The BBC has until June to justify the £112 million ($176m; €163m) of public money it spends annually on web and interactive services.
Britain’s culture, media and sport secretary Tessa Jowell told the Corporation – funded by a tax on TV owners known as the licence fee – that it has two months to deliver its defence before she appoints a team to conduct an independent review into the matter.
Ad-funded rivals accuse the BBC of overstepping its public service remit in online and many other services, and using public money to compete with the commercial sector.
The broadcaster has been ordered to measure its internet offering against the objectives set down when BBC Online first gained government approval in 1997. Critics claim the Corporation vowed at the time to restrict spending to £21m a year, but last year it spent £100.4m on the web, rising to £111.6m when interactive-TV services are included.
Once the BBC has delivered its report, Jowell will appoint the reviewers and set out “detailed terms of reference” for the review, which will include a public consultation.
Data sourced from: MediaGuardian.co.uk; additional content by WARC staff