Why is this BBC website not available in the UK?

Updated: See end of post.

A Digg linked article I find a lot of my reading material via Digg, who occasionally link to a BBC Future story that looks like the kind of thing I’d be interested in.

However these articles (which appear on a bbc.com domain, not bbc.co.uk) are blocked from within the UK. Instead, I am presented with a ‘help’ page that tells me the following:

BBC Future (international version)

We’re sorry but this site is not accessible from the UK as it is part of our international service and is not funded by the licence fee. It is run commercially by BBC Worldwide, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the BBC, the profits made from it go back to BBC programme-makers to help fund great new BBC programmes. You can find out more about BBC Worldwide and its digital activities at www.bbcworldwide.com.

BBC Help page

Most of the Web isn’t funded by a licence fee, but I am still able to see it.

However, this explanation doesn’t really explain why I am being denied the content. Most of the Web isn’t funded by a licence fee, but I am still able to see it. I understand that BBC Worldwide is a for-profit division of the BBC, but these pages are not behind a paywall if you are visiting the site internationally – they are ad supported. Denying the content to residents of the UK seems perverse.

Of course, using proxy software* it is possible to see the site:

Ad-supported BBC Future

BBC Future (A few more years of Tory Britain, and this may well be the future of the BBC!)

‘Dear Points of View, I wish to complain…’

I actually did complain to the BBC last September about this (using almost exactly the same wording as above) and received the following reply:

We understand you’re unhappy at not being able to access the BBC Future site from the UK.

This site isn’t accessible from the UK as it’s part of our international service and isn’t funded by the licence fee. We’re very sorry you’re unhappy about this but hope you can enjoy out other online content.

I understand the strength of your comments and I’d like to assure you that I’ve registered your complaint on our audience log. This is a daily report of audience feedback that’s made available to many BBC staff, including members of the BBC Executive Board, channel controllers and other senior managers.

The audience logs are seen as important documents that can help shape decisions about future programming and content.

So not really a satisfying answer. More of a rewording of my complaint and a reiteration what I already knew actually.

Tonight I did a bit of searching to see if anyone else had been trying to solve this puzzle, and I found a post by Thomas Baekdal from March 2012 — BBC Future is Blocking…Itself — who theorised that some kind of government legislation was probably to blame. He recieved a different reply from the BBC:

[…] making the content available to UK audiences is not as simple as removing the ads. bbc.com/Future is a commercial website produced by BBC Worldwide. Under the BBC’s fair trading rules, commercial websites are not allowed to receive unfair promotion from the BBC’s public services. This prevents us from being able to provide Future on bbc.co.uk

So that’s not exactly a more satisfying answer, but at least it qualifies as an answer. I wish they’d write something more accurate on their help page.

Updated 2014.06.22

After approving a fresh comment on this post today, I decided to try and visit BBC Future again, and this time was able to! The site has no advertising (that I noticed) and the following disclaimer right below the header:

This website is made by BBC Worldwide. BBC Worldwide is a commercial company that is owned by the BBC (and just the BBC.) No money from the licence fee was used to create this website. Instead this website is supported by advertising outside the UK. The profits we make from it go back to BBC programme-makers to help fund great new BBC programmes.

BBC Future banner


* I use TunnelBear for this kind of thing.

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6 thoughts on “Why is this BBC website not available in the UK?

  1. The odd thing to me is the implied suggestion that UK residents don’t give money to BBC Worldwide. It’s not just international broadcast rights that fund worldwide, it’s domestic DVD sales of Doctor Who, licensed events such as Top Gear Live, Lonely Planet publications, children’s toys and so on. Probably everyone in the country knows someone who gives money to Worldwide in some way or another. So why make Worldwide websites only available to those outside the UK? Even if they contained adverts, I’m sure nobody would object since we help pay for the service anyway.

    Furthermore, there are a bunch of Worldwide sites listed on this page that UK residents can access, several of which contain adverts (eg lonelyplanet.com, uktv.com.au, bbcgoodfood.com).

    Unless they’re trying to argue that we can’t see /future because it contains ads. On a bbc.com site. Just as Worldwide’s magazines and other websites also contain ads. The argument holds no water. Nobody’s suggesting they put /future on bbc.co.uk, or promote it on the BBC’s public services, so the reply sent to Thomas Baekdal is nonsense.

    Actually, I hadn’t realised until today that bbc.com redirects to bbc.co.uk, at least in the UK. I wonder if it does that internationally.

    • I just checked. bbc.com is used as an international homepage. News is at bbc.com/news. Weather is at bbc.co.uk/weather, but knows to serve an international page. Travel, Future and Autos are the big international content sections. bbc.com/travel, bbc.com/future and bbc.com/autos are all blocked from the UK.

      Other sections like Weather, Sport and TV seem to redirect, based on your location, to a bbc.co.uk site with custom content for your region. My proxy is US based and the redirects I saw seemed to reflect this.

      I’m guessing that while Lonely Planet and Good Food started out life as UK brands, the Travel, Future and Autos sections were created purely to promote BBC Worldwide/BBC.com by providing the kind of populist content that attracts views. Worldwide must see these hubs purely as marketing materials.

      It still doesn’t make much sense to me, and it certainly doesn’t explain the answers provided thus far. I wonder if a FOI request is good for this kind of thing?

  2. Ironically I frequently get the same error – and I’m accessing the sites (Future / Autos / Travel etc.) from Khartoum…

    None of the BBC’s explanations hold up under scrutiny – If the BBC is not allowed to unfairly promote commercial websites then why is their UK site frequently littered with links to those (BBC) sites – which are subsequently unavailable, notwithstanding links on virtually every page to commercial sites which are covered by a simple disclaimer (which could be readily modified to suit).

    Neither is the BBC per se precluded from advertising – since it clearly does so internationally – that it does not advertise in the UK is an accommodation to licence payers at best – observers frequently claim this but it doesn’t appear in any official BBC explanation which would suggest either it’s not true or that the BBC doesn’t wish to emphasize the fact – perhaps in preparation for just such an eventuality.

    It’s scandalous that the BBC can effectively censor the internet for UK viewers with such flawed rationale or such obfuscated explanation – both eventualities should be answered directly to UK taxpayers (which I still am, regardless of location) forthwith!

    Martin Evans

  3. Also people outside UK and IN UK can’t exchange BBC news links.
    People outside UK USED to be able to access bbc.co.uk/news but are silently given bbc.com/news which has different content.

    A disgrace and discriminates against UK people travelling on Holiday or Business or ex-UK residents, who may still be full citizens.

    The BBC is far more arrogant and lacking transparency than in 1930s days of Rieth!

  4. Also BBC constantly promotes Twitter in Radio Programs and Website. A proprietary, 3rd party commercial site funded by exploiting its users. As is Facebook. They have their own forums, comments, websites. They don’t need either of those parasites. Promotion of Twitter certainly “breaks” BBC Charter.

    I’m not fussed about iPlayer outside UK. I just want the text to be the same on Website wherever I am. I should be able to comment to Programs via email BBC Website or regular mail. Not have Twitter shoved in my face!

    • I disagree that the BBC are ‘promoting Twitter’. Twitter is a platform that a large number of people use and that is particularly well suited to interaction with TV and radio shows of all kinds. Some people may be willing to visit BBC forums to talk about the shows they love (or hate), but those people, and more besides, are already having that conversation. BBC shows can either decide to be present on Twitter, or miss out.

      There’s a difference between promoting Twitter and promoting a Twitter account (or a hashtag). These shows are doing the latter.

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