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BBC Future is Blocking...Itself

Written by on March 9, 2012

I have seen some pretty strange things when it comes to publishers blocking content, but the BBC has just taken this to the extreme. Instead of blocking everyone else, they have decided to block themselves.

Last month, BBC launched a new site called BBC Future. It is absolutely brilliant, with top notch and focused articles. I just love this new site, and if you haven't seen it yet, you should!

But there is a catch. Everyone in the world can see this site, except anyone in the UK. From England, you will instead see this:

Note: Thanks to @stef for the screenshot.

The BBC, as you might know, is owned by the UK Government, which essentially means that it is owned by the citizens of UK. It's monetized, via taxes, in the form of public licensing fees and as such has to be provided openly and freely to everyone in the UK.

But because this particular site is operated by the division within the BBC in charge of international expansion, and is monetized by advertising, the BBC has to block it for everyone in the UK.

That just makes no sense. Why don't they just block the ads?

As I wrote on their Facebook Page:

As a publisher (from Denmark), I don't understand why BBC Future isn't just removing the ads for people in the UK. You are not losing any money by allowing UK citizens to see it, all you do is to antagonize the entire UK population.
And, you are disrupting the flow of social sharing. When we share your links, we have no control over who sees it. I shared an article earlier, and one of my followers complained to me about it. You are making me look bad, because I shared a link that only some could see. It's social discrimination.
Your site is extremely interesting, and very well done. But the decision to block UK citizens is daft. Please do something about it...

I have seen some pretty strange things when it comes to geolocation blocking. But this one just boggles your mind.

I can understand why the BBC, for years, has blocked people *outside* the UK, because only people in the UK have paid the licensing fee. That makes kind of sense, even though it is still a stupid way to solve the problem - give people outside the UK a way to pay too.

But blocking people in the UK (who have all paid for the BBC through government taxes), while giving everyone else free access, is just one of those things my brain simply cannot comprehend. It goes against all forms of logic.

The problem, of course, is that I don't think this decision was made by some clueless manager. I think some government legislation is prohibiting BBC Worldwide from competing other media companies in the UK, and that is why they have to block the site.

Not that this explanation is any better. In today's connected world, BBC Worldwide would compete directly anyway.

Update: The BBC has responded confirming my suspicions that this block is the result of government legislation.

[...] 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

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Thomas Baekdal

Thomas Baekdal

Founder of Baekdal, author, writer, strategic consultant, and new media advocate.

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