The Beeb is getting in on the act:

BBC boosting online communities
Network to create social networking sites
By STEVE CLARKE
LONDON — The BBC is jumping on the social networking bandwagon as commercial arm BBC Worldwide looks to increase profits from Web-based activities.

Worldwide CEO John Smith, who has overseen a doubling of profits at the outfit in the last two years, thinks the BBC can create social networking sites based around communities of interest linked to BBC magazines.

Existing Web sites such as BBC Good Food are being beefed up to enable readers to interact with one another online and thus provide something more than an online version of the printed magazine.

Another recipe site?

Social networking sites centered around such subjects as cars, gardening, design, music and wildlife are all being considered as part of Worldwide’s growth strategy involving new media and acquisitions of relevant ventures outside the U.K.

The “webzines” would be funded by advertising, although a subscription model has not been ruled out.

“We’d like to have around five social networking sites up and running this year,” said a Worldwide insider.

Another part of the strategy involves the launch of BBC.com, an overseas version of BBC.co.uk but with “discreet advertising” and no pop-ups.

It’s unlikely to bow until this summer, but Smith has high hopes for the service given the popularity and strong reputation of BBC.co.uk both in Blighty and overseas.

The BBC’s publicly funded activities are barred from carrying advertising in the U.K.

BBC Worldwide is expected to announce profits of around £100 million ($194 million) later this year, a big improvement on the £37 million ($71.8 million) it posted three years ago.

With the British government poised to announce a new license fee deal likely to be far generous than the BBC would like, there is certain to be increased pressure on Worldwide to boost profits.

A Worldwide spokeswoman said: “Our growth strategy involves a combination of investing in new-media ventures, but also where Worldwide can make a suitable acquisition in target countries, including the U.S.”

And Australia, one presumes. Delivery of advertising into these type of communities is becoming more and more interesting, and communities that receive advertising will give traditional online classifieds sites that you have to go to, a run for their (and our) money. So the ‘classifieds.coms’ had better start thinking of API’s and distributed channels quick smart, perhaps looking to Oodle.com seach engine for local classifieds model:

Oodle makes it easy to use online classifieds. We bring together loads of listings from hundreds of local and national sources and help you find exactly what you’re looking for — the right job or place to volunteer, the perfect home, or a great deal on a used ladder.

And don’t you just love their social responsibility stuff that’s built in? Such as “give locally”? They know their demographic, that’s fer shure.

Back to the BBC: and did you see the note about their “discreet” advertising and no popups? At least they aren’t building social networks with the sole purpose of dumping advertising on ’em cos there’s enough digital graveyards out there.

I think the BBC can make a go of this as social networks work so much better online if they mirrors offline groups, and outside of the U.K there is definitely a *family* mentality felt by expatriates in far flung places who share BBC Worldwide viewing pleasure. In some countries it’s one of the few reasonable English-language cable channels.

I’m not a big fan of social networks built around movies and music, for a number of reasons which I won’t go into here. But although an online community wouldn’t work in the U.K for most of their shows, they do have compelling content for their international consumers. From wiki:

Other major areas of business include international programming sale and distribution, foreign and domestic satellite and cable television channels (such as UKTV in the UK, BBC America in the United States and BBC Canada in Canada), book and magazine publishing (most famously the Radio Times), VHS and DVD releases, spoken word and music audio products, CD-ROMs, English language teaching, videos for education and training, interactive telephony, library footage sales, magazine subscription fulfilment, exhibitions, live events, film and media monitoring.

These commercial activities allow BBC Worldwide to return profits to the BBC to re-invest in public service programming (£189 million during 2005/2006). However, the BBC has often been criticised in recent years for the amount of money it makes from Worldwide. Some commercial rivals protest at the advantage the company has from being associated with and being able to exploit the programme catalogue and resources of the BBC in order to provide its goods and services.

I just hope they open up their content to mashups ala Google:

“We know we don’t have a corner on creativity. There are creative people all around the world, hundreds of millions of them, and they are going to think of things to do with our basic platform that we didn’t think of. So the mashup stuff is a wonderful way of allowing people to find new ways of applying the basic infrastructures we’re propagating. This will turn out to be a major source of ideas for applying Google-based technology to a variety of applications.” Vint Cerf

Love ya Vint.