A long time ago, in a galaxy far far away, we thought it would be interesting to ask the BBC how much licence fee payer's money they used to advertise TV Licensing on the web.
In common with millions of other advertisers the BBC uses a system called Google AdWords, which displays ads on various sites across the web. AdWords is a contextual pay per click advertising service: contextual in the sense that ads on web pages relevant to the ad topic; pay per click in that it costs the advertiser (the BBC in this case) a small fee each time someone clicks on one of their ads. I'm sure most people are familiar with the "Ads by Google" that appear all over the web. Maybe people aren't familiar with the idea that every click on a TV Licensing related ad costs the BBC money.
Being very familiar with Google AdWords and knowing how widespread TV Licensing related ads were, I summised that it might be costing the BBC a pretty packet to publicise their product to the web surfing public. I asked them all about it and true to form they managed to avoid answering, citing the fact that disclosing the cost of their advertising might prejudice their commercial interests. As I mentioned earlier, I am probably more aware of how Google AdWords works than the BBC, which led me to the conclusion that their reasons for not responding were bollocks. To that end I asked the BBC to conduct an internal review of my request which, for the second time (the last being my famous TV Detector Evidence request), found they had been wrong to withhold information from me.
The full trail of my correspondence with the BBC on this issue can be found on the Whatdotheyknow.com website.
Surprisingly, according to their final disclosure document, the BBC actually spends quite a modest sum on AdWords advertising, although they also admit to using other forms of online advertising that I didn't ask about. They've actually spent less on AdWords in the last 5 years than they have on booze.
Sadly our latest tussle with the BBC signals the end of our most noble of adversaries Dan McGregor, formerly top FOIA denier at the Corporation's TV Licensing Management Team. If it wasn't for Dan's poor judgement in the past the BBC's internal reviewers wouldn't have found in our favour each time we've asked their opinion! Hopefully he's away to pursue a more noble profession, although as a lawyer that's extremely doubtful.
The BBC's latest decision to backtrack during the internal review process leaves me wondering just how many FOIA requests they should have responded to but didn't. Given they knock back about half of all the requests they receive I'm willing to bet it's quite a substantial number.