BBC Worldwide, the commercial arm of the BBC, and ICL, the leading UK IT systems and services company, today (Thursday, September 19) announced an alliance to develop a commercial BBC online service that will be available over the Internet.
The pioneering venture, provisionally called BBC Online, will deliver a BBC-branded web service and is expected to be launched next Spring. The service will be built around favourite BBC radio and television programmes and BBC magazines, and will cover news, sport, information and entertainment.
The service will be continuously updated, and will offer viewers and listeners a new level of interactivity with the BBC.
The project will also create a fast, simple and easy-to-use gateway to the Internet - with full customer care service support - through a high performance BBC-branded software package and access service. Users of this access service will gain immediate entry into the new online service, with no long waits to be connected. It will be the Internet with a familiar BBC face and will position the BBC as one of the UK's leading online service providers.
The alliance will see the BBC providing distinctive creative expertise and content derived from BBC programming, while ICL will be responsible for providing the systems integration services, as well as substantial technical expertise. The project will initially run until the end of 1999.
BBC Online will be one of the first examples of the new services promised in May's 'Extending Choice In The Digital Age'. The BBC has pledged to deliver, over the next 10 years, a 'digital dividend' from new technology in both its public service and commercial roles.
The promise followed the Government's 1994 White Paper 'The Future Of The BBC: Serving The Nation; Competing Worldwide' which said: "The Government believes the BBC should be able to evolve into an international multimedia enterprise, building on its present commercial services for audiences in this country and overseas."
BBC Online is subject to the same strict regulations that ensure that no public funds are used to finance any of BBC Worldwide's commercial ventures. Commercial revenue generated by BBC Worldwide is reinvested into the BBC's licence fee funded programmes and services.
In making the announcement, BBC Deputy Director-General and BBC Worldwide Chief Executive, Bob Phillis said: "BBC Online's priority is to provide an Internet service that is easy to use and easy to enjoy. The service will share the same core BBC values of creative excellence, integrity and authority as our existing television, radio and publishing activity. As with our successful magazines, books and videos, BBC Online will enable BBC Worldwide to build on the BBC's strong brand and production skills.
"This pioneering relationship with ICL is an important step in the transformation of the BBC from a bi-media to a multimedia organisation. The BBC brand stands for the very best creativity and content around the world and we aim to remain the touchstone of quality in the new global multimedia environment," he said.
He continued "The relationship between Britain's leading broadcaster - the BBC - and a British company that is one of Europe's leaders in information technology - ICL - is a formidable combination. The project enjoys the full support of Fujitsu, and is well placed to seize the global opportunities presented by the new interactive technologies.
"This new relationship with ICL will enable staff working on our radio and television programmes, and on BBC magazines, to develop the new production and marketing skills which we will need if the BBC is to continue to serve its audiences in a fast developing technological environment," he added.
Keith Todd, ICL Chief Executive, said: "This agreement with the BBC builds on the foundations I have established for future growth within ICL. While other companies ride on Internet hype, I am delighted that ICL's new Interactive Services business, which I announced in March this year, is making such a strong market entry."
He continues: "Our parent, Fujitsu, shares my enthusiasm for this new venture, and both ICL and the BBC will be able to draw on the strong capability and track record that Fujitsu has established in the online services arena. The opportunity for ICL to combine the latest 'best of breed' interactive service technologies with the power of
compelling and sophisticated content from the BBC is extremely exciting for us all."
Issued by BBC and ICL Press Offices