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BBC blocking articles from UK residents (alexwarren.co.uk)
224 points by alex-warren on July 3, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 100 comments



So the BBC is... weird. The majority of the operation is a taxpayer-funded public broadcaster with a remit to produce high quality programming for free; but there's a unit called BBC Worldwide whose job it is to battle it out in the red-in-tooth-and-claw world of commercial TV programming, selling BBC programmes overseas and minting money that can then be used to subsidize the public broadcasting component.

While this sounds laudable as an idea, for this to work it also means that the British taxpayer is not allowed to subsidize BBC Worldwide in any way. For example, BBCW pays rent at market rates for its office space to the rest of the BBC, even though they're in the same building, and they're virtually prohibited from selling anything in the UK. Add in the fact that the rest of the British media business is (understandably) quite pissed off about having a competitor that operates under a different set of rules, meaning they watch it like a hawk and squawk as soon as there's even a hint of unfair advantage, and you get all sorts of bizarro-world conflicts and overblown solutions like this that throw the baby out with the bathwater.

(Disclaimer: I used to work for a company owned by BBC Worldwide. This is my personal opinion.)


So, are UK residents prevented from looking at bbc.com URLs in case we see/click on any advertising?


No, it's in case the BBC URL substitutes for a UK commercial website.


But if BBCW is emphatically not subsidized as stated above, wouldn't it be perfectly OK -- even more OK than regular BBC -- if it competed with UK commercial websites? Since it's not got any "unfair" subsidy advantage?

Not trying to argue, just trying to understand the (bizarre) logic of the blockade.


one word "Murdoch"


Please send an email to the BBC Trust asking them to reassess wether this policy really is in the best interests of the BBC and the licence payer.

Please abstain from just complaining. The BBC is a complex beast and I genuinely believe this policy was drafted with the BBC and the licence payers best interests at heart, but perhaps they should take another look at this policy and debate wether or not there is a better way to comply with the BBC charter whilst not limiting access to content for license fee payers.

trust.enquiries@bbc.co.uk

You may also contact Maria Miller, who is the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport to perhaps urge the BBC Trust to look into this issue.

enquiries@culture.gov.uk

And it wouldn't hurt to CC your local MP. http://www.writetothem.com


The anger by the OP and most of the commenters is misplaced. This is not a decision solely by the BBC Trust, and was not done with the licence players best interest at heart. This is the result of lobbying by newspapers and commercial broadcasters. The theory is that compulsory tax (or license fee) payers money should not be used to compete against commercial interests in anything other than TV broadcasting. In the current political climate, this is unlikely to change.

In fact, there was a concerted effort a few years back to shut down the entire BBC News website.


Yes sky etal including the Guardian actively lobby against the BBC as they can't compete against good services if you have heard UK commercial radio vs the BBC you will understand why.

No one ask why the sky tax is higher than the license fee and sky produces virtually zero high quality programming as that woudl upset that nice Mr Murdoch and we cant have that now can we.

Radio 2 was deliberately hobbled as it was getting to successful.


The BBC has been out of control for a while now. They bought Lonely Planet and sold it at an £80m loss, they claim to provide impartial news coverage but clearly don't, and they have presided over a paedophile scandal that would make the Catholic Church blush.


The BBC runs the worlds largest news broadcasting organisation. It has 3,500 staff, has 44 foreign news bureaux, has correspondents in almost every country, produces 120hrs of radio and television output each day, is the largest news room in europe and runs on £350 million a year.

The BBC Natural history Unit produces 100 hours of television and 50 hours of radio every year, and is the largest wildlife production house in the world. It's work is watched by audiences around the globe and has won Emmys, BAFTAs and Prix Italias.

It's sports coverage (when it can get the rights) is second to none. The most long lasting and iconic comedies and dramas in British culture were created by and housed at the BBC.

The BBC runs for £4.8 Billion a year. Compare that with sky that runs at £5.9 Billion a year. Everything on the BBC is free to licence payers. To get the complete sky Package would cost you £66 per month AND you have to watch adverts AND they still have Pay Per View for anything worth watching. Neither ITV, Chanel 4 or 5 offer anything near the quality and quantity that the BBC offer (Although Chanel 4 news is my second choice). And every other digital channel is basically endless reruns of BBC programming (Switch on Dave, $5 says it's a Top Gear rerun).

I'll forgive them a few hiccups, and I expect a few hiccups considering it's size and reach. Overall, I think they're doing a sterling job.


A lot of their output is excellent.A lot of it is "me-too" copying of successful commercial formates.

However, all the points you make are unrelated to covering up of child abuse by several presenters.


In your comment about the child abuse scandal, you were replying directly to a comment about attempts to shut down the BBC News website; in that context, your comments are going to be interpreted as being about the whole organization, not just about a single issue. In that context, it's not justified to then dismiss counterarguments (for the continued running of the BBC) as unrelated.


I would have thought that policies and procedures for producing good programming content are unrelated to whether it is OK to cover up child abuse or not. You could run a perfect news organisation, for instance, but still have a bad record on child protection. The two are unrelated.


Ooops - I forgot the £133m they just wasted on a failed IT Project as well.


The BBC are prohibited from running certain commercial services (of which BBC.com is one) in the UK due to regulatory requirements.

It's not their decision.

You could of-course lobby your MP to get it changed, but I imagine there would be substantial opposition from both supporters and opponents of public media services to allowing BBC to run commercial services in the UK.


This applies also to BBC Travel, which is run in partnership with Lonely Planet, last I checked. I used to really enjoy those articles, now I never read them because I can't be faffed to proxy up every time...


Lonely Planet was, until very recently, owned by BBC Worldwide.


Which they sold at an £80m loss. How many license fees is that?


If anybody is still wondering why BBC Worldwide would block its contents from viewers in the UK, it seems reactions like these are what they're trying to prevent.


Yes, they block the websites from the UK because people being outraged at a ("commercial" arm of a) state broadcaster losing £80m is a complete overreaction.


BBC Worldwide is a separate commercial organisation. It does not get to spend any of your license-fee.


I will re-state then.

If BBC Worldwide had not lost that £80m, how much in additional funds could have been offset against the license fee that UK people pay?


None. BBC Worldwide is a separate entity that neither takes money from license fees nor produces anything specifically for license fee payers.


Whiskers - it seems I can't reply to you, but according to the top-rated comment on this page:

The majority of the operation is a taxpayer-funded public broadcaster with a remit to produce high quality programming for free; but there's a unit called BBC Worldwide whose job it is to battle it out in the red-in-tooth-and-claw world of commercial TV programming, selling BBC programmes overseas and minting money that can then be used to subsidize the public broadcasting component.

That would imply that BBC Worldwide profits do impact the license fee (assuming the BBC don't just spend the profits, but use it to drive down license fee costs).


The thing is they're still running the services whether someone in the UK consumes it or not.

I thought the primary reason for it not running commercial services was so that its integrity as an independent source of news and culture wasn't compromised. So surely by running anything commercial, it is potentially compromised.

You can already see that by the type of programmes that get made these days. It's clear much of it is made to sell to the rest of the world, rather than just for a UK audience.


BBC Worldwide which is their commercial arm is an independent subsidiary of the BBC.


So showing ads is the problem right? Then don't show adds to UK citizens and let them read the damn thing instead of blocking the article? Then BBC International can charge BBC for showing "add free content" to UK citizens and that would take care of the formalities.


They are not allowed to do that, either, due to lobbying from the private media companies. The companies managed to push through a rule that the BBC cannot show any content in the UK whose production was funded commercially, even if they showed the result ad-free in the UK.


Showing ads is not really the problem. Using public money to compete with industries (i.e. Rupert Murdoch) who can place very high lobbying pressure on them not to do that is the problem.


No the problem is that the content was created with the intention of making profit and the BBC aren't allowed to do that in the UK.


I may well try asking about it.

IMHO this is just breaking the net, and blatantly weird.


A BBC Worldwide spokesman said: [...]

'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 content on BBC.co.uk. genres.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2208251/Global-BBC-w... (daily mail, so you have to scroll way down past the righteous indignation to get the facts)


Surely they can still make the content available even if they're not allowed to promote it on the public services?

e.g. I can still buy Doctor Who DVDs in the UK, even if the BBC can't advertise them between programmes.


Not that it invalidates your point, but your example is a bad one - BBC can, and do, advertise DVDs of their own TV series, in between programmes.


They used to advertise their own magazines as well.


>> 'Under the BBC’s Fair Trading rules commercial websites are not allowed to receive unfair promotion from the BBC’s public services.

So don't promote it on the publicly funded sites. Done.

>> 'This prevents us from being able to provide Future content on BBC.co.uk. genres.

All that's saying is "we can't put this stuff on our UK sites".

I'm not criticising the parent post by the way, but this just sounds like more non-reasons to me.


I think it's really important to have some context for this. It's not just a matter of "we can't show ads" - more that the BBC cannot enter certain markets in the UK that fall outside their remit.

A number of years ago, the BBC ran a lot of websites that were extremely useful but not directly related to their broadcast output.

Unfortunately (for the general public), commercial broadcasters and publishers made persistant and vocal complaints that they were being irreparably harmed by the BBC entering into markets that were well outside their broadcasting remit. This led to a number of those sites getting shut down, and the BBC's web remit being considerably tightened inside the UK.

BBC Worldwide operates to a certain degree 'at arms length' from the publicly funded BBC, and is able to enter markets that are outside the BBC's normal remit. However, it is severely restrained on entering those markets in the UK, due to the perceived advantage the company has over other commercial competitors.


Oh I understand the context. But I find the outcome and the excuses ridiculous.


>> So don't promote it on the publicly funded sites. Done.

That's exactly what they are doing. The only sites the BBC are legally allowed to operate within the UK have to be publicly funded.


So is there a way to make bbc.com articles available to us in a way that doesn't involve unfair promotion?

The problem is that I can't read an article that somebody else referred me to. He's already promoting it. I don't think it'd be unfair to give me access on that basis.

Browsing bbc.com through the front page? I'm not interested in that anyway.

LWN.net do "subscriber links", where a subscriber can share a subscriber-only article. What if bbc.com did that, so that readers can share an article with everyone?

This is subject to abuse, of course. LWN.net control it (presumably) by controlling subscriptions, since only subscribers can generate subscriber links and the links are unique and trackable. But I can think of some mitigation strategies for this, and am not sure that abuse will be such a big deal.


I don't know if any of the brits here have ever browsed the BBC from abroad - when I was at COP15 in Copenhagen in 2009 (being at a political gathering, I was on free wifi and news sites half the time) I was shocked to see the BBC news site with adverts on it!

I was laughed at by the Danes, Swedes and Canadians I was with, because obviously the BBC always had adverts on.

Seriously, if the law says the BBC can't show adverts in the UK, they should make ad-free versions of the sites available, not an error message.

In fact, the issue here doesn't even seem to be adverts - it's that its a bbc.com article instead of a bbc.co.uk one - i.e a commercial service that isn't allowed to receive "promotion" here. As long as they don't link to it from the UK sites, I don't see how they are "promoting" it; we all found that link from a 3rd party source (i.e. HN) and wanted to read it! :/


The BBC brand is hugely valuable, letting a commercial site use it (even one owned by the BBC) is clearly promotion.


So the site would need to be whitelabelled? yea, that would be an unreasonable cost I suppose.

Shame.


I wanted to read this exact same article yesterday, clicked on the link and got the same "reason" page. I thought about configuring a proxy to try and get it to load, but then thought "fuck it" and just gave up.

It is ridiculous and the lawyers that cause this to happen are so short sighted about how the internet works that its laughable. However as my actions show, it is annoying enough for people to give up and just accept it.


I love the NYUD trick, but trying to look up nyud.net brings me to some parked website, I don't know more about it.

A sensible worldwide url proxy-like would be great in order to bypass such country-based accesses. Oh, and letme.in is for sale!

Wanna see the BBC? paste letme.in in the url ; wanna see french public TV from abroad? do the same ; belgian public TV? go ahead

On a related note, lemonde.fr has similar weird rules (not state owned though). Coming from google news you can't see the full article http://www.lemonde.fr/politique/article/2013/03/04/grand-par... but copy pasting the title in google https://www.google.at/search?q=Grand+Paris+%3A+la+victoire+d... you just have to click on the first link to get the full article...


I found that http://www.bbc.com.sixxs.org was far faster than using Coral cache, but that assumes that you have access to IPv6. You can't chain the IPv4 proxy to it by the look of things (http://www.bbc.com.sixxs.org.ipv4.sixxs.org/).


OK, so NYUD and SIXXS are "tunnels" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tunneling_protocol which seems to work similarly as a proxy...


Both are proxies of a sort. They're effectively websites with a wildcard DNS entry and the subdomain is then used to determine the remote site. In nyud.net's case, this is located in their CDN before the real site is contacted. In the case of sixxs.org, the site is contacted directly. The difference is in the DNS entries. .ipv4.sixxs.org returns an IPv4 address and .sixxs.org returns an IPv6 address. Once connected, if the Host: header ends in ipv4.sixxs.org, the proxy connects to the remote site over IPv6; if not, the proxy connects over IPv4. The end result is that you get a proxy that lets you access the IPv6 web without IPv6 (and the IPv4 web without IPv4).


Cool, thanks for the explanations!


This falls under exactly the same Laws that prevent a UK resident viewing Channel 4 content on YouTube. (Or, try asking a German why so much of YouTube is "dark" to them, specifically Corporately sponsored music channels).

It has nothing to do with your license fee, and everything to do with the (vastly complex and totally out of my expertise) realms of International Copyright / Licensing Laws.

As ever, these things are really not simple enough to be covered by a blog post. Yes: the BBC's default page should be totally transparent (i.e. "You cannot view this because of agreement X, Y, Z", however, there's probably a clause in some contract preventing them from stating it - and no, that's not a joke) but this really is not the droid you're looking for to rant at.

Hint: If you're in Australia, the entire works of George Orwell are public domain; in the USA and the EU, this isn't the case. And yes, we need a serious shake up of the entire structure to progress, but this isn't the wet-stone to sharpen your axe on, trust me.

Ask why Disney gets 70+ years of Copyright, it's a far more egregious case.


I wrote to my MP. This is his reply:

10 July 2013

Dear Edward,

Thank you for writing to me with your concerns about why a particular BBC article (http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20130701-why-you-feel-phanto...) cannot be viewed in the UK.

It is the case that some international BBC content cannot be viewed in the UK because it is not funded by the licence fee, but instead by BBC Worldwide which is a commercial enterprise.

I appreciate that this is frustrating but because BBC Worldwide is run commercially there is no obligation for the BBC to make international service content available in the UK.

Thanks again for bringing your concerns to my attention.

Yours sincerely,

Julian Huppert Member of Parliament for Cambridge


It's a little like the BBC world service news, which is pretty good (especially compared to sky and cnn and so on), except you can't get it in the UK ... it even has the same presenters that are on the normal BBC 24 News, and 10 o'clock news! It's weird to say the least.

But it gets even more weird, as programmes made by the licence pay version of the BBC appear on the world service news. I was watching it a week ago in a hotel room and noticed they were showed Click, a programme made by the BBC in the UK. So what is that doing being shown on the commercial arm of the BBC?


> So what is that doing being shown on the commercial arm of the BBC?

BBC World News is distinct from BBC Worldwide, they're different commercial groups. It has a much closer relationship with BBC News, which is publicly funded. BBC Worldwide exists to make a profit, whereas BBC World News is commercially funded but not profit driven. It's...complicated.


Thanks, it certainly is :)


And BBC World Service ?


They're simply not allowed to have ads (or direct subscriber fees) in front of the license-paid British public. The same content may be available elsewhere with adverts or fees (and that does provide a substantial chunk of their income), but those extra money-making bits are only allowed offshore. The British public have already paid for what they get, so double-dipping is not allowed. (And unlike some other "public" broadcasters, your programming isn't regularly preempted for fundraising begathons featuring programming that almost none of the regular viewers like.)


Not sure if we're talking about different things, but the BBC World Service radio channel is available on UK DAB.

Just to confuse matters, the World Service Click programme is not the same as the 'regular' BBC News one either.


So this stuff we are "forced" to pay for via the TV licence, but we cannot see..

Think the BBC should be privatised.. TopGear is worth a few million for a start...


Top Gear is privatized. That's what BBC Worldwide is about. They sell the programme to foreign markets, they also licence it if countries want to make their own version. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Top_Gear_%282002_TV_series%29#...


No thankyou. BBC worldwide does just fine earning from the channel's exports and otherwise the BBC maintains a fine standard of ad-free media.


Then let those who want the BBC pay for such a thing. I see no good reason why I should have to subsidise your tastes.


At least you're only forced to pay for the BBC if you watch TV.

You're "forced" to pay for the commercial channels every time you buy something that's advertised on them.


A government controlled media outlet? How is this possible (sarcasm). I in general like the BBC, but this should not be a surprise.


If you bookmark the JS below you can create a 'button' to convert bbc.com links to bbc.com.nyud.net links as suggested by the OP:

javascript:window.location.href=window.location.href.replace("bbc.com","bbc.com.nyud.net");

A better solution would be a greasemonkey script/browser extension but this does the job for now :-)


Chrome extension: http://goo.gl/VsD5s :)


This just reads to me as generic nerdrage and/or an attempt to gain some internet points by piggybacking an earlier discussion on HN.

It would be far quicker to view the article via Coral Cache, the Way Back Machine or some other proxy, and it would be far more effective to write to the BBC Trust and/or your local MP.


A Chrome extension that solves this issue: http://goo.gl/VsD5s. Extract the files, head to chrome://extensions > Load unpacked extension and select the folder.


The confusion is because of the name.

If they called their international subsidiary, "Super Mega Global Worldwide Media Corporation", it wouldn't seem any more or less ridiculous than anyone else doing geo-targeting.


Anyone else doing the same gets the same level of ridicule. It's not even the same as the likes of Netflix where there are all sorts of third party stake holders, licenses, etc. - BBC owns this content. Why would anyone other than BBC not get criticised if they did this?


Weird .nyud.net (coral cdn ) doesn't work from my network with any website. Damn you Pakistani censorship :< .


If it's not funded by the license then that suggests that part of the BBC has been quietly privatised.


The BBC used to have a lot of commercial divisions, or wholly-owned subsidiary companies: BBC Resources Ltd, BBC Technology Ltd, BBC Broadcast Ltd, and BBC Worldwide Ltd. Of those, the first three have been sold off, leaving only BBC Worldwide.



If only.


THIS! In the last few years the BBC have produced nothing but period dramas and drivel all of it aimed at the american market. Why make quality british programming for the British market any more when you can make a 'UK series' (6 eps) and make pure profit in the US market.


Any institution that has given us the ending of Blackadder Goes Forth (the best 90 seconds of television ever filmed), Top Gear, Red Dwarf, Blake's 7 and The New Statesman and Sherlock just cannot do much wrong in my opinion.


Sherlock alone is enough to disprove that hyperbolic statement.

They aren't perfect by any means but have managed to produce some gems. They often don't fully appreciate that they are gems when making them mind you.


Reminds me a bit of this, what have the BBC ever done for us? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fEJGRNrbmNc


Just because you aren't a fan of various BBC programmes, doesn't mean that other people aren't either. Many people in the UK really enjoy all the period drama stuff that they show. That the US market also enjoys it is an added bonus.

Please don't project your own opinions onto the rest of the UK.


I don't, they cost a shit load of money to make, and unlike commercial companies have a guaranteed budget for the TV licence..


A series of Downton Abbey costs approx £12MM and reaches 13MM people in the UK alone[1].

The 2hr pilot episode of LOST cost $12MM[2]. Each episode of Game of Thrones has a budget of $6MM[3].

So no, they don't cost a lot of money to make, relatively speaking.

Edit: sources.

[1] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/tvandradio/8717969/Trench...

[2] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/northamerica/usa/1...

[3] http://www.contactmusic.com/news/game-of-thrones-costs-6-mil...


(although Downton Abbey is an ITV programme)


So it is, my mistake. I got it from a bad source[1]. I think the point still stands though; period dramas are relatively inexpensive to make.

[1] http://www.imdb.com/list/0hV86zyDCdo/


So the BBC is no longer producing content for BBC 1 and 2 in the UK?

Don't be ridiculous.


No but large swaths of the UK probably don't watch BBC1 or BBC2 on a regular basis as they have a sky or cable and I agree with them, they shouldn't need to fund the BBC if they don't use the content.

Reports suggest we'd make 6-7 billion on a sell off. Sell it and put the money towards buying back openreach because an infrastructure is what .gov should do, not content. =p


Yes, non-UK residents should note that if you, in the UK, only ever want to watch Japanese wrestling on a paid TV channel, you still need to shell out on a BBC annual licence (145 pounds/$220) or face a nasty penalty. This generates income for the BBC of > 3bn sterling.


I'm told it's easy enough to either ignore them or get them off your back.


I never said I didn't like it, I said it was drivel. I'm quite partial to the odd well produced period drama.

What I'm trying to say is that recently they tend produce content with a mind to how the US will receive this new content. Dr who, top gear and downton abbey for instance. All of these are popular in the US and while that isn't a bad thing (more money to the BBC to hopefully make more content) what I disagree with is that all they produce is more of the SAME content. They've lost innovation and only make content in a few genres with recurring themes.

>> Please don't project your own opinions onto the rest of the UK. how is my stating a personal opinion 'projecting my opinion onto the rest of the UK'? Isn't the point of a discussion to discuss your personal opinion or must I refrain from commenting because I happen to think strictly come dancing is a pile of poo and you think claudia 'needs a haircut' winkleman is brilliant? :D


Downton Abbey is not BBC, but is ITV.

> what I disagree with is that all they produce is more of the SAME content

A motoring show, a children's sf show, and a period drama (not produced by the BBC but bought in for BBC to sell abroad) are "the SAME content"?


Forgive me reposting (with some ammends) what I posted above, but I think it's relevant...

The BBC runs the worlds largest news broadcasting organisation. It has 3,500 staff, has 44 foreign news bureaux, has correspondents in almost every country, produces 120hrs of radio and television output each day, is the largest news room in europe and runs on £350 million a year.

The BBC Natural history Unit produces 100 hours of television and 50 hours of radio every year, and is the largest wildlife production house in the world. It's work is watched by audiences around the globe and has won Emmys, BAFTAs and Prix Italias. It's sports coverage (when it can get the rights) is second to none. The most long lasting and iconic comedies and dramas in British culture were created by and housed at the BBC.

The BBC runs for £4.8 Billion a year. Compare that with sky that runs at £5.9 Billion a year. Everything on the BBC is free to licence payers. To get the complete sky Package would cost you £66 per month AND you have to watch adverts AND they still have Pay Per View for anything worth watching AND they produce next to nothing original. The vast majority of it;s content is bought in from the states. Neither ITV, Chanel 4 or 5 offer anything near the quality and quantity that the BBC offer (Although Chanel 4 news is my second choice). And every other digital channel is basically endless reruns of BBC programming (Switch on Dave, $5 says it's a Top Gear rerun).


Have you heard of BBC4?


Literally the only channel I ever watch on television. It's pretty sad that the interesting documentaries have to be relegated to a separate channel so as not to confuse anyone watching BBC 1 or 2 (and BBC 1 and 2 get the HD versions, damn it.)


I really don't think Top Gear is produced with a view to the US market.


see me clarifying above :) they produce new content with a mind to the US audience which is my main bugbear with the BBC. They are still producing content.


Nonsense. Some counter-examples:

* Sherlock

* Top Gear

* Luther

* Life On Mars

* Doctor Who

* The Thick Of It

* In The Flesh

* Being Human

* Africa

I could go on...


I noticed this the other week when there was a link from fark.com

It's utterly ludicrous.


Even funnier, Canada can read these articles as well, just not the U.K. ;)


I've read the reason several times and I still don't get it.


BBC is forbidden to show ads. There are ads on BBC future. So BBC cannot show it in UK.

Now one would think that they could you know - strip the ads and not show them for UK IPs ...


They'd also be held to other requirements though, for example if an article were seen to be promoting a particular brand, etc.

bbc.co.uk does exactly that, there are ads shown externally but not internally.




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