The BBC is to overhaul the regulations that dictate how much damage it can do to its commercial rivals after being criticised by its own fair trading committee.
The corporation, backed by the £3.6 billion licence fee, will use two separate reviews to consider everything from the activities of its commercial arm, BBC Worldwide, to the effect on its rivals when it signs exclusive coverage deals.
The BBC Trust, the corporation’s governing body, will carry out a full public consultation on the BBC’s fair trading policy, to begin in the summer,while BBC executives have also been ordered by an internal fair trading panel to revamp guidelines that govern the impact of editorial decisions on commercial rivals.
The reviews came to light in an internal report, leaked to The Times, that ruled that the BBC had unfairly damaged commercial channels through its tie-up with U2, the Irish band, for an album launch, which included altering the BBC logo to “U2=BBC”.
The corporation’s Executive Fair Trading Committee upheld a complaint from RadioCentre, which represents commercial radio groups, that the link-up between the BBC and U2, which included a BBC DJ claiming that it was “part of launching this new album” had “impacted negatively on commercial radio stations’ access to U2”.
The committee said: “Based on the independent economic advice received the panel concludes that the BBC’s activities in the case of the U2 coverage had the potential to cause a negative impact on the commercial radio sector.”
The BBC is bound by a “competitive impact principle” that decrees it should “endeavour to minimise its negative competitive impacts on the wider market”.
The BBC Trust review, which will be completed by the end of the year, will also consider the activities of Worldwide, which has a turnover of more than £1 billion and has frequently been criticised for using its links to the corporation to “bully” smaller players.
In November the BBC Trust ruled that Worldwide should not repeat deals such as its 2007 acquisition of Lonely Planet, the guidebook publisher, for £90 million. Rivals claim that the deal meant the BBC was entering a market that had little relation to the corporation’s core purposes.
Tony Elliott, chairman of Time Out, a competitor to Lonely Planet, said: “It is about time the BBC got to grips with the effect it has on the rest of the market. We will be making representations to this review that the BBC should be more mindful of the damage it can impose on its commercial competitors. Hopefully we will get some genuine action.”
The BBC Trust has ordered Worldwide to publish a business plan for its activities over the coming years, by the end of March. Insiders concede that the document could have to be rewritten if the Trust dramatically alters the rules governing the impact the commercial unit can have on the market.
RadioCentre will also make representations to the reviews. A spokesperson said: “The BBC’s almost effortless access to hugely popular bands and big name talent means that its on-air output can have a significant negative impact on competitors, as it secures a far greater share of the limited promotional time than its public service remit requires.
“All too often the BBC simply justifies its editorial decisions by saying that it is satisfying audience demand, forgetting that the primary purpose of the BBC is the promotion of its public purposes not simply the pursuit of popularity.”
A BBC spokesman said: “The BBC accepts the findings of the Executive Fair Trading Panel and will action the recommendations that have been made. These include a review of relevant sections of the Editorial and Fair Trading Guidelines to provide greater clarity in the future.”
U2 play surprise rooftop concert
(Remember this interview ?)
Rock band U2 have played a surprise gig on top of BBC Broadcasting House, in central London.
A crowd of around 5,000 watched the rooftop show, which capped off a day of promotion for the Irish band’s 12th studio album No Line On The Horizon.
U2 had been special guests on BBC Radio 1 and rumours of the gig appeared on internet message boards during the day.
The band performed four tracks during the 20-minute gig, including new songs Get On Your Boots and Magnificent.
They also performed Beautiful Day and Vertigo, as onlookers danced, clapped and sang along in the street below.
The BBC’s Darryl Chamberlain, who was at the scene, said: “Some people tried to crowd on to traffic islands to see them… the crowd was screaming and cheering.
“Others were spilling out of pubs and shops to see it, and looking out of windows. It was a good natured crowd and people really seemed to be enjoying it.”
Police closed Portland Place in Westminster to divert traffic away from the area.
News of the unannounced gig spread on internet message boards
The band all wrapped up against the cold, except The Edge who wore a short-sleeved lumberjack shirt and hat.
The performance was also broadcast live on DJ Chris Evans’ BBC Radio 2 show.
U2’s impromptu gig echoed The Beatles’ 1969 rooftop performance at record label Apple’s London headquarters.
Earlier the band revealed they are preparing to tour later this year, and hope to offer tickets with cheaper, recession-busting prices.
Frontman Bono told BBC Radio 1’s Jo Whiley they had “something very special planned” for early summer.
He added that it was “a whole way of trying to do shows outdoors and make them very intimate”.
In an interview on Radio 5 Live with Simon Mayo, Bono said that he had “gone off” Get On Your Boots a few weeks ago, but was now “back on it”.
“It’s a small song, a tiny little song, a little shot of adrenalin,” he added.
Another song from the album, Breathe, had its live debut at an intimate Radio 1 concert on Friday morning.
Bono told the audience: “This is a great honour. This is the first time we’ve played these songs to people, so we hope we don’t screw it up.”
He said they were “trying” to work on some cheaper ticket prices, but added: “We’re also going to have some very expensive ticket prices because rich people have feelings too!”
Radio 1 also apologised on-air immediately after Bono used an expletive to describe Coldplay’s lead singer Chris Martin.
The BBC said it had received no complaints about it.