BBC to sell global online ads

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LONDON -- BBC director general Mark Thompson is looking at plans to generate in excess of  £100 million ($190.2 million) a year in online advertising revenues by carrying adverts on BBC Web sites accessed from outside the U.K., it was confirmed Monday.

Web portals like bbc.co.uk and the BBC News Web site are advertising-free to British residents -- where their cost is covered by the license fee.

But independent research commissioned by the BBC suggests the sites could generate between  £50 million ($95 million) and  £105 million ($199.8 million) a year from international advertising, depending on how aggressive an advertising model it selects.

The BBC declined to comment on the content of the Web strategy report, which was leaked to some newspapers here Monday, beyond saying that the figures were produced at the end of last year and are now "out of date," according to a spokeswoman.

But with Internet advertising revenues growing at an estimated 40% year-to-year in the U.K., according to figures published earlier this month by PricewaterhouseCoopers (HR 10/05), any figures collated a year ago are likely to be revised upward.

The BBC's Web site bbc.co.uk is one of the U.K.'s most popular Web destinations, offering access to a wide range of news, sport, education and entertainment services including the ability to download and watch archived content.

A spokeswoman for the BBC said that the pubcaster was halfway through a seven-step approval process for the issue of online advertising and that "no decision" had yet been made about how aggressive the strategy will be or what advertising model will be selected.

"As one would expect, BBC Worldwide has developed financial forecasts for bbc.com. Our plans at the moment are a work in progress as many of the parameters of the proposal are still under discussion and are commercially confidential," a BBC statement said.

"Currently, international users have access to bbc.co.uk for free, but the BBC has for some time been reviewing proposals to earn revenues from international visitors through advertising. The service to BBC viewers would not be changed by this."

Despite their revenue generating potential, the plan to launch advertising has been opposed by some staff, who have called on BBC bosses to limit or entirely restrict advertising on BBC branded news Web sites.

BBC director general Mark Thompson and BBC Worldwide director of online strategy David Moody met with some staff earlier this summer to discuss their concerns.
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