Joseph O'Halloran ©RapidTVNews | 28-07-2011

The BBC has announced the first stage in its ambitious plan to take its hugely successful iPlayer to non-British TV audiences with an iPad app for European viewers.

Taking the iPlayer mobile has been a core objective for the BBC for some time. Speaking at the FT Digital Media & Broadcasting Conference in March 2011, Director General Mark Thompson revealed that the BBC would launch "sometime in 2011" a fee-paying iPad-based iPlayer app in the US which would cost less than $10 per month.

The European app launch by BBC Worldwide could be seen as a pilot for the US launch which is expected to reap significant revenues for the corporation. However, it is a fully-fledged service in its own right allowing iPad owners in Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, The Republic of Ireland, The Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and Switzerland to subscribe to tailored video content costing €6.99 a month or €49.99 a year. For this, users will receive a limited amount of content for free, supported by pre-roll ads and sponsorship.

In addition to streaming video over 3G networks, the iPad app will have an offline viewing facility, a feature developed by the BBC in conjunction with Apple

The relatively small amount of non-UK European iPad users allied to the relatively high prince of the app would lead to the product remaining niche in the short term at least, suggested Nick Thomas, Principal Analyst for TV & Digital Media at Informa Telecoms & Media commenting on the launch.

However, looking at the bigger picture of the rollout to the US, he added: “This is a great opportunity for BBC Worldwide to find out how to build a successful premium service for non-UK audiences... This feels like a soft launch of the global iPlayer, with the bigger long-term opportunities for BBC Worldwide lying in the US market. It remains to be seen what appetite there is for a service based largely around on-demand archive content, however high the quality, since most online catch-up TV services closely reflect linear TV schedules, but in the meantime the BBC’s record of innovation in content distribution continues...

"Tablet devices such as the iPad are generally seen as ideal devices for consuming high quality video but no major video aggregator has yet built a premium service targeted solely at iPad users. The industry needs to find a way of making such services work.”