BBC May Be Stifling Startups, BBC Jam Shuttered Following Complaints

I sometimes say regretful things when speaking off the cuff at conferences. Last month at The Future of Web Apps conference in London I (jokingly) called for the dissolution of the BBC because some of their online ventures are, in my opinion, stifling private sector startup initiatives in the UK and Europe. As a publicly funded entity with near limitless financial resources, I think the BBC needs to be careful about what businesses they dip their toes into. I mentioned a new BBC virtual world product as an example.

Did I mean it literally? No. The BBC sends us far too much traffic for me to want it to dissolve (and I think it’s a brilliant, well run company as well). But the whole thing was caught on video and, as you can imagine, I was roundly (and I believe properly) criticized (although see this comment). At best this is none of my business, although I lived in the UK for many years and well remember the dreaded BBC television tax.

But it appears that some European startups do consider this their business, and have complained to the European Commission about the BBC’s Jam project, “an online learning resource for children, designed to be used at home to support key areas of the school curriculum across the UK.” The service went live a year ago, and the BBC said they plan on investing £150m on the project over five years. Half of that has already been spent, 190 people work on the project and 170,000 users have registered for the service.

The BBC says they will suspend the service based on these complaints. “Commercial people in the education sector are claiming the BBC is damaging their business; it is seen as a state subsidy,” said BBC Media Correspondent Torin Douglas.

I don’t know the nature of the complaints, and I don’t have an opinion on this other than to say that it’s clear that the BBC is struggling with it’s boundaries and what types of services it can offer, particularly online. Those of you in the UK – please let me know what you think about all of this.