openDemocracyUK's world cup paunch

The BBC's world cup website, while excellent, made a mockery of the Strategy Review's promises of sensitivity to market concerns and the pruning of online services.
Daniel-Joseph MacArthur-Seal
22 July 2010

After blowing the vuvuzela on its new-found sensitivity to the concerns of commercial rivals in the Strategy Review, just three months later the BBC’s online coverage of the world cup was characterised by excesses that would embarrass the revelers of Madrid the night after the final.  

The world cup is as hotly anticipated by advertising agencies and commercial media as by any football maniac. The event was predicted to rake in customers and would, for a short time at least, buck falling readership and advertising revenue.

The websites of newspapers and commercial broadcasters were bolstered with world cup pages designed to suck in more readers for longer. Sports pages already attract huge numbers of online readers, and are an important source of online revenue, featuring prominently on the homepages of the broadsheets as well as tabloids. World cup games drove a thirst for online sports news, leading UK web traffic to increase massively during games, up 55% when England played Slovenia compared to an average Wednesday afternoon.  

Most of the football fans hunting the web will have found their way to the BBC’s astonishingly comprehensive world cup pages. At the BBC’s dedicated /worldcup homepage you could watch, for the first time, BBC games live and read commentary and watch the highlights, extended highlights and goals of ITV-screened games. Between matches, you could read extensive coverage of every team, including notes and statistics updated after each game for every one of the 736 players in the tournament, bringing the total number of the cup urls to over 1,000. This will not help the BBC towards its goal of halving subdomains.  

Thanks to its rival-thumping preeminence, the site averaged 6 million unique users a week but, for all the extra traffic, this being the BBC, no extra revenue was generated, except that going to the tax-dodging FIFA and its sponsors. Meanwhile, the BBC refuses to divulge information on the cost of its world cup coverage in response to freedom of information requests, but commercial rival News International’s News of the World put the cost at £6million. ITV’s revenue-generating world cup site meanwhile only managed to draw 3.4 million users over the entire tournament. It is likely that, though still benefiting significantly, ITV and the UK’s newspapers and other commercial broadcasters will have failed to realise the full rewards of the world cup commercial bonanza. Hardly a demonstration of the “sensitivity to market impact” promised in the BBC Strategy Review.  

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