During her evidence today to the House of Lords Communications Committee detailing how Trinity Mirror plans to develop new business online across its 260 regional titles, Sly Bailey said that any BBC expansion in this area could harm the embryonic businesses of the regional press.
"Online gives us economically the chance to do things that just wouldn't work for us in print," she said.
"However, what really concerns me with that is the BBC in the area of ultra local [news]. Our business in this area, as ever other publisher's, is very fragile, embryonic. The business models aren't clear and we are all making investments.
"Our concern is that if the BBC moves online evermore locally, without the same commercial constraints as us, it will disrupt these markets making it much more difficult [for regional publishers] to enter into them…we must not allow it to distort these embryonic markets if we believe in a plurality of voice."
After dropping plans for its ultra-local TV service in October, plans which had already spiked the ire of the regional publishers, the BBC came back with a new plan for a network of 60 local websites to instead take advantage of new mapping and geo-tagging technology. A move which again upset those with a commercial interest in developing online news across the country's towns and cities.
Trinity Mirror’s online operations were making money, Bailey added, but it was not yet sufficient to offset losses in revenue from the dwindling classified advertising market for its printed newspapers.
Bailey also told the committee that Trinity would continue to develop its reach online regionally and locally, saying that she saw the prospect to serve hyper-local communities as the 'greatest opportunity that digital presents'. She then went on to detail the experiments Trinity Mirror had been making in this area through its 22 websites based on postcode districts affiliated to the Teesside Gazette.
"One of the advantages of being the biggest regional publisher is that we can develop concepts and technology centrally that we can give as tools to our local businesses to grow and develop…we give them the tools that they would not be able to afford to have if they were a uniquely owned business," she said.
"We have made rapid growth because of that and the greatest opportunity that digital presents is the opportunity to drill down in a very local way to serve hyper-local communities."
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