BBC confirms plans for paid download service

Paid download service

The BBC is confirming plans to launch a download service that will enable users to buy individual TV shows almost immediately after they have been broadcast, as the corporation seeks to recoup the sizeable costs associated with running its iPlayer video-on-demand (VoD) service in the face of government funding cuts. Speaking at an event at the Royal Television Society, the BBC’s director general, Mark Thompson, says the service would charge viewers a “relatively modest” amount to own and keep a digital copy of a programme. He adds that the broadcaster is already in talks with independent producers and the producers’ trade union, Pact, over licensing their shows for the service, dubbed Project Barcelona.

“The idea behind Barcelona is simple,” says Thompson. “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.”

Thompson is light on further details about the proposal, giving no launch date or further indication of the price of downloading shows. However, previous reports suggest that the BBC is considering charging around GBP1.89 (USD2.96) per show, roughly similar to the cost of downloading BBC content via rival services, such as Apple’s iTunes. For producers concerned that such a service would cannibalise its current revenues, Thompson says the BBC has no plans to pull content from its competitors, adding that deals with producers would be “non-exclusive” and “open-ended”, leaving them free to continue selling to other online services such as iTunes, Netflix or Blinkbox.

Currently, just 7% of the corporation’s archive is available online, with the BBC keen to up that amount in a bid to boost its digital revenues. The corporation is also interested in providing a paid-for option for users wanting to own recent content, as they can currently only stream programmes for up to 30 days after broadcast via the iPlayer. Project Barcelona would initially only include content from a limited number of shows, although Thompson says the BBC is hoping to expand the project to include all its current programmes, as well as its archive.

“Our ambition would ultimately be to let everyone who pays the licence fee access all of our programmes on this basis and, over time, to load more and more of our archive into the window,” he says. “It could also mark an important step in broadcast’s journey from being a transitory medium into a growing body of outstanding and valuable content which is always available to enjoy and which persists forever.”

The move to make more of its content available online for consumers to download makes financial sense for the BBC. However, any paid download service will face stiff competition from the likes of iTunes, which offer a much wider range of content from a number of broadcasters. The proposal is likely to come up against a backlash from consumers, who already have to pay an annual licence fee to the BBC. However, Thompson dismisses this concern, claiming that a paid download service is merely an extension of the BBC’s current commercial business.

“For decades the British public has understood the distinction between watching Dad’s Army on BBC1 and then going out to buy a permanent copy of it,” he says. “Barcelona is the digital equivalent of doing the second.”

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