An independent review of the BBC’s digital services commissioned by the Government is generally positive about the contribution of interactivity, but recommends prioritising the speed at which services can be accessed, particularly for digital text.

The review, led by Patrick Barwise, Professor of Management and Marketing at London Business School, will feed into the on-going wider review of the BBC’s Royal Charter.

The remit for the review covered the BBC’s new digital television channels BBC3, BBC4, Cbeebies and CBBC, which occupy the bulk of the report, but its author could not resist having a look at interactive services, although they are not limited to the four channels under review.

He says “The new DTV services are all committed to using new technologies to connect with the audience. There are numerous examples of success, perhaps especially on the children’s channels but also on BBC3 and 4. This approval condition has certainly been met.”

Professor Barwise concludes that “Overall, the BBCi services have been a success. They still consume relatively modest resources (£15.3 million in 2003/4, versus £66.7 million for BBC Online) and in some cases, such as Wimbledon, usage has been high and the service has helped to introduce viewers to this type of interactivity.”

However, in considering the distinction between enhanced eTV programmes and services that are persistently available 24/7, he goes on to say “There is a balance to be struck between encouraging consumers to use sophisticated new technology versus meeting their current needs as simply and efficiently as possible. The BBC tends to do the former. For instance, it seems to be increasingly prioritising eTV over 24/7 although viewers use the latter more.”

His main criticism is reserved for the speed at which services can be accessed, which he is led to believe could be improved, on satellite at least, by leasing an additional transponder.

“From a public value perspective, the immediate priority should be to improve the speed of BBCi, especially 24/7. It appears that both eTV and 24/7 could be speeded up by 30% on Sky at a cost of £3 million per year. I strongly recommend that the BBC do this, if necessary funding it by reducing the number of expensive eTV applications per year.”

The BBC said if welcomed the publication of the review and will make a full response to the recommendations in November.