The BBC's governing body has essentially approved a 25 percent cut in the broadcaster's online budget.
The BBC Trust said it endorsed the "concept" of the cuts in its Strategy Review, which will see the broadcaster halve the number of pages running on the extensive www.bbc.co.uk site, and could see up to a quarter of online staff lose their jobs. It said it was now awaiting more specific plans.
No direct mention was made of cuts in external commissions, but the Trust says that the Beeb's online offerings need "a simpler and clearer focus, including core online publishing services such as news, sport and weather alongside iPlayer". These areas are generally developed in-house, with supplemental material for specific projects being pushed out to agencies -- and it's these additional elements that are likely to be hardest hit by cuts.
Many small interactive agencies rely on the BBC for regular commissions, which has helped them through the recession as commercial commisions have become more scarce.
First on the block is the BBC Blast website, a skills development portal aimed at teenagers from deprived backgrounds -- because the site was "failing to reach" its target audience effectively.
The news comes as the Trust rejected plans to close BBC 6 Music, an eagerly-supported specialist music radio station.
There are 29.5 million unique UK visitors every week to the BBC website. BBC director general Mark Thompson said in March that the broadcaster needed to focus on quality instead of attempting "to do everything", but he insisted the website plans did not mark a "retreat from digital".
In line with BBC proposals, the Trust said the Beeb needed to "sharpen" its web focus, "so that it is truly distinctive and has clearer editorial vision and control", and is in line with the BBC's core remit. It noted that online growth was slowing and "maturing" in line with the overall broadband market, although BBC mobile web access and the iPlayer were growing "strongly".
The Trust also called for "greater clarity" as to the correct balance between audio-visual and text-based content.
The Trust said it is now awaiting "greater clarity" from the BBC on its web proposals, including how to measure the distinctiveness of content, and how to remain highly relevant as technology changes and content sharing opportunities arise.