Digital Learning Alliance

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The Digital Learning Alliance is a lobby group (a coalition of 18 software firms which claims to represent 90 per cent of the educational publishing industry) set up by SRU and Lexington Communications funded by the media industry to oppose BBC plans to launch a free digital service. Dennis Stevenson was linked to this initiative by virtue of his connections with Pearson and both SRU and Lexington. RM is another key player in the Alliance. According to the Times, the DLA 'brings together publishers including Pearson, Oxford University Press, Reed Elsevier, Granada Learning and HarperCollins, which is owned by News Corporation, parent company of The Times.'[1]

The Anti--BBC campaign

Ms Jowell yesterday invited views on the BBC's application in which it proposes introducing a wide range of interactive online learning materials in support of the school curriculum. In line with the BBC charter the plans need the secretary of state's approval.

Despite the government’s claim that regulatory conditions would prevent the BBC from dominating the market, the Digital Learning Alliance argued that the BBC was being given an unfair advantage, and that the new scheme would deprive them of substantial revenues. It would also, they suggested, deprive schools of choice.[2]The DLA has also claimed that the broadcaster is using licence fee revenues to fund ventures outside its area of responsibility, and has threatened to take it to court.[3]

"Our industry could be decimated," said Dominic Savage, co-chair of the Digital Learning Alliance, a trade body for companies involved in online learning. "We have deep concerns about our members' ability to compete with a similar service that was offered for free. There is a serious risk of substantial job losses." [4]

DLA commissioned a report[5] from what was claimed to be an independent strategic consultancy SRU. Its findings showed that the BBC's plan to supply schools with free online learning materials would cost the commercial publishers Pounds 400 million in lost orders over five years.[6]. However SRU was co-founded by Pearson non- executive chairman Lord Dennis Stevenson which makes it no so independent as it seems. [7]

The report states that the industry could face losses of £400million in revenue[8], which if looked at from another angle suggests that if the BBC were allowed to deliver this service for free then our schools could be making substantial savings. Money which could then be used in other areas of the schools where it is desperately needed.

BBC's idea of offering an entire free digital curriculum online - a complete educational service, paid for out of the licence fee emerged in 2001. Acccording to Ray Barker, director of British Educational Suppliers Association (BESA) it posed a significant threat for the commercial sector with less content into schools, and a shrinking of the market:

"Many members of the British Educational Suppliers Association (BESA) are software producers and suppliers, and what has made the UK software industry among the best in the world has been its variety of approach and the innovation of its content." [9]

Here is how Ray Barker describes the lobbying campaign against the BBC free digital service project:

"In 2003 the £160m service was approved by DCMS with 18 conditions, including that any BBC content should be ‘distinctive and complementary’. After this, we accepted that we would have to work alongside the BBC – as long as it could achieve an innovative and distinctive and complementary service. However, when the BBC started to commission for ‘BBC jam’, we saw that this was not going to be the case. Our lobbying campaign had six distinct, but often-interweaving strands:
1. Working with the industry, bringing competitors together, we created the Digital Learning Alliance – a group comprising 90 per cent of the industry – to research the market and to disseminate information. PricewaterhouseCoopers had been commissioned by the BBC to write its own report on market impact. Our research, and subsequent market assessment of the impact of the BBC’s Digital Curriculum was produced by a firm of independent economic consultants - National Economic Research Associates (NERA), and circulated at the highest levels of government with the assistance of a parliamentary lobbying organisation.
2. We worked closely with three government departments (DCMS, DfES, DTI) to clarify our position on competition and negotiate a way forward. We met with Tessa Jowell - then at DCMS - and with senior figures in both other departments.
3. We worked with key media in a PR campaign to inform and influence all sectors about the negative commercial and educational impact of such an intervention. We were clear that as a sector we believe that the BBC has a valuable role to play in providing a public service within a wider education remit – but not spending £160m of licence fee money competing directly with commercial curriculum products. Areas without such a commercial imperative such as adult literacy, national languages and even innovating in key areas of special needs would have supported the work of the industryand not opposed and threatened it.
4. We worked to mitigate the financial effects of the BBC project during the campaign. Schools were aware that the service was coming, through BBC advertising and promotion. The market noticed that sales started to decline. This meant that funding was not available for future product development and therefore would stifle innovation in this fast-growing sector. ICT in schools was a major government priority and we were instrumental in achieving nearly £500m of ring-fenced funding for the education software industry from 2004-08.
5. We also worked at all times with the BBC to come to an amicable solution - continually discussing its compliance with the DCMS approval terms, once the BBC service was agreed. We were able to see and comment on products as they were developed.
6. Most importantly we worked with the EU Commission in Brussels to highlight issues of State Aid and competition. The Commission eventually agreed with our arguments and informed the relevant government departments.
7. The BBC service was suspended by the BBC Trust in April 2007 and cancelled in May. The BBC Trust has now asked BBC management “to prepare fresh proposals for how the BBC meets its public purpose of promoting formal education in the context of school age children”. Industry will work with the BBC to ensure that it comes up with a public service solution which is truly innovative and genuinely distinctive and complementary. This is not the end, therefore; we move on to the next stage.
• BESA won the Sector Representation Award at the Trade Association Forum Best Practice Awards 2007 for this campaign."[10]


David Haggie (co-chair)

Phil Hemmings, RM plc

Jon Williamson

Steve Bolingbroke, RM plc

Ray Barker (BESA)

External links and notes



  1. BBC Online Threatens School Book Publishers, The Times 16 July 2002 posted on the website of NERA Economic Consulting who produced reports for the DLA.
  2. Centre for the Study of Children, Youth and Media London Review of Education, Vol. 1, No. 3, November 2003
  3. BBC under new fire over e-learning plans, e-consultancy, 15 July 2002
  4. Rivals threaten BBC with court for £150m online learning push John Cassy The Guardian, Friday May 24 2002
  5. Scott, P. with Askew, P. (2002) Digital learning resources for schools: market effects of BBC entry, SRU for the Digital Learning Alliance, Measurement for Management Decision Limited
  6. Publishers Fear Cost Of Net Freebie, Times Educational Supplement, July 20, 2002
  7. Telecoms Media Technology: Why the pink queen might turn deep red The Independent Jul 28, 2002
  8. BBC under new fire over e-learning plans, e-consultancy, 15 July 2002
  9. In a Class of its own Membership Today
  10. In a Class of its own Membership Today