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BBC to Commercialise Broadband Video Streaming iPlayer TV Service

Friday, Mar 16th, 2012 (9:13 am) - Score 1,091

The BBC’s Director General, Mark Thompson, has somewhat controversially announced that the TV broadcasters free web-based iPlayer broadband video streaming service will soon begin to offer a commercial “download-to-own” product similar to Blinkbox and other online digital distribution platforms. But apparently it won’t be a “second licence-fee by stealth” as many might fear.

At present the iPlayer service acts as a Video-on-Demand (VoD) style catch-up TV solution, which allows you to watch popular UK BBC TV shows online but only for a short period after they’ve been broadcast.

The new service will allow you to buy episodes that exist outside of that catch-up window, possibly for £1 to £2 a pop, as oppose to getting the DVD in a shop (the DVD might still be cheaper). An official proposal for this will be submitted to the BBCTrustlater this year“.

Mark Thompson explained:

And there’s more to come. The BBC’s iPlayer is the most successful and most intensively used catch-up service in the world but it’s true that, after that seven day public service window, a large proportion of what the BBC makes and broadcast is never seen or heard of again. On television, despite all of our existing forms of public service archival and commercial windowing, the overwhelming majority of what the BBC commissions and broadcasts becomes unavailable when that iPlayer window expires.

We want to change that and have started to talk to our partners, including the independent sector and PACT, about a proposal which we will formally submit to the BBC Trust later this year which – for reasons which escape me – we call Project Barcelona.

The idea behind Barcelona is simple. It is that, for as much of our content as possible, in addition to the existing iPlayer window, another download-to-own window would open soon after transmission – so that if you wanted to purchase a digital copy of a programme to own and keep, you could pay what would generally be a relatively modest charge for doing so.

This is not a second licence-fee by stealth or any reduction in the current public service offering from the BBC – it’s the exact analogy of going into a High Street shop to buy a DVD or, before that, a VHS cassette. For decades the British public have understood the distinction between watching Dad’s Army on BBC One and then going out to buy a permanent copy of it. Barcelona is the digital equivalent of doing the second.

The window would be non-exclusive. The BBC would open up one digital shop, but the expectation would be that all this content would also be made available for other existing providers to sell if they wish and that producers could exploit this download-to-own window in any way they wanted. But the important point is that the window would be open-ended – in other words, the programmes would be available permanently.

Our ambition would ultimately be to let our audiences have access to all of our programmes on this basis and, over time, to load more and more of our archive into the window.”

Thompson also said that he expected the iPlayer service to, at peak, offer 24 simultaneous HD streams on the BBC’s website to help cover this year’s London 2012 Olympic Games (ISPs will need to be prepared for the extra demand). “we will broadcast live from every venue from the start to the finish of each day’s action,” he said. This will also be available on the forthcoming YouView (IPTV) platform that broadband ISPs BT and TalkTalk are expected to adopt this spring/summer.


We still think that buying a DVD is usually better value than many modern digital distribution services, especially for older TV and Movie content where sales can make physical media seem much more attractive. At the same time a new generation of unlimited streaming services from LOVEFiLM and Netflix are beginning to challenge that.

By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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