will feed into the review of the BBC's Charter recommended that the BBC's online services be more clearly defined around "public purposes" prioritising news, current affairs, education and information along with innovative and interactive content.

It added that it was unable to prove that bbc.co.uk was harming other commercial providers but said sites such as Fantasy Football were "not sufficiently distinctive from commercial alternatives".

The report, also suggested that two governors, one with specific new media expertise and another with competition law expertise, should be brought in.

Media secretary Tessa Jowell has endorsed the report's findings and has given the corporation until only October to redefine its remit for internet content.