The BBC is hoping to find a commercial outlet to recover some of the millions of pounds of public money spent on an abandoned multimedia education service known as BBC Jam. Some £96 million was spent on the £150 million project, which was suspended by the BBC Trust in January 2007 following complaints to the European Commission from the commercial sector, alleging that it had exceeded its remit.
There is likely to be a mixed reaction from suppliers of educational services. Some independent producers were badly affected by the cancellation of the digital curriculum project, while some publishers maintain that public money should not have been spent on the initiative in the first place.
BBC controller of learning and factual interactive Liz Cleaver told the trade publication Broadcast that she was discussing with the BBC Trust what material might be made available as a public service and what might be commercially exploited.
“We’re talking about asset-stripping Jam,” she said. “One has to be incredibly careful about what is a public service. It’s a very long, complex discussion.”
It is a discussion that began in January 2007 and indeed to the inception of the initiative in 2003. Executives are due to submit proposals to the governing Trust of the BBC by the end of the year. The Trust has previously said that any new proposals would be subject to a public value test and a market impact assessment by the communications regulator Ofcom.
It is likely that only a small proportion of the project will now be recovered commercially. The BBC has conceded that a lot of the material was incomplete or already technically obsolete.
“We don’t believe the BBC should be using the licence fee to pitch services into marketplaces that are functioning perfectly well,” said Graham Taylor, who is director of the Educational Publishers Council of the Publishers Association. “There is a question about how it can recover the money it has invested, but it creates conflicts. The BBC has got itself in a pickle.”